Having just returned from several weeks in Israel, I am struck by the fact that a very significant aspect of the Iran debate is receiving very little attention in the American news media: the fact that the mainstream Israeli left is just as strongly opposed to the agreement as is the Israeli right.
Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s Labor Party opposition, calls it “a horrible deal, one that will go down as the tragedy of the ages.” Herzog says “There are clear risks to Israel’s security in this deal…it will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.” Herzog does not mince words in calling Iran “an empire of evil and hate that spreads terror across the region.”
Herzog warns that the deal will enable Iran “to become a nuclear-threshold state in a decade or so.” Moreover, Herzog points out, Iran will take the funds it obtains after sanctions are lifted and use them to resupply Hezbollah and Hamas, and “generally increase the worst type of activities that they’ve been doing.” Herzog’s partner in the opposition leadership, former foreign minister and justice minister Tzipi Livni, has likewise condemned this “bad deal.”
The Israeli left calls it a bad deal. But many on the American Jewish left call it a good deal. This must be a terribly frustrating for groups like J Street, which energetically supported Herzog and Livni in the recent Israeli election campaign and now find themselves at odds with their Israeli comrades.
Within hours of President Obama’s announcement of the deal, J Street and several other left-of-center American Jewish organizations endorsed the agreement and pledged to lobby for its passage. The timing of their endorsements is significant. Their leaders did not have sufficient time to read, carefully analyze, and thoroughly discuss the 159 page agreement, some of which involves highly technical information about nuclear matters.
They did not wait to hear what critics of the agreement had to say. There was not enough time for them to consider what even left-wing Israeli analysts would say after reading the agreement. Evidently they weren’t interested in hearing the other side. They made a political decision to support the agreement.
Of course, that is their right. We American Jews live in a democracy and if somebody wants to blindly follow President Obama for political reasons, they can do so. Dissent is a legitimate, even cherished, concept in the American Jewish community. A minority faction can take an extreme or unpopular position if it so chooses.
The rest of the community will have to decide what these developments say about the credibility of the pro-Iran agreement groups. Are the positions taken by these groups truly intended to safeguard Israel? Or is their main priority to advance a narrower political purpose? A number of the Israelis with whom I spoke in recent weeks certainly wondered about that.
In these circumstances, the new Israeli left-right consensus is extremely important. It demonstrates that criticism of the Iran deal is not just some “right-wing” concern. The flaws in the agreement are not inventions of nationalist ideologues who mistrust the world, or hate Muslims, or lust for war. Hawks and doves alike realize that it’s a bad deal. Hawks and doves alike realize it will endanger their lives and the lives of their children.
My many recent conversations with Israelis from all walks of life reminded me, again and again, that at the end of the day, Israelis, not American Jews, live on the front lines of Iran’s regional aggression. If Hezbollah or Hamas are at all strengthened by Iranian funds, it is the homes of Israelis that will be hit by those rockets.
So if a broad wall-to-wall, left-to-right consensus of Israelis agree that the deal endangers them, we American Jews need to pay attention to that. Not because we don’t have the right to disagree even with a large majority — of course we do — but because those whose lives are on the line deserve extra respect and consideration from those whose aren’t.
Benyamin Korn, the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.