As the deadline for a proposed deal between the P5+1 countries and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program looms at the end of June, there is ample reason to be concerned. As of this writing, early indications are that the deal, whose final details are yet to be announced, will fall short of what is needed to make it credible, and sensible.
The default view in most of the media is that the current tensions surrounding the deal represent Israel’s disagreement with American policy, and that this is Israel’s problem. It is certainly true that Israel has serious issues with the deal. There is, however, a broader truth. The entire Western world has an equally important stake in this. A nuclear Iran, or an Iran on the nuclear threshold, virtually insures that the Saudis, Qataris, and numerous other Middle East states will seek to go nuclear, quickly. One doesn’t need a particularly vivid imagination to conjure up exactly how unacceptable it would be for the Sunnis and Shias to be playing nuclear games with each other, with Israel and with the West.
For all of these reasons, any proposed deal that is made needs to meet these five requirements, as advocated by the pro-Israel community. It must allow anytime, anywhere inspections, including at military facilities, to insure Iran’s compliance; it must require Iran to fully disclose its weaponization efforts in the past, something it has not done despite six U.N. Security Council resolutions; it must maintain at least the current level of sanctions until Iran’s ongoing compliance is adequately verified; it must block Iran’s nuclear quest for decades, not just ten to fifteen years; and it must require Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, leaving it no path to a nuclear weapon.
As I write, these requirements are being emphasized to everyone and anyone who has the potential to influence the final outcome of the deal with Iran. Every person who cares about this issue, and if you care about Israel and world peace, you have to care about this issue, needs to make his/her views known to their Congresspeople and Senators, who ultimately will be reviewing the deal and deciding whether or not to approve it.
All of this is true.
But for all that the details of any deal are an issue for the Western world and not just Israel and her supporters, there remains one aspect of all this that is not often mentioned in conjunction with the negotiations, because it is, like climate change, an inconvenient truth. I refer to the relentless anti-Semitic statements of the Iranian government.
During the term of former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Holocaust denial of the most primitive kind was routine. So were characterizations of “the Zionist state” as a cancer, or a blight on the world, 9/11 was a Mossad conspiracy, etc. When the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assumed office in the fall of 2013, he began his term with a less malignant approach to the Jewish world, actually admitting that the Holocaust had taken place (such a progressive!) and trying to present a more humane face to the west. But that is all history now. Iran in once again sponsoring conferences that feature Holocaust deniers and renowned anti-Semites, and no opportunity is lost to declare that all that is wrong with the Middle East is rooted in Israel’s existence. The Middle East would be a much better place without Israel on the map, and Iran’s stated intent was and is to make that dream a reality. It is officially committed to erasing Israel from the map.
When asked about these kinds of statements, Secretary Kerry and our American negotiators will routinely say that Iran’s anti-Semitism, which they certainly do not deny, is, though awful, a separate issue. They are negotiating a nuclear deal, and the anti-Semitism is an issue for a separate forum.
For me, that line of reasoning is almost inexpressibly painful. Trying to separate a country’s rabid anti-Semitism and stated intention to eliminate another country from its concerted effort to gain nuclear weapons is simply not possible. It is beyond disingenuous. How does one even conceive of doing that? What mental gymnastics does one have to do to make it possible to negotiate a nuclear weapons capability with people who have made their nefarious, genocidal intentions perfectly clear?
In our efforts to prevent the conclusion of a “bad deal,” it is vitally important that opposition to it is not a Jewish or Israeli issue. There will surely be those who want to paint it as such, and imply that “the Jews (i.e., the Jewish lobby) are dragging America into war.” That is, of course, a dangerous way of thinking for all of us. Again, the issue is far broader than the Jewish community.
But when it comes to a total failure to link Iran’s stated intentions vis-à-vis Israel (not to mention its prolific exporting of terror) to its efforts to go nuclear, that is for me, as a Jew, a hurt beyond reason. Jewish blood must never again be that cheap. We’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.