Professional and lay leaders of the Reform movement — America’s largest — have been unable to reach agreement on the Iranian nuclear agreement, reflecting the split pollsters have found in the American Jewish community.
In a statement, leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and ARZA (the movement’s Zionist arm) said their concern now is on “the day after” and their wish that the debate not cause a lasting rift between the U.S. and Israel and among North American Jews.
At the same time, it called upon President Barack Obama to issue an “unequivocal statement that at no point will the U.S. accept a nuclear-armed Iran. The administration must state clearly that in the short term, and more importantly, 15 years from now when key provisions of the [agreement] expire, the U.S. will take no option off the table when it comes to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability.”
In addition, it called on the U.S. “to provide Israel with the support necessary, including advanced weaponry and the means to deliver it, to further deter Iran, protect Israel’s security, and maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. This could take the form of a new defense alliance between the U.S. and Israel similar to NATO. These steps are necessary both because of the prospect of Iran developing or obtaining nuclear weapons, and the possibility of increased military activity in the region, which is an inherent and likely consequence of the inevitable lifting of sanctions that any agreement containing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would entail.”
The Reform movement represents a reported 1.5 million Jews, about 35 percent of the American Jewish population, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.
The Conservative movement, the next largest with 18 percent of the Jewish population, issued a statement last month through its rabbinical arm, the Rabbinical Assembly, that also failed to take a position on the agreement. Instead, it called on Congress to careful review it to “ensure that Iran will be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Both the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations and the Rabbinical Council of America, respectively, the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization and the largest national rabbinic membership organization nationwide, both vigorously oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. They said the “inspections regime is insufficient to ensure Iran cannot cheat and surreptitiously develop nuclear weapons,” and that Iran will receive “billions of dollars in funds that it can use to fuel even more terrorism and destabilizing activities across the globe.”
Just a week ago, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that was still consulting its leaders and “listening to expert voices reflecting the range of views on the deal. We are doing this in a thoughtful and deliberative fashion and as expeditiously as possible.”
In a statement today, the leaders of the Reform movement said they found the Iranian nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “challenging to analyze.”
“Some argue that it offers the most promising path forward to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” it said. “Others argue that while the agreement has serious flaws, the consequences of rejecting it create far more perils and damage than implementing it would. Still others argue that it does not do enough to prevent and/or contain the danger that a nuclear Iran would pose. We recognize that these arguments have merit … [it does] present a way forward, there are real dangers to rejecting it, and it does not foreclose Iran’s ability to become a nuclear weapons threshold state.
“The Reform Movement is large and diverse. Within the Movement, reasonable people — patriotic Americans and passionate Zionists — have expressed different and valid positions on this agreement, articulating the many arguments made by others as well. … At this time, there is no unity of opinion among the Reform Movement leadership — lay and rabbinic alike — just as there is not unity among our membership as to the JCPOA itself; but there is unity as to the important questions and concerns we pose in this statement. Thus, there is simply no clarity that would support taking a position “for” or “against” the JCPOA itself.”
The statement went on to express “deep concern” about the “tension and the harsh rhetoric in the discourse between President [Barack] Obama and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. We fervently hope that both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will take concrete steps, transcending politics, to repair the rifts that impede this relationship between longstanding and essential allies. We say this sincerely believing that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are fully committed to the unique U.S.-Israel relationship and with appreciation for the President’s many efforts to support Israel.”
In addition, the Reform movement said that following extensive briefings about the deal, it has “five principal areas of concern: deterrence, Iran’s support of terror, inspections, human rights and religious freedom, and the United States’ standing in the world.”