January 21st, 2022

Reality Check

The Sorry Spectacle of Obama's Pro-Iran Deal Jews

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published August 19, 2015

 The Sorry Spectacle of Obama's Pro-Iran Deal Jews

President Obama may have a stranglehold on the votes he'll need to sustain a veto of a Congressional rejection of his Iran nuclear deal.

But while getting one-third plus one votes in either the House or the Senate will save the agreement, the administration and its allies are not satisfied with scraping through this debate and have been playing hardball against critics on both sides of the aisle.

The president has likened Republican opponents of the deal to Iranians who chant "Death to America" even as he inaccurately claims that the person leading those chants — Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — is "just a politician" and can be counted on to behave responsibly. He's also exerted fierce pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to stay in line rather than their principles that would lead them to vote against him.

But nowhere has the political combat been nastier than in the American Jewish community. While polls have shown most Jews don't like the deal and most of their organizations are opposing it, the administration has been able to rally some of his allies in the Jewish community to not merely articulate half-hearted defenses of the deal but to blast opponents for having the temerity to call out Obama for his attacks.

Though they claim to be in favor of free debate and to merely want civility, the not-so-subtle subtext to their message is clear: American right-winger warmongers and Israelis need to stop questioning dear leader.

The main point all of the administration's Jewish allies seem to be harping on is that it was unfair of opponents of the deal to point out that the president has adopted the same tactics President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker used in 1991 when he depicted AIPAC and other friends of Israel as a vast lobby determined to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

At the time Bush's outrageous comments were blasted by both liberal and conservative Jews as both unfair and tiptoeing up to the line of outright anti-Semitism. During this same period, commentator Pat Buchanan crossed that line when he said that Jews and the denizens of Israel's "amen corner" in Congress were pushing the U.S. into a war with Iraq in which their children would not serve.

Yet when Obama used the same memes, including the warmonger charge, this time many liberal Jews claimed to be shocked, not at the president's language, but at the chutzpah of Iran deal critics like myself to point out what he was doing.

Among the administration's leading defenders is Alan Solow, a major figure in the Chicago Jewish community but also a longtime backer and crony of the president. Solow wrote in a piece published by JTA to say that the charge that Obama was "dog-whistling" anti-Semitism was "ridiculous." Solow says there's nothing wrong with Obama pointing out that AIPAC is spending big money to stop him while also falsely claiming that opponents of the deal are supporting a stand that will lead to war.

Solow falsely claims that AIPAC didn't engage the president on the substance of the issue but merely whined up about his criticism, even saying that their arguments remind him "of the child who murdered his parents begging for mercy because he is an orphan." He seems to think that Obama is entitled to misrepresent the argument as being one of Israel and its friends against the rest of the world and that if opponents don't like it, they should toughen up.

But, of course, there's nothing absurd about tagging Obama with the same arguments liberals once used against the elder Bush about anti-Semitism when, in fact, the president's statements are far worse than those that earned the 41st president the opprobrium of a united Jewish community.

The Forward's J.J. Goldberg echoed the same theme when he wrote to denounce those calling attention to the nasty rhetoric being employed by the president and his allies.

According to Goldberg, both American Jews and Israel's government have the right to oppose a deal that strengthens Iran but they shouldn't complain, "when they call others bigots for noticing that they are doing so."

Yet another denunciation of Obama's Jewish critics comes from a veteran advocate of appeasement of Iran, the New York Times' Roger Cohen, who earned journalistic infamy in 2009 with a series of columns lauding Iran and denying the anti-Semitic nature of its government. Cohen praises those Jews who are stepping forward to defend the deal.

Cohen quoted one liberal Jew named Sandra Lippy, who heard a webcast about the issue on which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke as saying that "the doomsday lines were tired."

Lippy's rationale for supporting Obama is typical of the poorly reasoned defenses we are hearing from the president's Jewish legions:

"It's not a great deal, but it's enough of a deal to postpone the nuclear situation and maybe give us time to work things out," Lippy told me. "While they're being sharply reduced in their nuclear capacity, we can sit down again over the next several years and talk about the Holocaust, Israel and human rights, and that is why I go along with it."

This is a ludicrous argument. Iran's nuclear program is preserved by the deal rather than stopped. The notion that merely delaying Iran's bomb is a good idea rather than using sanctions to force it to give up that option is a textbook definition of appeasement. Moreover, the notion that Iran will be prepared to "sit down" and later talk about its push to eliminate Israel and its human rights record in several years after it has been enriched by the deal and sanctions have collapsed is almost comical.

As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz let drop last week, even the administration knows that Iran-backed terrorism against Israel and others will increase after the deal. While President Obama has been more open about his belief in détente with an Iran that is sticking to its vicious beliefs, even his liberal partisans don't sound terribly enthusiastic about the prospect.

But the real issue here is a counter-attack against critics that claims there is nothing prejudicial about talking about lobbyists and big money or the notion that Israel's interests are the sole motivation for opposition.

AIPAC is a lobby and it is spending money and it is true that many of those who are speaking up about the deal's weakness are friends of Israel. But Obama knows all too well that lobbying and spending money are tactics employed by advocates on every side of every issue in Washington.

To single out Jews for doing so as the president has done isn't merely unfair. It's an invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer "Israel Lobby" thesis that insisted support for Israel was being bought by Jews. Moreover, talking about Jews, money and dual loyalty are standard themes used by anti-Semites for generations. The president knows this, as do his Jewish defenders. To claim that his comments are merely an innocent rendition of the facts is to ignore both context and history. Though the president's fans say they are being unfairly targeted, they are the ones who are trying to silence his opponents.

The problem for Obama's pro-Iran deal Jews is that the agreement isn't an easy sell even for those who aren't Netanyahu fans. As Leon Wieseltier, a liberal who despises the prime minister, pointed out in The Atlantic last month, the deal is terrible because it doesn't do what the president said was his goal: stopping Iran's nuclear program. Instead, it gives it international approval and puts Tehran in an even stronger position to get a bomb as well as pursuing regional hegemony and its war on Israel once the pact expires in a decade.

Few of Obama's Jewish supporters are enthusiastic about the chances of détente with Iran, without which the deal doesn't make much sense. But having been saddled with an almost indefensible position, Obama's Jewish defenders are reduced to saying that it's unfair of the critics to point out what the president has been doing to smear those who are trying to stop him. Obama, who now demands that Democrats back him or be branded as disloyal, has shattered the bipartisan consensus that Iran had to be stopped.

That's enough motivation for many Jewish liberal Democrats. That doesn't make them necessarily evil or self-hating but neither is it any more praiseworthy than the conduct of that small group of Republican Jews who backed the elder Bush when he attacked the Jewish community and Israel.

The Iran deal deserves to fail on its merits. So, too, do the lame arguments of Obama's Jewish apologists.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.