Iran nuclear deal divisive for Detroit area Jewish leaders
Despite a nuclear deal that has the support of Sander Levin, the longest-serving Jewish congressman who described the deal as the best way to protect Israel, Detroit’s Jewish community remains divided over the deal.
“I believe that Israel, the region and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that,” Levin said in a statement.
At issue is deep mistrust held by the Israeli government about Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly called for the annihilation of the Jewish state, and charges that U.S. President Barack Obama did not go far enough in demanding more.
Supporters of the deal have come under intense criticism for not standing with Israel.
But it is possible to be deeply pro-Israel and be in favor of the deal, according to Ron Dermer, Israel’s envoy to the United States. He made that observation in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that aired Aug. 16, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to the deal he says could endanger the security of the Jewish state.
“We think this deal will endanger Israel’s security,” Dermer said. “In Israel, this view is shared by the prime minister, by the head of the opposition, by 30 out of 33 members of our foreign affairs, defense committee. Moses didn’t have those kind of numbers.”
Other opponents include such mainstream Jewish organizations as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the leading Jewish Democrat in that body who was in Detroit on Tuesday for a private fundraiser, also came out against the deal.
“I will vote to disapprove the agreement. Not because I believe war is a viable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy; it is because I believe Iran will not change,” Schumer said.
Alvin Saperstein, professor emeritus of physics at Wayne State University, said he does not share Schumer’s point of view and neither do the 340 rabbis from mostly progressive Jewish organizations including Ameinu, a liberal Zionist organization, who wrote Congress on Monday supporting the deal.
“I think the Obama administration’s deal with Iran is the best deal possible in an imperfect world and so I do support it,” Saperstein said. “It will not stop the Iranian government from engaging in hostile, perhaps grievously damaging, activities aimed at us and our allies. But for at least the next generation these hostile acts will not include nuclear weapons.
“The technology required to make and use simple nuclear fission weapons is fairly simple once you have the appropriate fissile materials.”
Saperstein said his reading of the nuclear agreement shows “Iran’s ability to produce these materials will be considerably reduced over the next decade.”
Dr. Richard Krugel, an orthopedic surgeon who is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, disagrees.
“We at JCRC find the agreement very troubling,” Krugel said.
“It lacks a lot of things we have problems with, including levels of verifications, and our main issue is the amount of money Iran will be getting because they have been a major supporter of terrorism.”
He said the Ayatollah of Iran “has not changed his rhetoric since the deal. He has come out strongly against Israel and the U.S. We are in favor of negotiations if they are successful. I feel right now that the Congress in a bipartisan vote will not approve the deal.”
Krugel said Obama was willing to accept a deal at any cost.
To the contrary, Saperstein says the critics “naively think that the goal of the deal is to bring ‘sweetness and light’ between the two parties: The Obama negotiators (and the Bush negotiators before them who came up with a similar plan) were not that naive. Many foolishly compare the present deal with British P.M. (Neville) Chamberlain’s 1938 ‘peace in our time’ deal with the Nazis. This is absurd.”
Saperstein adds: “Chamberlain gave away Czechoslovakia and gained nothing. The present deal gives Iran some of its own sanctioned resources while we get full inspectional access to all of its present and potential nuclear facilities.
Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El, the oldest Jewish congregation in the state, isn’t convinced that a “yes” vote will secure Israel.
“I have studied the arguments for and against the Iran deal with care, all by people to whom I have listened with great respect. ... Therefore, in part since history has taught me to believe those who say that their aim is to destroy us, I personally oppose the current deal as a threat to America and to Israel,” Syme says.
Mary Ellen Gurewitz, a lawyer and activist who supports the deal, says she is worried.
“Netanyahu has long stoked and played to the fears of the Israeli populace (like George Bush and Dick Cheney). Unfortunately, Jewish history gives him support. But modern Israel is not weak. Rather, it is extremely powerful,” she said.
“However, its greatest strength rests on its relationship with the United States, a relationship which Netanyahu is damaging, as he is doing great damage to the bipartisan support for Israel which has been so important.
“Many deplored his speech to Congress and his condescending attitude towards President Obama.”
Arthur Horwitz, the publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, just returned from Israel where he observed three things: distrust of Obama, disdain for Netanyahu and disgust over the deal.
“When a country has been preaching for your elimination for the past 35 years, training, arming and funding surrogate groups classified as terrorist organizations by the U.S. — and digging tunnels under your children’s kindergartens or indiscriminately firing rockets at civilian targets, it’s understandable why Israelis across the spectrum see this as a bad deal,” Horwitz said.
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.