Manufacturing Unity on the Iran Deal

Whatever one makes of the nuclear deal reached by the P5+1 and Iran earlier this month, the strident reactions on both sides of the debate could not have come as a shock. For months, the right of the Jewish community was warning about an impending calamity in the Iran talks–––which culminated in the grotesque display at the Jerusalem Post conference. On the left, a deal whose details had yet to be finalized received unequivocal support. The stage for confrontation was set long before the deal was finalized in Vienna.

Equally unsurprising: supporters of the agreement have appealed to American Jews, of whom a strong plurality support the agreement, whilst opponents have pointed to the unified opposition of Israel’s left, right, and center to the agreement.

Both claims are correct. American Jews are more likely to support the agreement, and Israel’s political establishment is almost uniformly skeptical. Among Jews, there is an American-Israeli divide on Iran, one that former Ambassador Michael Oren tried but ultimately failed to bridge in his blunt memoir “Ally”.

Optimally, then, this should result in the Iran debate consisting of facts, and not vacuous posturing. If Jews are so clearly divided on an issue, then an appeal to Jewishness is practically meaningless. That is, unless you don’t think supporters of the agreement are actually Jews.

Perhaps I’m overreacting, but this opinion piece by Charles Jacobs and Elliot Hamilton of the oddly named Americans for Peace and Tolerance left me rather terrified. They suggest J Street be “evicted” from the American Jewish community because of its enthusiastic support for the nuclear deal. They cite the ‘unity’ of American Jewish organizations, without ever once pointing to the mixed picture among Jews as a whole.

Apart from introducing the novel concept of evicting someone you’ve never let in, the op-ed mostly consists of a dull list of grievances against an organization the authors have always reserved contempt for. It’s nevertheless revealing of a budding strategy on the right: create unity where this is none by excluding those who disagree with you. If organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and the New Israel Fund are considered “Jewish organizations,” then any semblance of unity falls apart.

This isn’t to say J Street is necessarily correct in its strategy, or that everyone critical of the agreement has embraced this odious line of thinking. Noah Efron, a left-leaning Tel Aviv city councilman and co-host of the popular “Promised Podcast” was right to note that J Street may be alienating its Israeli partners by uncritically backing the deal so enthusiastically. And thoughtful critiques of the Iran agreement can be found in outlets from the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal to Haaretz. 

But one can’t help but fear the rising tide of intolerance of dissent from the right, whose donors still exercise great influence over mainstream Jewish organizations. Instead of accepting the fact that Jews are divided, some have opted to demonize and ostracize progressive Jews. Inquiring moderates like myself will undoubtedly be told to either shut up or join the (increasingly futile) war effort.

What a crying shame, given the debate we could’ve had.

About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at abrsilberstein@gmail.com
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