Little more than a week after the Iran nuclear deal agreement was announced and as the details begin to sink into the minds of Americans, many members of the Jewish community are raising their voices in protest and concern.
At Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, approximately 1,500 congregants and other community members came together at short notice for a Community Gathering for Prayer and Action on July 19, called by the Rabbinical Council of America.
“The rabbis feel that this is a critical moment and requires a communal response of both prayer and action,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer of BJSZC via email. “If not now, when?”
Speaking to the congregants, Hauer invoked the spirit of Esther, “the original lobbyist/advocate for the Jewish people,” and how she fasted and prayed to prepare herself to stop the Persian king from destroying all of Israel and called upon the Jewish people to act and to do the same — on her behalf and for themselves.
We gather “to make clear that we have learned the lessons of our history, our recent history. We are not here to be comforted but to be awakened, to be stirred to daven and to act,” Hauer said. In order not to leave the praying or lobbying “for the Jewish people in the hands of a few isolated heroes, as we have done in the past, we will all neither sleep nor slumber until we have done all that we can for the sake of the world and for our people.”
Hauer chose to address elected officials directly for much of his sermon as a way to urge community members to raise their voices and do the same.
“And so let us begin today a process … to plead and to lobby and to work to bring this issue to the eyes and hearts of our elected officials, so they can do what they can at this critical moment. And yes, there are many concerns about what exactly can be accomplished — with veto threats and U.N. resolutions and the like — but it is clear, and all those involved agree, that lobbying the Congress is of great importance and what we need to do at this time.”
Lobbying Congress is familiar territory for the Baltimore Jewish Council, which commended President Barack Obama for his diplomatic efforts and willingness to negotiate a deal. However, after sufficient time to review its details, the organization believes the Iran nuclear deal “does not foreclose Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon and, indeed, could lead to highly unstable conditions in the Middle East and around the world.”
N.Y.C. photos by Richard Chaitt and D.C. photos by Melissa Apter
In its four-point written statement, the BJC said it supported the original idea of lifting economic sanctions in exchange for a “true dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program,” but the resulting deal fell quite short of that, it said, by permitting Iran to begin a nuclear program after 10 years.
Because “the extraordinary sums of money currently frozen pursuant to international sanctions will be released and can be expended in further pursuit of Iran’s hegemonic aspirations and its demonstrated desire to wreak global havoc and terror,” the BJC does not support the current deal and asserts that the deal’s incentive for foreign firms to enter into commercial agreements with Iran — along with the ability of Iran’s neighbors to pursue nuclear weapons — could be “disastrous.”
“We should remember the president’s oft-cited remark that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’” continued the statement. “We need to go back to treating Iran like the rogue terrorist nation that it is. We need to present a credible economic and military challenge that will bring about change in Iranian behavior. … We encourage the president to heed the voices of those who are concerned over this agreement and to negotiate a better deal. If the president is right that this is the best deal that he can achieve at this time, and if he is nonetheless unwilling to walk away from it, then Congress should reject the agreement.”
NYC Protest Draws Thousands
An ecumenical, bipartisan crowd numbering more than 10,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square on July 22 and included Christians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, to name just a few of the disparate groups that united in the heart of the city to denounce the proposed United States-led nuclear deal with Iran.
The Stop Iran Rally was coordinated by the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition in partnership with more than 80 other sponsors. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the rally organizer, said he and several other JRRC members put their know-how and connections together to create this event.
He said there are very few Jewish organizations that advocate solely for Jews, and this rally represented standing up for them and for Israel.
Wiesenfeld said the agreements between the U.S. and Iran are essentially a negotiation for surrender, but with hard work from citizens, he thinks the deal can be undone.
“It’s not just enough that they vote for this,” he said. “This must be stopped for the security of the United States, for the future of Israel, for the future of the Jewish people; now is the time for Jews to act.”
Speakers at the rally — including congressmen and Israel advocates — echoed Wiesenfeld’s view of the deal and urged the crowd to contact their members of Congress to vote against the deal.
As the talk of national security was broadcast from the stage, shouted responses rippled through the crowd.
“Kill this deal!” they shouted. “Where is Chuck?” — a reference to New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles D. Schumer who is seen as a key to its approval. Schumer is Jewish and the heir apparent to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. His decision will go a long way in influencing other Senate Democrats.
Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s Rabbi Jonathan Gross led a sizable delegation at the rally, including a group of students and parents from the BT Dahan Community School.
One student said, “It was great to be a part of something to help Israel, America and the world.” A classmate added, “Today, I really cared about Israel — I felt like I was a part of something.”
The usual throngs of tourists appeared curious but unfazed by the large gathering and still managed to snake their way through the sea of protesters, who enlivened their presence with Israeli and American flags and black-and-white anti-Iran posters.
East Brunswick, N.J., resident Karen Golding-Kushner changed her work schedule so she could attend the rally with her 23-year-old son, Leor Kushner. “I wanted to make sure there was going to be a sufficient crowd here to make a point,” she said.
Golding-Kushner said she marched against the war in Vietnam and also supported the Soviet Jewry movement. Since then, she said, she hasn’t felt as strongly about an issue of national significance until news of the Iran deal struck.
“I think we’re on the brink of, God forbid, a tragedy,” she said. “And if they’re not stopped, I want to know that I did everything I possibly could.”
Golding-Kushner mentioned to her son on the drive from their home to the rally that one day, he will be able to tell his children that he stood up against Iran and did what he thought was right.
“Hopefully,” Leor said, “my children will be able to say, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
Mandel Bar-David didn’t have to travel as far to get to the rally. But the 22-year-old hates big crowds and often doesn’t go to Manhattan from Crown Heights for that sole reason. Still, he felt compelled to attend this rally.
Bar-David is a Persian Orthodox Jew.
Some of his family still lives in Iran. He said it is wrong that they can’t go outside while wearing a kipah without facing scrutiny.
Bar-David said he connects to this issue as a Jew more than an American citizen or a Persian. He said it hurts him to see other Jews supporting Iran when Israel should be the focus of united support from the community.
“If we lived” in Iran, he asked rhetorically, “would they care for us? Would they be talking about our faith and supporting us? I don’t think so. They’re killing us.”
He said he wanted to stand up for his Jewish pride at the rally and give both Chasidim and Persians a good name.
As the crowd started to pick up again in volume and energy, Bar-David raised his voice as well, cheering “Am Yisrael Chai” three times in a row.
“My family is Persian, but I would never in my life support Iran. I am not Iranian,” he said. “I am Jewish. I am Israeli.”
Cruz vs. Code Pink
The day after thousands of people flooded Times Square to protest the Iran nuclear deal, concerned Washington, D.C.-area residents voiced their objections at a rally across the street from the White House.
Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group, organized the afternoon protest in Lafayette Park to criticize the deal and shed light on the four Americans being held hostage in Iran. Their protest drew the attendance of the liberal anti-war group Code Pink, who earlier last Thursday cheered Secretary of State John Kerry when he testified before Congress.
A scuffle broke out between members of Code Pink and CWA supporters as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) addressed the 100 or so attendees in the sweltering July sun. Later, a Code Pink supporter attempted to shout down Cruz, prompting the senator to call forward co-founder Medea Benjamin for an impromptu debate.
Responding to Benjamin’s accusations that the senator was engaged in war mongering, Cruz said, “In the midst of this negotiation the Ayatollah Khamenei led thousands of Iranians in chanting ‘Death to America’ while they burned American flags and Israeli flags.
If you want to know what this Iranian deal is, listen to President [Hassan] Rouhani of Iran who said, ‘We got everything we wanted out of this deal,’” Cruz added. “This deal is a complete capitulation by President Obama to radical Islamic theocratic zealots who want to murder millions of Americans.”
The majority Jewish audience cheered Cruz and later Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern addressed her remarks to Obama.
“Why, Mr. President, have you negotiated away the future of our children and our grandchildren to the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamic terrorism?” she said.
As the protest dragged on past the scheduled one-hour mark, supporters and detractors of the deal splintered off in mostly congenial debates.
Nate Atwell, a Code Pink member, strolled the lawn with Cruz pressing the senator to further explain his stance. Though Atwell said he respected Cruz’s consistency, he rejected the senator’s position regarding the deal.
“I believe it’s a good deal because it’s a step away from war, a step toward peace,” said Atwell, who added that members of Congress have rushed to condemn the deal without adequately reviewing its terms.
Shlomo Bolts of Silver Spring attended the rally while waving a Syrian revolutionary flag. Citing Iran’s engagement in other conflicts in the region, Bolts said he doesn’t trust Iran to follow through on the terms of the deal.
“I think Syria is the best proof that Iran is a bad actor in the world and in the region now,” he said. “They’re not going to moderate their behavior, they’ve only gotten more crazy.”