When Silence Becomes Betrayal

The American Jewish community has supported the Democratic Party for the last one hundred years. They have voted for that party in record numbers. No ethnic group in the US has been more supportive. In all that time there has been one major silence which could be classified as a betrayal. That time was during the Holocaust. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew about the concentration camps in Europe, and he had the power to do something about the rail lines which led up to them. But to his great shame, and to the shame of his party and country, he failed to act. His silence and the silence of his supporters have gone down in history as a moment of infamy in Jewish history. Certainly the Holocaust cannot be blamed on the United States, but its moment of silence can most definitely be classified as an ugly betrayal.

Today, we stand at the precipice of another great silence in Jewish history. This silence will also involve the Democratic Party and its myriad of supporters, including the American Jewish community. The silence I am referring to is the prospect of a very bad nuclear deal with Iran. And although nothing has been finalized, the prospect of continuous concessions by the leader of the modern-day Democratic Party, President Barack Obama, has now come to the attention of the US Senate. It is in the Senate that the future of these prospective concessions will be decided. And it is within the Democratic Party caucus that there will either be silence leading to betrayal, or its opposite, leading to inspiring leadership and courage.

One could only hope that the prospect of a bad nuclear deal with Iran will be corrected through presidential action. After all, President Obama himself has stated on more than one occasion that no nuclear deal with Iran would be better than a bad one. Yet ugly rumors persist of increasing US concessions in order for the president to cement any kind of deal which could get him and his party off the hook of a tougher, more leveraged policy which could include military action. Meanwhile, what had been promised only three short years ago has now been dramatically abandoned in the face of tough Iranian negotiations. This has led to a slow but steady US capitulation to the demands of the Ayatollah and his representatives. From the original prospect of a symbolic nuclear program, the administration has now come full circle to acceptance of a deal of limited duration with a mere “mothballing” of Iranian nuclear facilities.

President Obama has promised, however, a period of ten to fifteen years whereby the Iranian breakout time toward a bomb will be at least twelve months. In order to accomplish this degree of breakout time, or to prevent the far more likely prospect of a sneak out, President Obama has equally promised the most far-reaching and intrusive verification regime possible. This verification regime has become the crux of what the administration would define as the very criteria for either a good or bad nuclear deal. Yet the rumors persist of more and more concessions over just such a verification regime. The administration has apparently gone from supporting the concept of “anytime, anywhere” inspections with very limited notice, to something called “managed access”. The Iranians continue to demand a twenty-eight-day notification period without any access to persons of authority or expertise.

The same verification confusion exists over Iran’s past military nuclear dimension. The Iranian supreme leader has refused any IAEA access to military sites throughout the country. Without this access, any deal would not only become an instantly bad nuclear deal, it would essentially become a non-deal. The fact of the matter is that every US senator knows that, without a full understanding of past Iranian nuclear weapons research and development, any hope to prevent a sneak out would be impossible. This would be tantamount to giving total trust to a political regime who has sworn to destroy Israel and has justified that genocidal goal as a Divine imperative of the Muslim faith. Yet the president has argued that an anti-Semitic regime can be rational and that engagement with such a regime could lead to its moderation. Does the Democratic Party really believe these premises? Is the American Jewish community willing to go along with a political party that does?

Israel and the US have been close allies since the early 1970s. Before that, during the administrations of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Israel and the US were close friends. Now President Obama claims to have Israel’s back. And indeed, the military support he has given Israel has been superlative. But that does not take away from the fact that the prospective Iran nuclear deal has the potential to be flawed in a myriad of ways. Passage of the nuclear deal by the US Senate without the most stringent verification regime could easily become a strategic loss not only for Israel but also for the region of the Middle East at large, and therefore the entire world community. The risks are great.

On April 4th, 1967, Martin Luther King gave the most important non-civil-rights speech of his career when he came out against the Democratic Party establishment and its undeclared war in Vietnam. To justify his protest, he declared that “there comes a time when silence becomes betrayal”. These words galvanized a nation and turned a substantial base of the Democratic Party against the war. King became the moral inspiration behind the soul searching of an entire generation who simply could not understand why it had become necessary to bomb a poor Third World country (a peasant country) into oblivion. Is there no voice in the American Jewish community today, a rabbi or any other, who will step up to the leader of the Democratic Party and declare that a bad nuclear deal in combination with a diplomatic entente toward a regime like Iran is wrong? Is there not a leader in the American Jewish community who can challenge the Democratic Party? The American Jewish community must declare that this prospective policy is not only bad for Israel, it’s bad policy, period?

Yes, there is a time when silence becomes betrayal. And that time could very well be approaching. Who will stand up and defend Israel? Will it be the administration itself by refusing to give in to Iranian demands? Or will it be the US Senate in total, which understands the words of Martin Luther King and also the great inspiration of two great leaders, the Kennedy brothers, when in the 1960s they walked the walk of a “profile in courage”. Time will tell what will be the true legacy of the Democratic Party toward Israel. And time will tell who will be its true champion. But also, time will tell whether the American Jewish community will rise to the occasion.

Or there could be silence, leading to G-d knows what. If American Jews (or people like President Obama, who claim to identify with American Jews) want to repair the world, they must repair their political party first.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).