Split Community Looks To Congress
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Split Community Looks To Congress

Sixty-day period of congressional debate seen as crucial, with Schumer as ‘canary in the coal mine.’

As the Jewish community digests the historic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capability in exchange for lifting crippling economic sanctions — with more or less predictable reactions from groups on the left and right — the focus now shifts to Congress.

Once President Obama submits the agreement to lawmakers, they will have 60 days to scrutinize it. If they vote to reject it, they will need a supermajority to override Obama’s veto, which, in practical terms, means 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House would need to break with their party. Quashing the bill doesn’t technically prevent the president from signing the treaty, but it does stop Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran, making it impossible for the U.S. to uphold its end of the deal.

In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, Republicans and representatives of right-leaning Jewish groups condemned it or expressed cautious skepticism; Democrats and left-leaning groups praised the agreement.

The deal, reached after negotiations between the U.S. and its P5+1 partners — France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — seeks to halt Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years. “Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” President Obama said in a speech from the White House on Monday morning.

Douglas Bloomfield, a Jewish Week political blogger and former legislative director for AIPAC, wrote that Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who has given himself the title “Shomer Yisrael” (guardian of Israel), for his record of protecting the interests of the Jewish state, will play a crucial role in the forthcoming congressional discussions.

“Many of his colleagues … will be watching to see what Schumer does,” Bloomfield wrote this week. “He will be the canary in the coal mine who will give the first signals as to whether the deal can survive or will quickly run out of air.”

Schumer, who has so far refused to take a position on the agreement, did not reveal this week which way he is leaning.

“Over the coming days, I intend to go through this agreement with a fine-tooth comb, speak with administration officials, and hear from experts on all side,” he said in a statement. “I supported legislation ensuring that Congress would have time and space to review the deal, and now we must use it well. Supporting or opposing this agreement is not a decision to be made lightly, and I plan to carefully study the agreement before making an informed decision.”

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also said she was withholding initial judgment on the agreement.

Other members of Congress were not so reticent, and a flurry of press releases quickly followed the announcement.

“If this agreement is what the administration says it is, it is a major, historic diplomatic breakthrough,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

But, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a GOP presidential candidate, “There is no chance that this deal will be approved by Congress.” He predicted the agreement’s rejection by “an overwhelming super-majority in both the House and the Senate.”

Graham, who called the deal “akin to declaring war on Israel and the Sunni Arabs,” also said the deal would lead to an arms race in the Middle East and increased hostilities between Shiite and Sunni Arabs across the region. “If I had property in the Middle East, I would think about selling it after this deal,” he said.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) said she has “long-standing concerns about the enforcement and verifiability of any agreement with Iran, given their long history of deception and well-documented illicit activity in the region.”

Opponents of the agreement scheduled a “Stop Iran Now Mega Rally” on Wednesday in Times Square with Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, Alan Dershowitz, and former CIA Director James Woolsey scheduled to speak.

Analyzing the deal, Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, struck a nuanced chord this week in the magazine:

“I worry that Obama’s negotiators might have given away too much to the Iranians. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s dream — of total Iranian capitulation — was never going to become a reality. And yet the deal, though representing a morally dubious compromise with a terror-supporting theocracy, might be, from the perspective of U.S. national security, a practical necessity.”

Goldberg pointed out that with the lifting of sanctions, billions of dollars “will soon flow to Tehran,” money that could be used by Iran-backed terror groups like Hezbollah.

“But here is the most important question to ask going forward: Does this deal significantly reduce the chance that Iran could, in the foreseeable future … continue its nefarious activities under the protection of a nuclear umbrella? If the answer to this question is yes, then a deal, in theory, is worth supporting.”

A number of Jewish leaders disagreed.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a statement that “we may have entered into an agreement that revives the Iranian economy but won’t stop this regime from developing nuclear arms in the long term.” He called the nuclear deal “just a piece of paper … not a legally binding treaty.”

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, the Anti-Defamation League’s national chair, and Abraham Foxman, its national director, called themselves “deeply disappointed by the terms” of the agreement, which “relies entirely on Iran’s good faith and the ability of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to effectively carry out its inspection obligations,” they said.

“In 10 years, Iran will be able to rapidly expand its enrichment capacity,” the ADL leaders added. “At best, if Iran fully complies with the terms of the [agreement], its nuclear weapon ambitions will be deferred during the 10-to-15-year term of most restrictions. At worst, in the view of many highly respected experts, Iran will continue to clandestinely pursue illicit activities, like weaponization research.”

Hadassah, in a statement, said it “view[s] with alarm Iran’s nuclear ambitions — an immediate and existential threat to Israel, the region, and the world …we remain acutely concerned that the proposed agreement will fail to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Americans for Peace Now’s president, Debra DeLee, praised the deal. “The achievement of this landmark deal demonstrates that where there is a sufficient political will, diplomacy can work,” she said, adding that “key elements” of the agreement “will make Israel, the region and the world more secure.”

J Street also welcomed the deal, which it said “appears to meet the critical criteria around which a consensus of the U.S. and international non-proliferation experts has formed for a deal that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The deal, said The Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, represents “the only way to alleviate international concern about Iran’s nuclear program and avert war.”

Both the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee stressed Congress’ role in the coming days and weeks as the deal is debated.

AJC Executive Director David Harris said “it is now incumbent on the United States Congress … to thoroughly review, debate, and, ultimately, vote it up or down.”

“The nuclear deal concluded in Vienna does not appear to address other extremely troubling aspects of Iranian behavior — Iran’s ICBM program … its repeated calls, including in recent days, for the annihilation of Israel … its direct involvement in terrorism and support for terrorist groups,” Harris said.

JCPA called the threat posed by a nuclear Iran “a matter of the greatest concern,” and stressed the importance of world leaders staying “focused on the ultimate goal: preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The 60-day congressional review window opens a critical period to examine the agreement and ensure that it has the rigorous inspection and compliance components that are necessary.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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