Why J Street is Fighting to Give Iran Deal a Chance

April 7, 2015

Jeremy Ben-Ami sent this message to J Street supporters:

We established J Street seven years ago to fix the broken politics on Capitol Hill that impact US policy toward the Middle East.

Our goal: counter the power of a small number of large donors and loud voices who stake out positions at odds with broader American Jewish and public opinion yet persuade many in Washington that they have a monopoly on what it means to be “pro-Israel.”

We set up J Street as a pro-Israel voice in the national debate over Israel and the Middle East arguing that American and Israeli security can be enhanced through diplomatic resolution of regional conflicts and that win-win solutions to even the thorniest conflicts can be negotiated.

The looming fight in Congress over the nuclear deal with Iran puts this political dynamic front and center in the biggest foreign policy battle of this administration.

President Obama has negotiated – along with leaders of five other world powers – a deal many military, diplomatic and intelligence experts around the globe believe advances the security interests not just of the negotiating parties, but of Israel and the entire Middle East.

And the American people and the Jewish community specifically seem to agree. In a ABC/Washington Post poll last week, conducted before the interim agreement with Iran was concluded, 59 percent of those surveyed supported a deal and 31 percent were opposed.

Our own J Street-sponsored poll of 800 Jewish American voters in November found that 84 percent would support an agreement that allows Iran to pursue nuclear development for civilian energy purposes, places international inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities and reduces sanctions on Iran as it meets compliance benchmarks.

But who will speak for these majorities in the upcoming debate over the deal in Congress?

Certainly not Israel’s Prime Minister – despite his claims to speak for all the world’s Jews – as he pledges to “kill the deal.”

Certainly not AIPAC which is all but calling the deal a “bad deal” and urging further economic and political pressure on Iran.

Across the Jewish community, most established institutions are expressing only questions and skepticism about the deal.

That’s why J Street must be front and center in this fight, defending the proposition that diplomacy, rather than the use of military force, is the preferred way to solve even difficult, deeply-rooted problems between nations.

As President Obama said in a New York Times interview Sunday, this deal allows the United States to preserve all its options, including military options. “But if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies,” he said.

Against President Obama’s measured arguments, opponents of the deal have resorted to scaremongering and wild historical comparisons that have no connection to reality. For instance, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) actually said that the President’s diplomacy was worse than Britain’s attempts to appease Nazi Germany before World War II.

“Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran,” he said, comparing the British Prime Minister who made the Munich agreement in 1938 to a top State Department negotiator on the Iran deal.

“We should be a reviewing presence to see how this unfolds … which we all know is going to end with a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran,” Kirk said ominously.

There is certainly room for informed and responsible debate about this deal and for deep skepticism about Iran – a country that continues to sponsor terrorism and often issues shameful and contemptible threats to destroy Israel.

However, our elected officials should not believe that the voices they hear in opposition to the deal actually speak for the entire Jewish or pro-Israel community.

And they certainly shouldn’t be thinking that they gain any political advantage by undermining the President and this deal.

That may be precisely the impression some donors and lobbyists – and the Prime Minister of Israel – hope to create, and it’s why winning this fight on Iran is so critical not just for this issue but for its broader implications.

For if the most hawkish voices can do this on Iran, they will do it over and over again on issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s why this is a battle we have joined – and must win.

– Jeremy