aNewDomain — U.S. President Barack Obama has pressed the American Jewish community to support the Joint Plan of Action — the Geneva interim agreement that limits economic sanctions on Iran with the goal of reducing nuclear weapons in the country. The pressure was applied in a series of exclusive briefings by the president to selected Jewish leaders.
The final agreement is to be signed in June of 2015, and it’s causing anguish to many Jews. Last week President Obama conceded a review period to Congress, allowing them 60 days to examine and then accept (or deny) the Iranian sanctions.
What is at stake? Israel’s safety or the American non-proliferation strategy. Jews who voted for Obama are confronted with a difficult choice between loyalty to their president and American interests, and their attachment to Israel and its survival strategy. Obama’s promises — to help keep the world free of nuclear devices and not create new war efforts against other Muslim countries — are put into question. During the last few months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been vocal about his methods and intentions in this regard.
Bibi’s (as Ben’s been nicknamed) recent appearance in Congress did not help Israel’s cause. Instead it made Jewish leaders face a real choice — a choice that a bipartisan approach would have prevented. Netanyahu effectively painted Israel into a corner and created (another) difficult dilemma for many American Jews.
Jewish Republicans believe that the White House defined Israeli concerns as manipulative and deceptive. Right-wing American media quote the Israeli left, saying, “The top political and intellectual leaders of the Israeli left are coming out against President Obama’s capitulation to Iran.” The logic of this argument implies that if the Israeli left identifies itself with Netanyahu, American Jewish Democrats should, too.
On the other hand, Jewish Democrats see J-street, the left-wing Israel advocacy group, as their mouthpiece. J-street issued a statement this month:
We congratulate President Obama, Secretary [John] Kerry, and the U.S. negotiating team for successfully reaching an historic agreement that provides a framework for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and averts a disastrous war … “
The larger issues, which deal with Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, came to little last year despite President Obama’s and John Kerry’s efforts to have Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders agree to some sort of peace resolution. The gap between the U.S. and Israel has never been deeper. Life will not become easier for Jewish Democrats in the coming month, especially since Netanyahu’s re-election and new right-wing cabinet will make bold moves against Palestinians, raising further questions about the democratic values of Israel’s governing elite.
And even if President Obama shows empathy, it will not help to heal the rift. Jewish leaders were invited to briefings in the White House, and the Washington Post reported that the president was “heartfelt about his connection to Israel.”
To leave you with an American Jewish picture of Israel, Rabbi Leon A. Morris wrote in Haaretz: “Israel at 67 is glorious and frightening, inspiring and exasperating.”
First image: Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Wikimedia Commons
Featured image: Nuclear free Iran negotiations. Wikimedia Commons