Torah, World Politics and Iran

5438[1]How does our Jewish community make a decision on the crucial issue of making sure that Iran is not able to produce nuclear weapons?

One classically Jewish approach: We could draw on the deep, ancient, and evolving wisdom of Torah, reading it anew in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

The passage of Torah that leaps out as most relevant is Deuteronomy 20:10-11. It teaches that if we besiege a city (which is what the sanctions against Iran have been), we must proclaim Shalom to it. If it then agrees to decent terms that meet our conditions and fulfill our crucial needs, we must make sure it adheres to them and we must end the siege.

That is what the proposed agreement with Iran does. It does this by requiring Iran to abandon all the physical objects and scientific processes that could lead to nuclear weapons, and to subject itself to unprecedented intrusive inspections to make sure it is adhering to that regimen. It makes sure that if Iran’s government were to change its mind, decide to go nuclear, and expel inspectors, the world would have at least a year to take action before Iran could make even one nuclear weapon.

Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

Yet we must test the Torah teaching against our present situation. In this case, what is an alternative approach that would make sure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons?

The same Torah passage that counsels proclaiming Shalom to a besieged city and bending it to our own will sees that the alternative to agreement would be an utterly destructive war.

And in our present situation, that expectation seems correct. If the Congress were to torpedo this agreement, the world-wide regimen of sanctions against Iran would almost certainly unravel and we would be left with no agreement, no inspections, no restrictions, and no sanctions. At that point, there would be intense pressures for war, on the grounds that there would then be no other way to ensure that Iran could not change its mind and proceed to acquire nuclear weapons.

War would begin with what its proponents would advertise as a one-shot military attack on Iran.Such an attack might well win a momentary victory, though Iran could respond in low-level ways that would have huge effects – like disrupting oil traffic in the Straits of Hormuz. But even an immediate military victory would not end there, any more than did the initial victorious invasion of Iraq.

Far likelier that any surviving Iranian government would then with absolute determination seek nuclear weaponry, in order to deter future attacks. To prevent that effort from succeeding, the attacking government would find itself hooked into a continuing, probably permanent, occupation. Its forces would be constantly harassed by guerrilla warfare from a furious and united Iranian people.

Such a war would be far worse for the US, Israel, and the whole Middle East than the Iraq War was. Worse in dead bodies, failure to meet urgent civilian needs, collapse of US influence abroad.

But what about the hostility that the Prime Minister of Israel has vehemently expressed to the proposed nuclear-control agreement?

Two factors are at work: Much of the Israeli Jewish community and predominant Israeli Jewish culture, feel the Holocaust as a constant nightmare in the constant present, stoking fear that any agreement with a hostile power will endanger the Jewish people — which their fear still defines as a powerless victim.

Yet the military/ security leadership in Israel has over and over spoken out in opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s go-for-broke insistence on continuing the siege of Iran — refusing any agreement.

Why is the Prime Minister rejecting the advice of the security leadership? It is all too possible that an increasingly right-wing government is appealing to this ever-present subterranean fear in order to increase its own power — just as Prime Minister Netanyahu did just before the election.

It is the task of the American Jewish community to make up our own minds about this decision, drawing on our own Jewish values and our understanding of the broader consequences of the two choices, both in America and in the Middle East.

Here too we must take seriously the Torah’s teachings. The Torah counsels respect but not automatic obeisance to rulers. Instead it places strong limits on the power of kings – including the kings of ancient Israel. The passage (Deuteronomy 17:16) especially warns against the frequent inclination of many kings to pursue military power, as in “multiplying horses” for a horse-chariot army when cavalry was the aggressive weaponry of an imperious pharaoh.

That injunction applies to any secret nuclear-weaponry ambitions of Iran; to unwarranted militarism of any Israeli government; and to those in the US who thirst for military adventures now as they did twelve years ago when they targeted Iraq.

It will do Israel no good to curdle our love for it into idolatry toward some of its leaders. It will do America great harm for us to pursue war with Iran instead of a vigorously safeguarded shalom. For as our scriptures also teach (Psalms 115 and 135), those who erect dead objects and deadly ideas into their gods will become like their idols — dead. It is celebration of the ever-changing, ever-growing Breath of Life that gives life to ourselves and all our neighbors.

Obama Refutes Criticism of Iran Deal

Remarks by President Barack Obama at American University, August 5, 2015

Between now and the congressional vote in September, you’re going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads, and the accompanying commentary, sounds familiar, it should — for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.


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Iran Deal “Doomed to Succeed,” Dennis Ross Says

Amb. Dennis Ross at Har Zion Temple

Amb. Dennis Ross at Har Zion Temple

Former Ambassador Dennis Ross says he does not know if the final result of the negotiations with Iran was the best deal possible, but he believes it will go forward. At the same time, Ross recommends steps he wants from the administration to address the agreement’s shortcomings.

Ross spoke on July 28 about the agreement negotiated by the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany (the P5+1), and now pending review by the Congress. The talk held at Har Zion Congregation in Wynnewood, PA, and sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was also simulcast downtown and webcast over the internet. The video is still available online. (Skip ahead 100 minutes to avoid the recording taken while the room was being set up.)

There is no easy answer to the question what to do with the Iran agreement, according to Ross. If the U.S. refuses to approve the agreement, it is likely that international sanctions against Iran will collapse anyway, and we will have no bargaining power sufficient to achieve any better deal. Thus Ross concludes that the agreement, despite its “vulnerabilities,” needs to be considered.

Good News

Ross laid out the favorable elements of the agreement: For 15 years Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. The amount of fissionable material allowed under the agreement, 300 k.g., is inadequate to manufacture even one bomb. By comparison, Iran has approximately 10,000 k.g. of fissionable material in its stockpile today.

Moreover, the supply chain for the development of fissionable material will be monitored for 25 years. Ross explained the two paths to secure fissionable material:

  • enrichment of uranium through cascades of centrifuges, or
  • development of plutonium in a heavy water reactor.

Either process requires extensive equipment and operations. Based on the successful experience of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in identifying past Iranian nuclear development, Ross is optimistic as to the effectiveness of the inspection regime under the new agreement.

Other positive elements of the Agreement were pointed out:

  • In addition to disposing of most of its fissionable material, Iran must remove and destroy the core from its heavy water plutonium reactor.
  • Its modern centrifuges must be removed for 10 years.
  • The inspection rights of the U.S. under the agreement are stricter than any international program ever instituted, other than the program we operated in Iraq after we took over that country.
Courtesy of Cartoon Kronicles  @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Bad News

Ross also provided his opinion of the “bad news”: Iran does not have to entirely dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and can produce highly enriched uranium, although at a much lower pace than at present. Iran will be free after 15 years to move into weapons-grade uranium development as rapidly as it wishes.

Sanctions relief for Iran will arrive as soon as it has completed dismantling facilities and reducing its stockpile. This might occur in as little as six months although Ross believes it is more likely to take a year. Although sanctions may snap back if Iran violates its agreement in whole or in part, if that occurs there is language indicating that Iran is not obligated to obey the limits on its nuclear program.

Ross accepts the probability that sanction relief will permit Iran to raise the levels of financial support it presently provides to Hamas and other terrorist activities. But he reiterates the prospect that sanctions will disappear, whether Congress approves the agreement or not.

Ross suggests that the U.S. add teeth to the agreement by announcing that it will resume the use of sanctions if there is any cheating by Iran. He urges that we develop specific further agreements with our European allies as to when and how their sanctions would be automatically reimposed in case of a breach, especially in the likely case of minor breaches.

After year 15, Iran would be a nuclear threshold state and could acquire a bomb quickly enough that sanctions would not be a sufficient deterrent. Accordingly, Ross recommends that we immediately clarify that even after 15 years we would not tolerate the development of nuclear weapons by Iran and that we would apply force if we saw that happening. Of course, even if we say we will do this, Iran might not believe us. In that case, to ensure that Iran is deterred from weaponizing their nuclear material, Ross recommends that we arm Israel with the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator along with the B-52 bombers necessary to carry them. This 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb is really a “mountain buster bomb” and no one doubts that Israel would be willing to use these weapons if need be.

Audience members asked about the strain in Israel’s relations with the U.S. Noting that fully 70% of Israelis are unhappy with the agreement, Ross pointed to the very real threat they face from Iran and its support of Hamas. Although relations between the Netanyahu government and Washington are strained, Ross predicts no permanent impairment, noting our shared values and the democratic qualities of the State of Israel that are unique in the Middle East.

When questioner asked whether Israel remains free to attack Iran despite the agreement, Ross noted that entering the agreement implies that the U.S. will support, not sabotage the negotiated program. But this does not mean the U.S. is required to prevent action by Israel that is not a signatory to the P5+1 agreement with Iran.

Overall, Ross emphasizes the favorable aspects of the terms reached with Iran and concludes that the negotiated agreement, like the title of his book on the U.S.-Israel relationship, is “doomed to succeed.”

The Real Reason for Netanyahu’s Iran Deal Criticism

A recent DEBKA article suggested that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had a change of heart regarding President Obama and the Iran nuclear deal:

Netanyahu has switched tactics for his struggle against the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers… Instead of an all-out effort to block the deal’s passage through Congress, Netanyahu will propose to Congress new laws to specify the issues on which Iranian violations would make US administration penalties mandatory. In Tehran, the Guards chief has rejected the UN resolution as “crossing Iran’s red lines.”

july-22-2015-bibi-and-obama

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles: http://cartoonkronicles.com/

It looks like Netanyahu only wants to criticize the plan. By doing so during the negotiations he increased the leverage the allies had over the Iranian and by doing so now he decreases the probability that Iranians will reject it as a concession to the “Little Satan.”

However, now he sees a possibility that Congress might actually do what ostensibly he had been asking them to do — reject the treaty — and even Netanyahu does not want that. (I cannot avoid thinking of the analogy of a dog chasing after a car. The dog would not know what to do if it actually “caught” the car.)

Those who prefer how things were last month with sanctions to how things will be in the future with a treaty are just engaging in wishful thinking. We cannot turn back the clock. International sanctions are already scheduled to expire if Congress rejects the treaty. The coalition we formed included countries like Russia and China who are basically sympathetic to Iran and would feel betrayed by the U.S. Any new sanctions would have to be unilateral and would likely be no more effective in bringing Iran back to the table than the unilateral Cuban sanctions were in toppling Fidel Castro.

In short, rejecting the treaty would undo all of the progress we have made in recent years in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, and it would deny the us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to require Iran to turn over 97% of its existing stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, as well as its most effective means of generating more while putting the remainder of both under the constant monitoring of the inspectors, like those who successfully kept Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from getting a bomb. Despite his earlier rhetoric, it seems that Netanyahu knows this and is now acting accordingly.

US, Israel Must Assure Iran Agreement Is Implemented

What Position Should We Take On The Iran Nuclear Deal?

I received the above question from The Peace Team along with a retelling of why Alan Grayson, described as a bona fide progressive (His recent failure to back higher taxes on the top 0.01% not withstanding.), is strongly against the talks that led to the agreement. I have respected Grayson’s outspokenness in the past, but very much disagree with him on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

As an American Jew with relatives in Israel, I support the agreement as by far the best alternative. Absent implementation of this agreement would have two likely outcomes: war or a nuclear armed Iran. I am not the least bit interested in either.

A Military Solution?

Legions of the same people who cheer-lead the disastrous invasion of Iraq have for years been touting military action as the “best option” but they fail, as they did before, to take into account any of the likely corollary ramifications. In a Washington Post Op-ed, Hans Binnendijk ably relayed that it would be no easy task to degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities via air strikes, and the prospect of hostilities expanding beyond “surgical” strikes looms large.

Binnendijk also pointed out the fact that Iran is effectively our ally in the fight against ISIL, and has a close relationship with Russia: one of our negotiating partners, with whom we have a host of significant diplomatic challenges.

Meanwhile, what will our “solid” allies do? Will Britain join with the U.S. as it did in Iraq? How about Germany? Or France? Or, will we be on an island with Israel, who would be targeted by Iran’s ballistic missiles? Iran is far from a toothless enemy, with clear capacity to create havoc in the Strait of Hormuz and the potential to cause significant damage to U.S. Naval forces.

Renewed Sanctions?

If Congress upends the agreement and we do not go to war, then what? The sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table will dissolve, Russia will move forward with providing Iran with more advanced weapons and we will have no leverage, no inspections, and almost certainly drive to nuclear weapons capability on Iran’s side. Meanwhile, the already badly strained U.S. relationship with Russia over the Ukraine, a powder keg of international disaster should it blow, would worsen, and the very same people arguing vociferously against this agreement will be agitating for tougher action against Russia. The level of risk of a widening conflict in the region and direct conflict with Russia is already far too great.

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.


Trust Iran?

With the agreement in place it is possible Iran will try to take steps toward a nuclear weapon. But it will also be far more likely that they will get caught with inspectors actively working to detect cheating, even if they cannot get into each and every possible facility (and really, what government would permit unfettered access to all of their military installations?).

A perfect deal was never going to be struck with Iran. The reality of what has been agreed to is probably better than could be realistically expected. It should be supported.

In the end, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and Israel to implement the negotiated agreement and work vigorously to ensure that its implementation is as effective as possible.

Before Opposing Iran Deal, Consider the Alternatives

From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program. (Joe Klamar/Pool Photo via AP)

Iranian nuclear talks concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

President Obama announced a deal with Iran on Tuesday. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to block the deal. This decision will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren and is one of the most important votes Congress will take in our lifetimes. We are far better off with this deal than without it, and we could not have gotten a better deal.

Yet before the ink was dry, some groups announced pre-planned campaigns to defeat the deal. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) claimed he read and analyzed the deal Tuesday morning and published an op-ed opposing the deal that very afternoon. Dold had 60 days to make the most important decision of his congressional career, but he made it in a matter of hours. I guess he can use the remaining 59 days and 18 hours to campaign.

We owe it to ourselves to think this through. Don’t rely on weak versions of the administration’s case presented by opponents of the deal. Read the administration’s position in its own words. You don’t have to agree, but you’ve got to understand. President Obama’s press conference last week is mandatory reading for anyone who truly seeks to understand — he covers many key objections.

The 24-day inspection access requirement for non-declared sites (the deal gives us 24/7 access to all of Iran’s known sites) deserves special attention. Critics compare it to giving a drug dealer 24 days to cover up, but that’s a false and misleading analogy. As James Acton explains, an “access delay — even one of 24 days — wouldn’t make any material difference to the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.”

And if you still disagree? Then you have to ask what the alternative is. What happens after Congress blocks a deal that our allies and Iran think is a good deal? Those who tell us in such great detail what is wrong with this deal have an obligation to tell us their alternative in just as much detail, so that we can weigh the merits and decide which course is best.

Some argue that the alternative is not war, but a better deal. A better deal! Why didn’t Obama think of that? Jeff Goldberg is right:

I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold.

No responsible person can oppose this deal without understanding the implications of blocking the deal and knowing what realistic alternatives we have. The “better deal” opponents want invariably turns out to be an deal that Iran would never accept and that our European allies do not think is reasonable or necessary for Iran to accept.

That leaves military action as the only realistic alternative. Military action can, at best, set back Iran’s program only a few years — while guaranteeing that Iran will pursue and obtain nuclear weapons in far less than ten years.

What About Israel?

Many in Israel’s military and intelligence community support the Iran deal. Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

Tel Aviv University physics professor Uzi Even, who served as a scientist at Israel’s Dimona reactor, supports the deal:

the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least 15 years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations.

Yet many Israeli political leaders across the spectrum oppose the deal. We have yet to hear any arguments from those politicians that differ from what we’ve heard here, nor have we heard any realistic alternatives from them.

In this case, it’s not that they know something we don’t. Israel is more at risk from a nuclear Iran than the U.S. and Europe. Reading between the lines, it seems that they just don’t trust the U.S. and Europe to actually enforce the deal or to actively stop Iran on other fronts not covered by the deal. Six years of non-stop anti-Obama indoctrination from the Prime Minister hasn’t helped. This makes for a terribly uncomfortable situation, but what choice do we have other than to evaluate the deal on its merits and ask ourselves if there are better, realistic alternatives?

Everyone agrees on the urgent necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Before Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) even read the deal, he said President Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran.” His opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), believes that Congress should carefully review this deal, without rushing to judgment or resorting to reckless partisanship. (Kirk later walked back his statement without apologizing.)

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, to stop terrorism, or to free American captives. The purpose of the deal is only to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We negotiated with Iran because we are safer with an evil regime that does not have nuclear weapons than one that does.

Reagan and Nixon faced similar criticism for negotiating with the Soviet Union, which was also committed to our destruction. We negotiate with our enemies, not our friends.

This deal is consistent with the framework announced on April 2 and with the criteria established by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By its terms, it is a good deal. Let’s ask questions, but let’s remember the stakes and let’s do so responsibly.

My message to Congress and staff: It’s not unusual for constituents to lobby you on issues that they know more about than you do. But on this issue, because of your access to the White House, you know more, and can get more information, than your constituents. Don’t doubt their passion and sincerity, but please make a fact-based decision and support this deal. Please also support any measures that would enhance Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities. No deal can provide absolute certainty, so it is incumbent upon us to provide Israel with the tools it needs if our worst fears are realized.

Video Satire: The Dealbreakers

Netanyahu: Iran Deal ‘Stunning Historic Mistake’

— by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.

The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism. They’ve gambled that in ten years’ time, Iran’s terrorist regime will change while removing any incentive for it to do so. In fact, the deal gives Iran every incentive not to change.

In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.

Amazingly, this bad deal does not require Iran to cease its aggressive behavior in any way. And just last Friday, that aggression was on display for all to see.

While the negotiators were closing the deal in Vienna, Iran’s supposedly moderate President chose to go to a rally in Tehran and at this rally, a frenzied mob burned American and Israeli flags and chanted “Death to America, Death to Israel!” Now, this didn’t happen four years ago. It happened four days ago.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, said on March 21 that the deal does not limit Iran’s aggression in any way:

Negotiations with the United States are on the nuclear issue and on nothing else.

And three days ago he made that clear again:

The United States embodies global arrogance, and the battle against it will continue unabated even after the nuclear agreement is concluded.

Here’s what Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah, said about sanctions relief, which is a key component of the deal:

A rich and strong Iran will be able to stand by its allies and friends in the region more than at any time in the past.

Translation: Iran’s support for terrorism and subversion will actually increase after the deal.

In addition to filling Iran’s terror war chest, this deal repeats the mistakes made with North Korea. There too we were assured that inspections and verifications would prevent a rogue regime from developing nuclear weapons. And we all know how that ended.

The bottom line of this very bad deal is exactly what Iran’s President Rouhani said today:

The international community is removing the sanctions and Iran is keeping its nuclear program.

By not dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, in a decade this deal will give an unreformed, unrepentant and far richer terrorist regime the capacity to produce many nuclear bombs, in fact an entire nuclear arsenal with the means to deliver it. What a stunning historic mistake!

Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran and Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction. We will always defend ourselves.

Obama: Iran Deal ‘Opportunity to Move in a New Direction’

President Obama praised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — to limit Iran’s nuclear program:

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.  And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

The president referred to the expected debate in Congress on the deal:

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure. And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission. We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Obama expressed hope for continuing to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran:

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.

The President: Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure. This deal is also in line with a tradition of American leadership. It’s now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” He was speaking then about the need for discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons.

In those days, the risk was a catastrophic nuclear war between two super powers. In our time, the risk is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.

Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments. That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.

*Iran [Inspectors] will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility, and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities. This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones. Some of these transparency measures will be in place for 25 years.

Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary. That arrangement is permanent. And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.

Finally, Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provided the basis for the international community’s efforts to apply pressure on Iran.

As Iran takes steps to implement this deal, it will receive relief from the sanctions that we put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program — both America’s own sanctions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased in. Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it begins to receive new sanctions relief. And over the course of the next decade, Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted, including five years for restrictions related to arms, and eight years for restrictions related to ballistic missiles.

All of this will be memorialized and endorsed in a new United Nations Security Council resolution. And if Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place. So there’s a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation.

That’s the deal. It has the full backing of the international community. Congress will now have an opportunity to review the details, and my administration stands ready to provide extensive briefings on how this will move forward.

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure. And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission. We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Without this deal, there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program. Iran could produce, operate and test more and more centrifuges. Iran could fuel a reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb. And we would not have any of the inspections that allow us to detect a covert nuclear weapons program. In other words, no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. It would also present the United States with fewer and less effective options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I’ve been President and Commander-in-Chief for over six years now. Time and again, I have faced decisions about whether or not to use military force. It’s the gravest decision that any President has to make. Many times, in multiple countries, I have decided to use force. And I will never hesitate to do so when it is in our national security interest. I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. President would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it.

Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East. Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully. If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. President in the future. And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.

For this reason, I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal. But on such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal. After all, the details matter. And we’ve had some of the finest nuclear scientists in the world working through those details. And we’re dealing with a country — Iran — that has been a sworn adversary of the United States for over 35 years. So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement.

But I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends. We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction. And those agreements ultimately made us safer.

I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interest of the United States and our allies. So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.

We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it. And precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing. Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems. Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this deal will resolve all of our differences with Iran. We share the concerns expressed by many of our friends in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf States, about Iran’s support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize the region. But that is precisely why we are taking this step — because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world.

Meanwhile, we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations. We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel’s security — efforts that go beyond what any American administration has done before. And we will continue the work we began at Camp David to elevate our partnership with the Gulf States to strengthen their capabilities to counter threats from Iran or terrorist groups like ISIL.

However, I believe that we must continue to test whether or not this region, which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed, can move in a different direction.

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.

We have come a long way to reach this point — decades of an Iranian nuclear program, many years of sanctions, and many months of intense negotiation. Today, I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties who helped us put in place the sanctions that have proven so effective, as well as the other countries who joined us in that effort.

I want to thank our negotiating partners — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the European Union — for our unity in this effort, which showed that the world can do remarkable things when we share a vision of peacefully addressing conflicts. We showed what we can do when we do not split apart.

And finally, I want to thank the American negotiating team. We had a team of experts working for several weeks straight on this, including our Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz. And I want to particularly thank John Kerry, our Secretary of State, who began his service to this country more than four decades ago when he put on our uniform and went off to war. He’s now making this country safer through his commitment to strong, principled American diplomacy.

History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles. It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together. Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful and more hopeful world.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
[Read more…]

Obama Talks to Jews

It’s okay to disagree with President Obama’s statements or policies. I disagree with some of them too. But too often, we base our opinion on statements or policies falsely attributed to President Obama. That’s why it’s so important to read for ourselves what President Obama actually says, in context, rather than relying on what we are told the president said by people who have an ax to grind (or, for that matter, by people who support the president).

Yesterday, Jeff Goldberg published an interview with President Obama covering the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the nuclear deal with Iran, his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. If you’re concerned about those issues, read the interview.

Two parts leaped out at me. The first was Goldberg’s statement that “As I listened to Obama speak about Israel, I felt as if I had participated in discussions like this dozens of times, but mainly with rabbis.”

The second was President Obama’s statement that “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind.”

When you look at the world that way, how can you not be pro-Israel? No wonder President Obama’s list of pro-Israel accomplishments is so long.

Video Clip of the Week.

This morning, in honor of National Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. If this isn’t pro-Israel, I don’t know what is. If this doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what will.

I strongly recommend that you watch it if you have time, but if you don’t, rather than rely on those who will take bits and pieces out of context, at least read the transcript below and decide for yourself what you think of today’s speech.

Remarks by the President on Jewish American Heritage Month
Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.

I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg. And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.” Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — — I should make clear this was an honorary title. But I was flattered.

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Now, I wanted to come here to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month because this congregation, like so many around the country, helps us to tell the American story. And back in 1876, when President Grant helped dedicate Adas Israel, he became the first sitting President in history to attend a synagogue service. And at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture — not just for America, but for the world.

And think about the landscape of Jewish history. Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot marks the moment that Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization. Yet for most of those years, Jews were persecuted — not embraced — by those in power. Many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution.
The United States could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora. But those who came here found that America was more than just a country. America was an idea. America stood for something. As George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island: The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

It’s important for us to acknowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals — in the legal subjugation of African Americans, through slavery and Jim Crow; the treatment of Native Americans. And far too often, American Jews faced the scourge of anti-Semitism here at home. But our founding documents gave us a North Star, our Bill of Rights; our system of government gave us a capacity for change. And where other nations actively and legally might persecute or discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equal before the eyes of the law. When other countries treated their own citizens as “wretched refuse,” we lifted up our lamp beside the golden door and welcomed them in. Our country is immeasurably stronger because we did.

From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect. And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect. The story of Exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights. From the founding members of the NAACP to a freedom summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of Biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.

Earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, we remembered the iconic images of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King, praying with his feet. To some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from Warsaw would take such great risks to stand with a Baptist preacher from Atlanta. But Heschel explained that their cause was one and the same. In his essay, “No Religion is an Island,” he wrote, “We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism.” Between a shared hope that says together we can shape a brighter future, or a shared cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair.

So the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope. Me standing here before you, all of you in this incredible congregation is a testament to the power of hope. It’s a rebuke to cynicism. It’s a rebuke to nihilism. And it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past, will be shaped by the values that we share. At home, those values compel us to work to keep alive the American Dream of opportunity for all. It means that we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own; that we’re prepared to invest in early childhood education; that we are concerned about making college affordable; that we want to create communities where if you’re willing to work hard, you can get ahead the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead. Around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet.

It’s particularly important to remember now, given the tumult that is taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods, those shared values compel us to reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of Israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of Israel — that those bonds, that friendship cannot be broken. Those values compel us to say that our commitment to Israel’s security — and my commitment to Israel’s security — is and always will be unshakable.

And I’ve said this before: It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S. government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper. Because it would ignore the history that brought the state of Israel about. It would ignore the struggle that’s taken place through millennia to try to affirm the kinds of values that say everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.

As many of you know, I’ve visited the houses hit by rocket fire in Sderot. I’ve been to Yad Vashem and made that solemn vow: “Never forget. Never again.” When someone threatens Israel’s citizens or its very right to exist, Israelis necessarily that seriously. And so do I. Today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever. Our support of the Iron Dome’s rocket system has saved Israeli lives. And I can say that no U.S. President, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one.

As part of that commitment, there’s something else that the United States and Israel agrees on: Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate. I’m not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy — although for those of you who are interested — we have a lot of material out there. But I do want everybody to just remember a few key things.

The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal. As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise. I want a good deal.

I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path. A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term. In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.

I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.

Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.

Now, that does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments. There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired. Because the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that’s proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny — and I welcome that scrutiny.

But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war. The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world. Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive. And those values in many ways came to be my own values. They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating. The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.

So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.

Before I came out here, the Rabbi showed me the room that’s been built to promote scholarship and dialogue, and to be able to find how we make our shared values live. And the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and it involves difficult choices. That’s why we study. That’s why it’s not just a formula. And that’s what we have to do as nations as well as individuals. We have to grapple and struggle with how do we apply the values that we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world.

And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.

And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out — compel all of us to speak out — against the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever it exists. I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected. The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people. And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.

And in recent years, we’ve seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago. This is not some passing fad; these aren’t just isolated phenomenon. And we know from our history they cannot be ignored. Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.

And that’s why, tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a Solidarity Shabbat. It’s a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms. And I’m proud to be a part of this movement, and I’m proud that six ambassadors from Europe are joining us today. And their presence here — our presence together — is a reminder that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions, and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong. It’s not always easy, I think, to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people.

So I want to close with the story of one more of the many rabbis who came to Selma 50 years ago. A few days after David Teitelbaum arrived to join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail. And they spent a Friday night in custody, singing Adon Olam to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” And that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope. But what’s wonderful is, is that out of respect many of their fellow protesters began wearing what they called “freedom caps” — yarmulkes — as they marched.

And the day after they were released from prison, Rabbi Teitelbaum watched Dr. King lead a prayer meeting before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And Dr. King said, “We are like the children of Israel, marching from slavery to freedom.”

That’s what happens when we’re true to our values. It’s not just good for us, but it brings the community together. Tikkun Olam — it brings the community together and it helps repair the world. It bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable. It creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable. This congregation — Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. But it requires courage. It requires strength. It requires that we speak the truth not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

So may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined. May we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear. As we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march, may we always stand together, here at home and around the world.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.