Another Rabbi for the Iran Deal

I signed a letter to Congress with 340 of my rabbinic colleagues in support of the Iran deal. Despite the fact that AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) is spending $20-40 million to defeat it, they do not speak for the Jewish community. Neither does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak for all Israelis.

There are plenty of American and Israeli Jews who support this accord between Iran and the P5+1 countries, including expert analysts and former military and intelligence leaders now free to speak their mind. Polls continue to show that a majority of Jews in the U.S. want Congress to approve the deal. We believe it to be the best option available for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. This is in the interests of America, Israel and the world.

The strengths of the agreement are clear. Redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor and shipping its spent fuel out of Iran effectively blocks the plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. The vast majority of their current stockpile of centrifuges and low-enriched uranium will be taken away, R&D is severely restricted for a decade, and severe constraints on their enrichment capacity extends the break-out time from a current estimate of two months to at least a year. It has snap-back provisions for sanctions if Iran reneges. It offers the most intrusive inspections regime in history.

America's top experts in nuclear power and weaponry are enthusiastic about the accord, which provides "more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework."

Like other thoughtful voices, I remain concerned about what happens after 10-15 years and what Iran will do with funds that are released as sanctions are lifted. But I believe there are constructive actions we can take to address these threats.

I'm more concerned about what happens if the deal is rejected. The tough international sanctions that reduced Iran's economy by 20% and brought them to the table will collapse. Iran will be free to do what it wants, and it will get money to do it. Whatever your worst-case scenario is when the deal's restrictions expire, it begins on the day we walk away from it--without having amassed 15 years' worth of reliable information about Iran's nuclear program. There is no better deal to be negotiated.

I'm more concerned that money talks and fear sells. AIPAC is bringing over 60 members of Congress on an all-expense paid trip to Israel this month, including the vast majority of the freshman class. While they offer a trip every two years, this cohort is much larger than usual and it's clear that they hope to influence Congressional votes on the deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu spent nearly two hours with the Democratic delegation to explain his stance against it.

AIPAC also helped birth "Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran," which is blanketing the country with television ads that claim Iran gets to keep its nuclear facilities, but fail to mention that none will be able to produce weapons-grade material. They say that military sites can go uninspected, when in fact anyplace can be examined for suspected nuclear activity, with "forever" access to undeclared sites. While Iran can contest it, the accord stops endless stalling tactics by requiring resolution within 24 days--and it is nearly impossible to hide traces of this work from close inspection. Flush with partial truths, these ads are designed to sow fear rather than rational analysis.

Various conservatives ratchet up the rhetoric by comparing President Obama to Neville Chamberlain, as if diplomacy with a hostile government is always appeasement--and threaten that it leads Israel to "the ovens," even though the agreement blocks Iran's every pathway to a nuke. These attacks try to shame Americans and to scare the Jewish people by evoking the Shoah in order to promote a military strike.

I am more concerned that Netanyahu's miscalculations begin to make support for Israel a partisan issue. I'm more concerned that Israel's security will be compromised if it spends its capital fighting this accord rather than working with allies on strategic planning against Iran's continuing efforts to foment instability. With the nuclear deal concluded, the world is freer to confront Iran on all of its non-nuclear iniquity.

I am willing to argue the deal on its merits. Our rabbis taught: Any argument conducted for the sake of Heaven will bear fruit. If not for the sake of Heaven, it yields nothing (Pirkei Avot 5:20). Surely an argument about how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, how to defend American interests without waging war, how to protect Israel from "existential threat" must be for the sake of Heaven.

-Only if it is conducted like Hillel and Shammai, the rabbis say, who embraced the other side with respect, who quoted their opponents rather than trying to silence them--confident that we get closer to the truth when we listen to each other.

This is what my colleagues and I are trying to teach. Fear-mongering and deliberate distortions will not make us safer. Outspending those of us who endorse the deal will not silence us. For the sake of Heaven, I urge you to support this historic accord.