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Over-Heated Campaign against Iran Agreement Shows How Unrepresentative Jewish Groups Are of Those in Whose Name They Speak

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2015

In recent months, we have witnessed an overheated campaign by organizations  
which claim to speak in the name of the American Jewish community against  
the nuclear agreement with Iran.  
These American groups appear to have received their marching orders in a 20-  
minute webcast organized by the Jewish Federation of North America in which  
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called upon American Jews to do  
everything in their power to defeat the agreement. The live telecast on Aug.  
4 reached some 10,000 people. This, together with his attack on the  
agreement in his speech before a joint session of Congress, is considered by  
many to be an unprecedented interference in American domestic politics by  
the leader of a foreign country. At the same time, AIPAC pledged more than  
$30 million to fight the agreement and in August took all but three freshmen  
members of Congress to Israel on an expense-paid trip to meet with  
Netanyahu. There were two separate trips, one for Democrats, one for  
Republicans, led by party leaders Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Kevin  
McCarthy (R-CA).  
The American Jewish establishment quickly fell in line. The Iran agreement  
was vocally opposed by, among others, the Anti-Defamation League, the  
American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American  
Jewish Organizations, Orthodox rabbinical groups and Jewish Federations.  
Even charitable organizations entered the fray, with the Boston Combined  
Jewish Philanthropies exhorting its contributors to “reach out to their  
elected representatives … to express their deep concern, and to urge them to  
vote against the deal.” Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who once  
said that he regretted having served in the U.S. Army rather than the  
Israeli Army, through the World Values Network, which he finances, placed a  
series of ads attempting to persuade legislators, such as Sen. Cory Booker  
(D-NJ), into opposing the agreement. This effort failed.  
Extreme Rhetoric against Supporters of Agreement  
Opponents of the agreement unleashed the harshest possible rhetoric against  
those who expressed their support. On July 22, President Obama appeared on  
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The president said that if people favoring  
the deal contacted their representatives, they would be heard. He noted  
that, “The same is true on every single issue. If people are engaged,  
eventually the political system responds. Despite the money, despite the  
lobbyists. It still responds.” Lee Smith, a columnist for the on-line Jewish  
magazine Tablet called the president’s statement a “dog whistle.” He accused  
Obama of “hinting broadly at anti-Semitic conceits — like dual loyalties,  
moneyed interests. Jewish lobbies — to scare off Democrats tempted to vote  
against the deal.” He predicted that if any Democrats did oppose it, Obama  
was “going to tar and feather them as dual loyalists who are willing to send  
Americans out to make war on behalf of Jewish causes.”  
Jonathan Tobin, online editor of Commentary, called the Daily Show comment a  
“smear.” “When the president predicts that war will result from the deal’s  
defeat,” Tobin wrote, “he’s labeling opponents ‘warmongers.’ And since  
‘money and lobbyists’ is obviously code for ‘Jews,’ Obama is calling Jews  
warmongers, ready to send other people’s sons to die.”  
Two days after the Daily Show, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the  
Council on Foreign Relations on July 24. He said that if the Israeli-led  
opposition campaign successfully defeated the agreement, the resulting  
regional chaos might leave Israel more “isolated” than ever. This was  
interpreted as a threat. Writing in The Weekly Standard, Rafael Medoff, who  
has written extensively about the Holocaust, combined Kerry’s “threat” with  
Obama’s “money and lobbyists” to charge that Kerry was threatening American  
Jews. Then, when the president spoke on Aug. 5 at American University and  
reasserted America’s commitment to Israel’s security while noting “temporary  
friction with a dear friend and ally,” Tablet magazine editorially declared  
that it “can’t stomach” Obama’s “use of Jew-baiting and other blatant and  
retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice,” which it called “a  
sickening new development in American political discourse … It’s the kind of  
dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from  
the President of the United States.”  
Jewish Supporters of Agreement Compared to Nazis  
When Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who is Jewish, announced his support for  
the nuclear accord with Iran, he was the victim of vicious attacks. The New  
York Times (Aug. 29, 2015) reported: “The animus is hard to miss. On his  
Facebook page, Mr. Nadler has been called a kapo: a Jew who collaborated  
with Nazis in the World War II death camps. One writer said he had ‘blood on  
his hands.’ Another said he had ‘facilitated Obama’s holocaust.’ Dov Hikind,  
a New York State assemblyman, rented a double-decker bus … plastered the  
smiling face of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini on it and  
parked it in front of Mr. Nadler’s office … .He took six Auschwitz survivors  
to the office to condemn Mr. Nadler.”  
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who announced his support for the agreement in  
August, described weathering a barrage of attacks on social media which  
questioned his religion and his intelligence and called him a “kapo,” a term  
referring to Jews in concentration camps enlisted by the Nazis to supervise  
forced labor. In Cohen’s view, “The tenor was set when Netanyahu came to  
speak to Congress without the president’s knowledge and/or approval. Having  
him come and try to influence members of the Congress against what the  
president was working on set the tenor. Netanyahu should not get himself  
involved in American politics in the future and AIPAC played a stronger hand  
than they should have.”  
The pressure on Jewish members of Congress to oppose the agreement has been  
intense, although largely unsuccessful. One instance where such pressure  
seems to have succeeded is that of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), the  
ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He announced his  
opposition after the deal’s survival was already guaranteed. According to  
The Washington Post (Sept. 5, 2015), “In making the decision, Cardin  
struggled with immense and personal pressure. His own rabbi repeatedly  
called Cardin — and his wife — to advocate against the agreement. The  
American Israel Public Affairs Committee held a rally at his synagogue.  
Supporters and opponents of the deal spent heavily on television ads in  
Baltimore and lobbied the senator’s staff.” When Rep. Debbie Wasserman  
Schultz (D-FL), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee,  
announced her support for the agreement, The New York Times reported that,  
“A protestor outside her office … screamed that, ‘Wasserman Schultz should  
go to the ovens.’”  
Washington Post columnist Colbert King, who is black, did a column about  
Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and his  
criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for inserting himself into a  
domestic American political debate and showing disrespect for our elected  
president. The response he received was swift. He cites one e-mail he  
received from a reader using the pseudonym “visitingthisplace.” It declared:  
“Black-Jewish relations have always been a two-way street. The Jews gave  
money to black causes, marched and died for civil rights, and in return the  
black (sic) looted and burned the Jewish businesses to the ground … In spite  
of your education and your opportunities, you are still just another anti-  
Semitic street nigger.”  
Who Speaks for American Jews?  
There is an implication that AIPAC and other groups engaged in fierce  
opposition to the agreement with Iran speak for American Jews, an idea they  
do their best to cultivate and promote. In reality, this claim has no basis  
in truth. Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan points out that,  
“Most polls show that Jewish Americans are the most enthusiastic about the  
diplomatic deal reached at Vienna between Iran and the U.N. Security Council  
… .so the umbrella group of lobbyists supposedly dedicated to representing  
Jewish Americans. AIPAC, is lobbying for the deal, right? Wrong. It is not  
only sending lobbyists to the offices of all U.S. congressional  
representatives and putting them under heavy pressure to reject the Vienna  
accord, but it or its subsidiaries are flooding the airwaves with vicious  
disinformation in an attempt to confuse the American public, so my question  
is, in whose behalf is AIPAC intervening in American domestic politics?  
AIPAC is acting on behalf of the Likud government of Israel.”  
Whatever one thinks of the Iran agreement, and its critics have a number of  
legitimate concerns, the fact that a foreign government has been directly  
intervening in our domestic politics should be disturbing to all Americans,  
as should the role being played by AIPAC which, critics argue, gives every  
appearance of being an agent of that government. Philip Giraldi, a former  
CIA official and contributor to The American Conservative, writes that,  
“AIPAC is an IRS 501(c)4 lobbying organization and is able to keep its donor  
list secret. AIPAC operative Steve Rosen once boasted that he could have the  
signatures of 70 senators on a napkin in 24 hours. AIPAC has an annual  
budget of $70 million and 200 full-time employees. There should be demands  
that it and similar Israel advocacy groups register under the Foreign Agents  
Registration Act of 1938. This would require them to have full transparency  
in terms of their funding and it would also tell the American people that  
the organizations themselves are not necessarily benign and acting on behalf  
of U.S. interests, which is the subterfuge that they currently engage in.”  
Calls for AIPAC to register as the agent of a foreign government are not  
new, reports Giraldi. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy believed that AIPAC  
should register, as did Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR), who served as  
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1985, Undersecretary  
of State George W. Ball declared: “On Middle East policy, Congress behaves  
like a bunch of trained poodles, jumping through the hoop held by the  
Israeli lobby.”  
Not Representing Jewish Opinion, but Defying It  
Those groups which pretend to speak in the name of American Jews do not  
represent American Jewish opinion at all. Instead, quite the opposite has  
been shown to be the case. In an article in The Washington Post (Aug. 16,  
2015) titled “The Jewish Leaders Who Don’t Speak For American Jews,” Todd  
Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, and  
Steven Cohen, professor at Hebrew Union College, declare that the Jewish  
groups opposing the Iran agreement “are not, in fact, leading American  
Jewish opinion. They are defying it. They doubtless represent the views of  
their board members, but those views are at odds with the majority of rank-  
and-file American Jews, who, in fact, support the deal more than Americans  
A poll conducted by Cohen for The Jewish Journal found that 63 percent of  
Jewish Americans who said they knew enough to offer an opinion about the  
agreement with Iran supported it. Why, Cohen and Gitlin ask, is the so-  
called “Jewish leadership” so unrepresentative of the population it claims  
to represent? Their response: “The dominant leadership is somewhat older and  
more conservative than Jews as a whole … It disproportionately represents  
wealthy Jews … Those who pay pipers call tunes … The idea that American Jews  
speak as a monolithic bloc needs very early retirement. So does the canard  
that their commitment to Israel or the views of its prime minister  
overwhelms their support for Obama and the Iran deal. So does the idea that  
… Netanyahu leads or represents the world’s Jews. So does the notion that  
unrepresentative ‘leaders’ speak for American Jews generally.”  
In the case of Israel itself, those in the intelligence and military  
communities seem to sharply disagree with the opposition to the Iran  
agreement expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and those who follow his  
lead in the U.S. Admiral (Ret.) Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, the  
Israeli internal security service, and former chief of the Israeli Navy,  
declared: “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability this (deal) is the  
best option.” Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Shlomo Bron, former director of the IDF  
Strategic Planning Division, said: “The agreement is good for Israel and its  
national security. It blocks Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon for a  
longer period of time than any other available option and commits Iran to  
permanently renouncing nuclear weapons under IAEA inspections.” Among the  
many other Israeli military and intelligence specialists supporting the  
agreement are Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Yadlin, who now heads Israel’s main  
defense think tank and was formerly chief of Defense Intelligence; Yitzhak  
Ben-Yisrael, who now chairs both the Israel Space Agency and the Science  
Ministry’s research and development council; Israel Zvi, a former chief of  
military operations; Dov Tamari, the near legendary architect of Israeli  
military intelligence; and Efraim Halevy, a former director of the Mossad  
intelligence agency.  
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran agreement, it seems, does  
not represent the views of Israel’s military experts. Columnist J.J.  
Goldberg, writing in The Forward (Sept. 4, 2015) points out that the  
divisions between Netanyahu and the military-defense establishment “has been  
growing … His combination of rigid ideology and fear-based policy … has led  
him to abandon the confident pragmatism that governed Israeli security  
doctrine for decades. Hence those ‘eruptions of dissent.’ Something that was  
almost unimaginable during Israel’s first 60 years has become a regular and  
growing phenomenon under Netanyahu … Israel’s military has a long history of  
approaching big issues pragmatically, avoiding ideology and big theories …  
.This has caused steadily mounting tension between the security services and  
Netanyahu, who is as ideological a prime minister as Israel has ever had.”  
Not in Our Name  
Just as AIPAC does not represent American Jewish opinion, so Prime Minister  
Netanyahu does not seem to represent the informed views of Israel’s  
military-intelligence establishment. Those American Jews who did not wish to  
be misrepresented joined together to respond to the militant campaign  
launched against the Iran agreement in their name. A group of prominent  
Jewish leaders signed a full page ad in The New York Times (Aug. 20, 2015)  
declaring, “Each of us has devoted decades to building and enhancing  
Israel’s security and strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance … While not  
perfect, this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear  
weapons program. We strongly urge Congress to support the Iran agreement.”  
Among those signing this statement were Seymour D. Reich, chair, Conference  
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1989-90); Rabbi Erick  
H. Yoffie, president, Union for Reform Judaism (1996-2012); Marvin Lender,  
chair, United Jewish Appeal (1990-92); and Jacqueline K. Levine, chair,  
National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (1983-1986). A number  
of Jewish former members of Congress also signed the statement: Democratic  
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan (1979-2015), Rep. Mel Levine of California  
(1983-1993), and Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida (1997-2010).  
Another full page ad appeared in The New York Times (Aug. 27, 2015) from  
Jewish former members of Congress supporting the agreement with Iran. It  
declared: “During our many collective years in Congress, we unwaveringly  
supported Israel … We all strongly support the agreement because it will  
enhance the security of the U.S., the State of Israel and the entire world.”  
Among those signing the statement were former Democratic Reps. Anthony  
Beilenson of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Holtzman  
of New York and Abner Mikva of Illinois.  
Dismay over Israeli Interference  
More and more expressions of dismay have been heard about Israel’s  
interference in domestic American politics and in the internal affairs of  
the American Jewish community. Prof. Paul Sham, executive director of the  
Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, wrote  
in Washington Jewish Week (Aug. 6, 2015): “On an issue of this importance,  
the willingness of Jewish community leaders to kowtow to official Israeli  
policy against the wishes of those who they claim as their constituents is  
Three dozen retired U.S. generals and admirals released an open letter on  
Aug. 11 supporting the Iran agreement. One of these was retired Navy Rear  
Admiral Harold L. Robinson, a rabbi and former naval chaplain who chairs the  
National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. He told The Washington  
Post: “As a lifelong Zionist, devoted to Israel, and a Rabbi for over 40  
years … I have a unique perspective. Those of us who love Israel in the U.S.  
are not of one mind and one voice on this matter. I thought it was important  
to represent some of the diversity within the Jewish community.”  
The Union for Reform Judaism, which represents the largest number of  
American Jews who are members of synagogues, decided to remain neutral with  
regard to the Iran agreement, resisting pressure from AIPAC, the government  
of Israel and others to join in opposing congressional approval. Rabbi Rick  
Jacobs, who heads the group, said: “There was a lot of pressure on all  
sides, and not just from the highest echelons of the Israeli political  
leadership … We felt even more pressure from our own conscience to do the  
analysis and discernment in a very thoughtful way.” Lamenting what he called  
“scorched earth lobbying,” he noted that, “If you oppose the deal you’re not  
a warmonger and if you support the deal you’re not automatically sending  
your family to the doorstep of Auschwitz. Those are demonizing and debate-  
ending types of statements.”  
Unintended Consequences  
Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset Uri Avnery discussed  
the unintended consequences of Israel’s campaign against the agreement with  
Iran: “Actually, the play is over. An agreement signed by the entire world  
cannot be made to disappear with a puff from Bibi … The bomb that isn’t has  
already caused immense damage to Israel … All Israelis agree that one  
supreme asset Israel has is its special relationship with the U.S … All this  
is put in question. Another hidden crack is the rift between Israel and a  
large part of the Jews around the world. Especially in the U.S.”  
Israel claims to be “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Avnery noted,  
and “that all Jews around the world owe it unquestioning allegiance. A  
mighty apparatus of ‘Jewish organizations’ is policing the vassals. Woe to  
the Jew who dares to object. Not anymore. A rift has opened within world  
Jewry, that probably cannot be repaired. Commanded to choose between their  
president and Israel, many American Jews prefer their president, or just opt  
out. Who is the anti-Semite who has managed to bring all this evil about? No  
other than the prime minister of Israel himself.”  
Writing in YNET (Aug. 34, 2015), Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea reported  
that some members of the Israel lobby in the U.S. take their “orders” from  
Netanyahu. He writes: “President Obama is phoning Democratic members of  
Congress about the Iran deal. Netanyahu is calling. Israeli ambassador Ron  
Dermer is calling. No American president gets this kind of competition over  
the attention of his party’s elected representatives. The leaders of the  
Jewish community in the U.S. are stuck in the middle. The word ‘community’  
is misleading. There is no community. The word ‘leaders’ is also misleading.  
There are no leaders. There are lobbying groups that take orders from the  
Israeli prime minister, there are a few wheeler-dealers close to the top,  
and there are Republican billionaires whose ego has become as inflated as  
their bank accounts. They have contempt for Obama for all the wrong reasons,  
including his skin color.”  
American Jewish Opinion Is Independent of Advocacy Groups  
Opponents of the Iran agreement have been financed by a small group of  
wealthy supporters of Israel’s right-wing. Such individuals as Sheldon  
Adelson, Paul Singer and Haim Saban have given more than $13 million in this  
effort. J Street, the liberal advocacy group, raised more than $5 million  
since the agreement was announced and was active in its support. But  
opponents of the agreement seem not to have anticipated the vocal opposition  
of the majority of American Jews to their efforts. No longer can anyone say,  
with any degree of credibility, that AIPAC and its allies speak in behalf of  
American Jews. No longer can anyone say that Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks  
for Jews outside of Israel. Nor can anyone say that Israel, the major  
recipient of U.S. aid, does not interfere in our domestic political affairs.  
Beyond all of this, Judaism’s moral integrity is being eroded as rabbinical  
groups, charitable federations, and organizations established to pursue a  
variety of worthy goals become politicized and insert themselves in a debate  
over an international agreement with regard to which they have no mandate to  
speak. For American Jews who believe that Judaism is a religion of universal  
values, mandating moral and ethical standards for men and women of every  
race and nation, the campaign against the Iran agreement represents a  
further corruption of American Jewish life.  
Now, it is abundantly clear that those who have embarked upon this campaign  
do not represent those in whose name they claim to speak. And while Israel  
proclaims itself the “nation-state” of all Jews, this claim is less than  
persuasive. The nation-state of American Jews is the United States. By  
inserting itself into American Jewish life and into domestic American  
politics, Israel’s current government has been moving away from reality, as  
well as its own long-term best interests. Those American Jews who follow its  
lead, a rapidly diminishing number, have been shown to be a vocal and often  
intemperate minority, one which seems increasingly distant from Judaism’s  
moral and ethical traditions. They do not aspire to be a “light unto the  
nations,” and in their narrow nationalism, they certainly are not. For some,  
Israel has replaced God as the object of worship, a form of idolatry which  
we have seen before in Jewish history. Hopefully, we are now in the process  
of moving beyond such a profanation of the genuine Jewish religious  

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