Jonathan A. Greenblatt
Jonathan A. Greenblatt
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Why Iran poses such a serious threat

US negotiators must treat Teheran's antisemitism, persecution of minorities, and backing for terrorism as integral issues in any nuclear talks
In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

As the number one state sponsor of antisemitism and a self-proclaimed threat to the survival of the State of Israel, Iran has long been a country of grave concern to ADL. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, ADL has advocated for the US government and the international community to address Iran’s belligerent behavior toward Jews around the world, as well as toward the Jewish State and the community of nations as a whole.

Tragically, Iran is an instructive case of the connection in the world today between anti-Jewish bigotry and pervasive violent extremism. Simply put, America and the international community need to be addressing both. We cannot achieve sustainable security if we only “put Iran back in the box,” as administration officials describe the objective for current talks.

This is because Iran poses a serious threat in so many different respects. In addition to the well-documented destabilizing and menacing impact of its nuclear program, this includes Iran’s aggressive regional militarism in Syria, Iraq and beyond; its sponsorship of terrorist organizations; its unending propaganda slandering the Jewish people and the Jewish state; and its mistreatment of religious and other vulnerable minorities.

Iran genuinely does pose an existential danger to the State of Israel, and it sponsors terrorism targeting Jewish institutions and communities on every single continent of the world other than Antarctica. Its well-documented support for the horrific 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires unfortunately is just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

Pushing back on Iran’s propagation of antisemitism also requires a concerted and public push from Washington. That should start with naming the problem, reaffirming the previous administration’s position that Iran is indeed the world’s number one sponsor of this ancient hatred, and putting it out on the table as a prerequisite to any kind of normalization.

ADL research in the last year has documented that Iran teaches a pervasively hateful antisemitic ideology in its current state textbooks. In addition, we recently documented how Iranian state sponsorship facilitated its third international cartoon contest to propagate Holocaust denial, as well as numerous other forms of antisemitism. And Iranian propaganda from its media channels, proxy organizations, and social media networks routinely spread antisemitism in relation to the Arab-Israeli peace process, in addition to demonizing Jewish communities.

As the global leader in fighting antisemitism and extremism, we at ADL don’t think that any of these issues are poised for easy and immediate resolution. However, we believe wholeheartedly that the only way Tehran will be dissuaded from any of its menacing conduct will be if the US negotiating team includes such considerations as part and parcel of its priorities.

One of my first major acts upon becoming the CEO of ADL was to oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. While ADL couldn’t offer meaningful perspective on the half-life of uranium or inspections regimes, we are the leading experts in the world on antisemitism and hate so the basis of our opposition was simple: the JCPOA had severe shortcomings, particularly the absence of restrictions on Iran’s relentless bigotry and violent conduct toward Jewish people as well as the regime’s horrific human rights abuses at home, especially targeting ethnic and religious minorities.

We remain convinced that the JCPOA, as it stands today, is unsustainable as a solution for addressing the full array of Iranian misconduct. We appreciate the Biden Administration’s claim that it will seek to pursue a “longer and stronger” deal, it does not sound like that currently is on the table.

When State Department officials implausibly suggest that US counterterrorism sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank legally could be invalid and therefore lifting them could be open to negotiation in exchange for Iranian concessions on the nuclear issue, that sets off alarm bells for many of us. It worryingly suggests that the administration would be willing to undermine and even trade away its biggest and most relevant leverage pertaining to Iran’s terrorist activities without any changes in Iran’s systematic sponsorship and perpetration of terrorism. Perhaps this is a misread, but the ambiguity is worrisome.

Additionally, this negotiating strategy seems to contradict Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s pledge during his Senate confirmation hearing when he was asked about these sanctions. He insisted that pursuing a return to the JCPOA would not stop the administration from advancing “the toughest possible sanctions to deal with Iranian support for terrorism,” and that “continuing and even strengthening our ability to push back and to deal effectively with Iran’s egregious behavior, including in the terrorism realm” is absolutely necessary in this regard.

Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism is a grave threat to the United States’s national security, to Israel’s safety and security and to the security of many other US allies, including in Europe and the Middle East. It also threatens Jewish communities, both when such acts are perpetrated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and when it facilitates its terrorist proxies doing so, most often by Hezbollah. Indeed, America can and should be doing more to mobilize multilateral efforts to combat Iran’s financial and logistical support of antisemitic terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Hezbollah’s ongoing illicit activities in such places as South America’s Tri-Border Area.

Lastly, we cannot forget that the biggest victims of Iran’s extremist conduct are the Iranian people themselves. ADL launched a Task Force on Middle East Minorities more than two years ago informed in significant part by this horrific problem. We hope that the administration will treat human rights in Iran as a priority concern for US policy, because as much as the nuclear issue is a time-sensitive priority, so too is the wellbeing of Iran’s women, LGBTQ people, journalists, democracy advocates, Baha’is, Sunnis, Sufis and Christians.

Of course, statecraft is sometimes about tradeoffs. And the Biden Administration has assembled an impressive team of seasoned and talented professionals who publicly have committed to forge a better deal. But if the administration withdraws its leverage to achieve significant improvements on other issues simply to smooth the path back into the JCPOA, then how will it enforce its pledges to simultaneously address Iran’s other aggressive conduct? And how will we be able to pursue the longer and stronger accord that imposes limits on other manifestations of Iran’s aggression?

Because Iran’s nuclear provocations are premised on the same extremist ideology that drives the Iranian government’s other violent extremism, the world simply does not have the luxury to grant Tehran a free pass on its incitement of hatred and violence while focusing only on the nuclear issue.

About the Author
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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