Jerusalem — In charge of her toddler granddaughter for the day, Grazia Mizrachi took advantage of a local mall’s play area to rest while her granddaughter played with pieces of Playmobil strewn all over the floor.
Although the mood in the mall was especially festive this week thanks to the Passover holiday, Mizrachi wasn’t feeling particularly upbeat. She felt weighted down, she said, by the Iran framework agreement supported by President Obama.
“If I could tell the American president one thing, it would be ‘Don’t do it. It will endanger Israel.’ Unless you live in Israel,” she said, “you can’t comprehend our fears. I’m more fearful for my granddaughter and her generation than I am for myself,” the grandmother said, gazing at the many children playing. “They’re growing up in a world where war is more likely than peace.”
News that the Obama administration and P5+1 negotiators have a framework for a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program has been the top story in Israel for days, and the president’s assurances have done little to nothing to calm the Israeli public’s fears.
Judging from the public’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to the framework agreement on social media, in op-eds and in interviews, there is little reason to believe people hold a more favorable view of Obama’s intentions than they did when polled by the Times of Israel in February.
In that poll, just 21 percent said they believed that Obama “would ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon,” and only 33 percent held a favorable view of the president.
Obama’s April 4 interview with New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman was clearly an attempt to reassure the Israeli public and other naysayers that he’s not oblivious to their concerns.
“I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch or as a consequence of work that I’ve done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable,” the president told Friedman as the two were seated in the White House under a painting of George Washington.
“I have to respect the fears that the Israeli people have and I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is expressing the deep-rooted concerns that a lot of the Israeli population feel about this.”
At the same time, Obama said, “this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” He insisted that signing a deal constitutes “sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”
Even those Israelis who believe Obama and the next presidents — whoever they are — will fight to defend Israel if Iran misbehaves insist a bad deal will encourage Iran to misbehave.
Writing in Politico, Ari Shavit, a Haaretz reporter and author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, warned that “If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf states will go nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel will have to change its responsible and restrained nuclear policy.”
The deal that Obama announced on Thursday “does not do enough to prevent this,” Shavit, a center-leftist, said. “Does an agreement that allows Iran to keep 6,100 spinning centrifuges really lock under 1,000 locks and bolt behind 1,000 bolts the Iranian nuclear project? Does an agreement that allows Iran to maintain research and development capabilities and an underground facility on Fordow really fully take advantage of Iran’s economic frailty in order to ensure the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure?”
These concerns were shared by Israel-based Shmuel Rosner in a piece for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
“Obama might succeed in convincing some legislators and some voters that the devil is not as threatening as Israel makes it seem. But it will not turn a bad deal into a good deal,” he wrote.
Rosner said Obama “is counting on” the efficacy of inspections to discover Iranian wrongdoing in time to prevent it from developing a weapon and that the framework agreement “assumes that if Iran violates the deal, the sanctions that were lifted can be re-imposed — or can snap back into place.”
It is “convenient,” Rosner said, for the administration “to try and portray Israel’s opposition to the deal as a personal problem of a hawkish PM. But note that the Israeli opposition did not endorse the agreement with Iran.”
In an interview, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, a popular Times of Israel blogger and the paper’s head of social media, said she prefers a diplomatic solution to a military one, but only if it ensures Israel’s security in a way the current framework deal does not.
“I’m conflicted, and I think many Israelis are conflicted, too. On the one hand, yes, I believe in diplomacy. I believe in talking. The alternative could be cataclysmic,” she said.
The problem, Tuttle-Singer said, is that Iran continues to spew anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish hatred.
“Iran just held a Holocaust cartoon contest, which boasts over 800 entries, which makes light of the slaughter of six million Jews across Europe,” she said.
Add to that the calls for “Death to Israel” from the “podiums and pulpits of Iran” as well as the Israel public’s feeling of growing isolation from the rest of the world, “including from the American Jewish community,” the blogger said. “It’s hard to hear the measured reasons to be hopeful about this deal.”
In contrast Davida Chazan, a Times of Israel blogger, wants to give the deal a chance to succeed.
“I think Iran is more of a barking dog than people think, and I think the Israeli government has done everything in its power to make it sound more dangerous than it actually is. I’m sure there is some danger there, but anything that says let’s put down our weapons and give peace a chance is the right direction,” Chazan said.
Binyamin Huga, whose Jerusalem store sells flat screen TVs, said he would support the deal if Iran recognizes Israel as a “legitimate” country with the right to exist.
“If Iran wants concessions from the western world it needs to make concessions,” Huga said. “It’s time Iran stopped calling for our destruction.”
On Tuesday, Obama told NPR that recognition of Israel is not a precondition for a deal.
“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said. “And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.”
Back in the mall, Shosh Bezalel, the manager of a clothing store catering to religious women, said if she could give the U.S. president one piece of advice it would be “before making a deal, understand the way Arab leaders think. Unfortunately, Israelis have learned the hard way that tough talk, not leniency, is the key to any agreement.
“President Obama needs to listen to Israelis,” Bezalel, 51, said. “We live here. We know what we’re talking about.”