It was the most haunted time of the Jewish year, the “Three Weeks” leading to Tisha B’Av, when Jerusalem’s walls crumbled, kingdoms fell, exile began, and clocks strike thirteen. “One of the ways God speaks is by way of the calendar, both for good and bad,” Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a Yeshiva University Talmud professor, tells us by phone. It was the time of the Inquisition, Germany’s entry into the First World War (a defeat that is linked to Germany’s precipitating World War II and the Shoah), and the disengagement from Gaza, leading to thousands of rockets and two wars. The changing deadline dates of the Iran deal blew like leaves through a graveyard, from last year’s July to November, to this April, June, and then July 14.
“Don’t you see,” says Rabbi Blech, “a deal that Charles Krauthammer called ‘the worst agreement in United States diplomatic history,’ a deal with a country that vows to destroy Israel, is finalized July 14, right in the middle of the Three Weeks.”
And yet, out of all the holy days, Tisha B’Av contains divergent moods. It is also the Messiah’s anticipated birthday, with all the peace and optimism that implies. In that wishful spirit, J Street sent an e-mail calling the Iran deal a “historic win for those of us who believe that tough international problems can be solved without going to war.” Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham called the deal “a death sentence for Israel,” but J Street dismissed that as “wildly exaggerated.” The deal, declared J Street, “makes Israel safer, the United States safer and the entire world safer.”
However, as the grandfather asked in “Peter and the Wolf,” what “if the wolf should come out of the forest, then what would you do?” In a stunning, unprecedented dismissal of Israeli fears, one in five American Jews told a survey by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that even if the deal makes Israel “more endangered,” they would support the deal anyway.
In the poll, 48 percent of American Jews support the deal, 28 percent oppose it. Of Jewish liberals, 72 percent support the deal; of Jewish conservatives, only 8 percent support it.
In contrast to the Jewish poll, a CNN poll showed that most Americans (52 percent) were against the deal, wanting Congress to reject it, with while 44 percent wanting it approved.
Across the bitter divide, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee warned that the deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” leading Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a liberal Jew) to reply, “Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable. Mike Huckabee must apologize to the Jewish community and to the American people for this grossly irresponsible statement.” Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, didn’t think Huckabee should apologize at all. On the contrary, said Klein, “An Iranian regime that has repeatedly spoken of wiping out the Jewish state of Israel does bear some relationship to the Nazi era.” Huckabee “did not speak out of place.”
Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren recently wrote, “For the first time in living memory, virtually all Israelis — left, right, religious, secular, Arabs, Jews — are together calling the deal disastrous.” Obama’s deal is opposed not just by Prime Minister Netanyahu but by leftist icons Ari Shavit and Labor leader Isaac Herzog. Last December, Herzog told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal.”
Now, Herzog tells Goldberg, the deal “will unleash a lion from the cage … it will affect the safety of my children.” Herzog called Iran an “empire of evil and hate.” Herzog even invoked the defiant “Iron Wall” philosophy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of Likud-style Zionism. Said Herzog, “We have to build an Iron Wall to protect Israel. There are clear risks to Israel’s security in this deal.”
Peter Beinart, a frequent critic of Israel, who supports the deal, saw it from an American perspective, aiming to avoid another Iraq-style quagmire. Atoning for the mistakes of Iraq war, wrote Beinart, “means supporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.” For all the debating, he added, “the word ‘Iraq’ never comes up, and that’s insane.”
In the Jewish Journal, Rosner argued against Beinart, pointing out that “Most American Jews did not think the [Iraq] war was [necessary] for U.S. security and no one argued forcefully that it was essential to keep Israel secure.” The Iran deal, however, is not only risking Jewish lives but “the existence of the largest Jewish community in the world, the only Jewish state.”
Even journalists in the Arab world, fearful of Iran, have been bringing up the 1930s, comparing Obama to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Hitler in 1938 doomed Czechoslovakia, leading to all-out war. Last week, in the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, columnist Eimad Al-Din Adib writes, Chamberlain “who always preferred a policy of containment and appeasement, and who refrained from stern policy and confrontation at all costs [signed] the pathetic [Munich] agreement with Hitler … History is [now] repeating itself.
Adib writes that Obama’s “main mistake” is the lifting of the economic and trade embargo on Iran. Iran, says Adib “has spent insane sums” supporting extremists and terrorists in the region. If Iran did that while under sanctions, “what will they do with this influx of funds [without] one single clause or reference [in the deal] to Iran’s conduct as a country in the region. … It is as if they told Iran: Take 120 billion [dollars] and do as you please.”
On July 22, approximately 10,000 opponents of the deal gathered on sidewalks all the way from Times Square to 37th Street for a rally sponsored by over 50 organizations led by the ad hoc Jewish Rapid Response Coalition, in partnership with groups such as Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel; Americans for a Safe Israel; Jewish National Fund; National Council of Young Israel; the Orthodox Union; the Rabbinical Council of America; Simon Wiesenthal Center; and the Zionist Organization of America, among others.
UJA-Federation and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declined to sponsor the rally, as both comprise diverse and divided membership across the political spectrum. Nevertheless, Jerry Levin, past president of UJA-Federation, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents, attended and supported the rally as individuals.
Barbara Frogel, an Israeli from Ramat Bet Shemesh summering in the United States, attended, saying, “I have [political] reasons for concern and 11 personal reasons for concern,” waving her hand at 11 of her children, nieces and nephews who were there, as well. “If the Holocaust has taught us nothing else,” she said, “it has taught us that if someone says they’re out to kill you, take them seriously.”
More than 40 adults and teens from Columbus, Ohio took a bus to New York for the rally. “We left around five this morning and got in around an hour ago,” said Yehuda Rosenberg, a high school student who plans to study in Israel come September. His friend Max Kalef, citing Iran’s calls of “Death to Israel,” said Iran would use a nuclear bomb when it could.
Glenn Richter, a leading Jewish activist for more than 50 years, was working the rally as marshall. The ad hoc nature of the rally, he said, was “yet another example of how the independent Jewish activists can push the Jewish community to action. What astounded me was that [the crowd consisted of] not only ‘the regulars,’ whom, of course, I saw, but around 50 percent of the people I never saw before, including walkers-by and non-Jews who stopped to talk to us, and join us.”
No one at the rally, no one anywhere, really, had any idea where the Iran story would lead, whether to the peace imagined by J Street or the ovens imagined by Huckabee. The story, however, was at a crossroads, and in the words of the Grateful Dead, “One way or another, this darkness has got to give.”