Let the naysaying begin: Jewish groups weigh in on Iran nuclear deal

Jewish reaction was immediate to news that an agreement has been reached aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Arak heavy water plant, one of Iran’s contested nuclear facilities.

Some major American Jewish groups are opposing the deal, in line with Israeli government opposition; others approve it; and still others are withholding judgment.

The naysayers agree with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said in recent days that lifting sanctions would give “hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world.”

Anti-Defamation League leaders Barry Curtiss-Lusher and Abraham H. Foxman said they are “deeply disappointed” by the deal, stating that “[t]he thrust of the deal relies entirely on Iran’s good faith.”

A statement by the American Jewish Committee called out specific concerns in the agreement, including “Iran’s ICBM program, which cannot be explained except for ominous military purposes.”

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement that it is “acutely concerned that the proposed agreement will fail to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons … Any agreement must guarantee Iran’s transparency about its nuclear activities.”

A B’nai B’rith press statement asserted that the political climate in Iran, and its recent history, is telling.

“It is impossible to look at Iran’s track record in so many areas and not be skeptical,” the statement reads. “In the days leading up to the agreement … government inspired crowds called for ‘death to America,’ and U.S. and Israeli flags were burned across the country … At no point during the past nearly two years of negotiations has Iran lessened its support for terrorist organizations, its hegemonistic goals in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, or its continued abuse of human rights.”

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, July 2014

For Jewish Republicans, it’s about verification and the short lifespan of the deal — and, presumably, opposing President Obama:

“Several of the issues not included in this deal — inspections anytime, anywhere, adequate and timely disclosure of Iran’s nuclear history, renouncing terrorism and the maintenance of the ballistic missile and conventional weapons bans — keep this from being a workable agreement,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “Iran cannot be trusted and their word means little without resolving these issues.”

Some Jewish groups are calling for more study before offering judgement.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will go back to our trusted experts … to better understand the consequences of this proposed agreement,” the Reform movement said in a joint statement by its three major bodies. “We urge all committed parties to take similar, carefully considered approaches before rushing to conclusions.”

This sentiment was echoed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which nevertheless hinted at likely displeasure: “During these negotiations, we outlined five critical requirements for a good deal. We are deeply concerned based on initial reports that this proposed agreement may not meet these requirements … We intend to examine closely the details of the agreement against that standard, and we will then issue a fuller assessment.”

On the left the agreement received a more hearty embrace.

“It will be important for Congress to carefully review this agreement on its merits,” the liberal Zionist organization J Street wrote in a statement, “and at the same time be mindful of the likely consequences of its rejection: a collapse of diplomacy and international sanctions as Iran pushes forward with a nuclear program unimpeded.”

Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner, in celebrating the agreement, framed fears of a bad deal as a reaction to historic trauma.

“We understand why Israeli Jews, still living with the trauma of the Holocaust and with an ultra-right-wing government that has consistently manipulated those fears to maintain its power and control … are opposing this plan, though we believe it will serve the interests of peace,” he wrote.