‘We’re Not Giving Away Anything’ Obama takes Iran pitch directly to Jewish community

In an address to American Jews on Aug. 28, President Barack Obama insisted that the agreement negotiated between world powers and Iran blocks the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons without limiting the United States’ options in case of violations.

“This deal blocks every way, every pathway Iran might take to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Obama said during the 50-minute live webcast from the White House. “We’re not giving away anything in this deal in terms of our capacity to respond if they choose to cheat.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Obama made a few remarks before responding to questions, many submitted by American Jews to the organizers in advance.

President Barack Obama speaks about the Iran deal during a live webcast on Aug. 28 co-sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. (Screencap)

President Barack Obama speaks about the Iran deal during a live webcast on Aug. 28 co-sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. (Screencap)

The deal reached on July 14 between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, requires Iran to remove all but a “handful” of centrifuges from Natanz; to rebuild the heavy water facility at Arak in such a way that weapons-grade plutonium enrichment would be impossible; and to turn the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow into a research facility, Obama said.

“In the best of all worlds, Iran would have no nuclear infrastructure whatsoever,” Obama said. “Unfortunately, that’s not a reality that’s obtainable.”

The president reiterated that the United States had ensured it could “snap back” the sanctions on Iran that he credited with bringing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table “in the event that Iran cheats or does not abide by the terms of the deal.”

Obama said that without this deal, he and his successor would be forced into military action. He conceded that Iran could feel “cocky enough” to develop nuclear weapons when parts of the agreement expire in 15 years, but he said Iran “could pursue it next week if we didn’t have this deal.”

The president stressed that the United States has not taken any options off the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that a “military approach at this juncture would forestall a determined Iran for a year or two from getting a nuclear weapon.”

He defended his record on Israel’s security, saying that even his fiercest critics would say there has been “unprecedented military cooperation” during his time in office and that there had been an enhanced degree of military aid, including for the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Obama rejected the “heated” rhetoric that has been used by both sides, though he challenged the idea that the vitriol has been equal on both sides, laying most of the blame on detractors of the deal.

He denied calling deal opponents “warmongers” and defended Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who recently came out in support of the agreement. Nadler, he said, “for personal and political integrity, stood by Israel and has been attacked in ways that are appalling.

“I would suggest that in terms of the tone of this debate, everybody keep in mind that we’re all pro-Israel,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t impugn people’s motives.”

Obama brushed off comments tweeted out by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying, “The president of the United States doesn’t respond to taunts. The president of the United States responds to interests, facts, evidence” in making decisions for the American people and American allies.

In a personal moment, the president said that if he lived in Israel he would have a “visceral reaction” to dealing with a country that denies the Holocaust.

“As an African-American, I understand history teaches us that man can be very cruel to man and you have to take threats seriously, but what history also teaches us is that sometimes the best security is to enter into negoti-ations with your enemies,” he said, referencing negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“The bond between the United States and Israel is not political. It’s not based on alliances of convenience; it is something that grows out of family ties and bonds that stretch back generations and shared values and shared commitments and shared beliefs in democracy,” Obama said. While the two governments may disagree, as families do, it “does not affect the core commitments we have to each other.”

The president promised to make sure Israel keeps its military edge in a dangerous neighborhood where Iranians prop up Hezbollah and other terrorist proxies, though he was adamant that military aid and sharing of intelligence was not to compensate for the deal as critics have suggested. Obama said that Israelis and Americans have been in discussion “for months” over enhanced sharing of military knowledge.

Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the deal. Obama has pledged to veto a rejection.

On Aug. 30, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) came out in support of the Iran deal, bringing the total number of Democratic supporters in the Senate to 31. Obama needs 34 senators to uphold a presidential veto. Only two Democratic Senators have come out against the deal: Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.


Mikulski Support Hands Iran Deal Victory to Obama

Mikulski - Sept. 24, 2013Maryland U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) announced her support Wednesday for the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Mikulski’s support for the deal brings the number of senators in favor to 34. That’s the number of votes that President Barack Obama needs to sustain a veto.

Republican majorities in the House and Senate are expected to pass a measure rejecting the Iran agreement. Obama has promised to veto such a measure.

“I have spent countless hours reading, being briefed and pouring over the intelligence,” Mikulski said in a statement.

“Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table. But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together. It’s unclear if the European Union, Russia, China, India and others would continue sanctions if Congress rejects this deal. At best, sanctions would be porous, or limited to unilateral sanctions by the U.S.,” she said.

“There are also those who have proposed military action as an alternative to end Iran’s nuclear program. But taking military air strikes against Iran would only set the program back for three years. It would not terminate the program. Iran would continue to possess the knowledge of how to build a bomb and could redouble its resolve to obtain a weapon, completely unchecked. Iran would almost certainly use Hizballah or other proxies to attack Israel or conduct terrorist- or cyber-attacks against U.S. interests. The military option is always on the table for the United States. We are not afraid to use it. But military action should be the last resort, since it will have only temporary effects versus the longer-term effects of this deal.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” she continued “I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”

Maryland’s other senator, Ben Cardin (D), has yet to announce whether he will support or oppose the deal.

‘Watch My Back’ Olim contributing to Israeli society

Naomi Brounstein (left) and Vivi Mann founded Ten Gav, a charitable  organization that relies on crowdfunding to assist those in need.

Naomi Brounstein (left) and Vivi Mann founded Ten Gav, a charitable
organization that relies on crowdfunding to assist those in need.

Baltimore native Vivi Mann and Naomi Brounstein of Ontario, Canada, both made aliyah more than two decades ago with different motivations, but they have joined forces to create Ten Gav, a charitable organization that aims to empower donors and recipients by establishing personal connections.

The Hebrew expression ten gav, meaning “watch my back,” is commonly used in the Israeli army, according to Mann. The phrase is an appropriate name for the organization, she said,
because Ten Gav operates differently than traditional charities.

“Donors want to know where their money is going, and if they contribute to a traditional charity fund, there’s a committee that chooses where the money goes,” she explained. “With
Ten Gav you, as a donor, pick exactly where the money ends up.”

Ten Gav works directly with social service agencies to find people in Israel who are in need of assistance that may not be covered by traditional charity funds. Each case is presented on Ten Gav’s website, tengav.org, with the name of a social worker who has visited and worked with the individual.

“Another challenge is that people want to make a difference; if you ask people to give money to a campaign, then sometimes [that] money can get lost in a sea of other donors,” said Brounstein. “That’s why we don’t take any case [with a cost more than] $1,500. If something costs $1,500 and you give $150, you contributed 10 percent, and you can feel good about that.”

Mann explained one case where the recipient requested piano lessons. Out of context it may seem like an odd request for charity, she said, but for a child in a low-income family or who has a learning disability, the small things can make a big impact.

“These are not middle-class people who need a little boost; they have severe backgrounds in social services,” said Mann. “This kind of stuff gives people a sense of being alive as opposed to just getting through the day.”

In that case, the donor was a gentleman who also played piano and understood the emotional relief that playing an instrument can bring. To ensure donors never pay for things such as office supplies, Brounstein and Mann independently fundraise the administrative costs.

While Mann and Brounstein moved to Israel around the same time, their reasons differed. Mann and her husband had been married for a year and were looking for a house. They decided if they were going to make aliyah at all; it was then.

“Every day that I’m here I’m more and more grateful that we made aliyah,” said Mann. “I feel a part of the smaller and grander community.”

Brounstein’s reason for making aliyah was simple.

“I’m a Zionist,” said Brounstein. “Life isn’t always easy here, but if you believe you should be here … then this is home.”

Both live in Ra’anana, and they met through community activism; their efforts have not gone unnoticed by locals.

“Ten Gav’s appeal is that it creates a direct link from donor to recipient and removes any possible wastage of charitable funds,” said Vicky Chaimovic, who lives in Ra’anana and donates to Ten Gav. “It provides the donor with the potential to make a real, if small, impact on a person’s life.”

This upcoming Rosh Hashanah, Ten Gav is offering other ways to help celebrate the New Year. Donors can either send unlimited e-cards to friends and family, with a minimum donation, or purchase a “giving card” that lets someone else pick a story to contribute toward.

Both Mann and Brounstein are motivated to help Israelis leave the cycle of poverty and ultimately strengthen international bonds.

“We are very pleased and proud to give people this platform as a way to connect,” said Brounstein. “We hope we can help strengthen ties for people to Israel and Israelis.”


A Blessing in Rising Water New Orleans resident — and Baltimore native — reflects on the flood of local support 10 years after Katrina

Ten years later, the expression, gam zu l’tovah  — roughly translated as “even this is for the good” — seems to hold water in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, particularly in the Jewish community.

And gam zu l’tovah would not be my own mantra, were it not for the generosity of Baltimore’s Jewish community.

082815_katrinia1My husband, Stuart, my youngest son, Ari, and I holed up for several days in a Memphis hotel after evacuating New Orleans in August 2005, mesmerized by the horrific TV images of a ruined city. We then drove to Baltimore, from where we had moved in 1998, but not before learning that Beth Tfiloh Dahan High School would be providing free tuition for Ari, then starting ninth grade. One major need addressed.

We then had to find a place to live. After staying in the condo of a dear friend’s father for several weeks, Ari and I were able to move in, rent-free, to a two-bedroom apartment in the Cross Country area, which a leader of The Associated so generously provided. Another major need met.

Yet, being uprooted in such a shocking fashion was truly head spinning. We stumbled through those first weeks and months without an anchor. For Ari, the Beth Tfiloh school community, his grandparents and his old friends provided some stability, as did the many Shabbat dinner invitations we received.

I also was buoyed by the love of my parents and in-laws and dear friends. But my unstructured days increased my sense of being rudderless.

And then the editors of the Jewish Times offered me a home away from home.

They gave me a desk and writing assignments that challenged me and enabled me to meet so many fascinating individuals and learn more about what makes the Baltimore Jewish community tick. They allowed me to write a cover story about my experiences in returning to New Orleans after three months. That assignment was my therapy.

And they welcomed me into the JT family, providing me friendship, support, and great conversation.

082815_katrinia2For those who lost loved ones and irreplaceable possessions, Katrina cannot ever take on a wisp of goodness. But for many of the rest of us, Katrina has been a blessing dressed up in rising water, flooded homes, destroyed infrastructure and loss of worldly goods.

It was a blessing because it cleared the decks  — making possible deep, transformative change that would never have happened any other way. And it did so on many levels: for the city, for the Jewish community and personally.

Without Katrina, city politics, schools and health care would have continued to fail the residents as they had done for so long. Everyone knew these institutions needed wholesale reform, but there was neither the political will nor the money to make that possible. Only the washing away brought about by the failure of the federally built levees could usher in political reforms, the charter schools and community health centers.

Pre-Katrina, the Jewish community, though functional, was not vibrant, lulled by years spent doing the same old things in the same old way. The floodwaters removed those old ways and left in their wake a spirit of collaboration, innovation and excitement  —nurtured by an influx of new community leaders and newcomers. This has borne fruit in initiatives such as LimmudFest, Avodah and Moishe House and in revitalized synagogues and agencies eager to work together.

This spirit has lured thousands of newcomers  — primarily young professionals and creatives as well as residents who stayed for years in the diaspora, where they evacuated after the storm  — to make New Orleans their home. After losing one-third of its population in the wake of Katrina, Jewish New Orleans has now surpassed its 2005 census and broken the 10,000-member mark.

Yet, this communal upward trajectory would not have been possible had Katrina not swept away barriers to change on the personal level.

Losing many of my possessions came to feel freeing; not weighed down by so much “stuff” (which I re-accumulated all too quickly), I lightened up and could focus on family and community. The practical challenges of rebuilding brought out a renewed sense of purpose. I became closer to my neighbors as we shared tips for removing mold, the names of available contractors and small successes after we finished renovating a room or got a low-interest loan.

But gam zu l’tovah rings so true for me because of two directions my life has taken since Katrina. Soon after I returned to New Orleans from Baltimore in June 2006, I began leading “disaster tours” for Jewish volunteers from synagogues, day schools, Hillels and federations across the country. The generous spirit of the Baltimore Jewish community even followed my family to New Orleans, as Baltimore volunteers cleared out our mold-infested garage following one of the tours.

Limmud, the worldwide phenomenon of grassroots adult Jewish education, also came into my life through Katrina. And with it has come the transformative opportunity to lead a major communitywide event (three times!) and to be involved on the national level in strengthening
Limmuds across the country. It also brought me a wonderful future son-in-law, whom my daughter met at LimmudFest New Orleans 2012 and will marry next year.

Perhaps it is the ability to have a gam zu l’tovah spirit that enables us to turn reversals into opportunity. May the next Katrina be very far in the future, but if it befalls us, let us be able to respond in that spirit.

Pray for Victory? It can be a problem for Jews when the Ravens’ first game falls on one of the year’s most important holidays

When the sky goes dark on Sept. 13, most Jews will flock to synagogue to begin the annual ritual of celebrating Rosh Hashanah. But some will likely be sitting on their couch, enjoying beer and pizza while watching their beloved Ravens open the season in Denver against the Broncos.

“It’s going to be one of those things where it’s kind of a teaser,” said Yudy Brody, a member of Congregation Beth Abraham.

Brody is a diehard Ravens fan who frequently tailgates with friends during home games. He said he plans to record the game, but watching it later will have significantly less suspense since he likely will know the result by then.

“Guys will come in and tell everyone what the score is no matter what,” he said.

082815_football“It always gets ruined. If you can maintain the secretiveness of the score over a two-day holiday, then it works.”

Despite the frustration of not being able to watch the game, Brody said the experience of the holiday overshadows it by far.

“The Jewish holiday is an amazing experience, and it only comes around once a year,” he said.

Chaim Finkelstein, a member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah who also tailgates, said when he misses a game due to the High Holidays, he will watch it on tape regardless of the result.

“If it were the playoffs, then that’s important,” he said. “But the first game of the season is just as important as the last game.”

Finkelstein and Brody are observant Jews who are more than willing to make the sacrifice of sports for the sake of religion. But as Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah explained, there are a handful of Ravens season ticket-holders who are not willing to miss a game that they paid for in advance. Since the game this year is not at home, it doesn’t present an issue, but he has had to urge congregants not to attend sporting events in the past.

“When it comes down to it, the Ravens are entertainment and Rosh Hashanah is life and death,” he said. “It’s really bringing everything into perspective and preparing for the year to come.”

Shapiro said Ravens and Orioles season ticket-holders would still be violating Jewish law by attending a game, even if the monetary transaction for the tickets took place before the holiday.

Historically, football and baseball games have often fallen on the High Holidays, presenting a problem for Jews who are passionate about sports. The most famous example is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax’s decision to sit out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in observance of Yom Kippur.

Jerry Coleman, the Ravens’ beat reporter for 105.7 The Fan, said he plans on spending Rosh Hashanah with his family.

“Religion with me comes first, and that’s where my loyalty lies,” he said.

Coleman grew up in Pikesville and attended Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

He said there have been occasions where he has attended services part of the day on the High Holidays and worked later in the day, but not often.

“It’s never a dilemma for me, because family and religion come first,” he said.

When it comes down to it, the Ravens are entertainment and Rosh Hashanah is life and death. It’s really bringing everything into perspective and preparing for the year to come. …I don’t think the Ravens’ decision should be based on our calendar.

Ultimately, Jews who bleed purple hope that the world of sports and the world of religion do not collide, but they also are willing to forgive the NFL for a scheduling mishap or two.

“I don’t think the Ravens’ decision should be based on our calendar,” said Shapiro, who called Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl of Judaism, respectively. He said the best way to cheer for the Ravens on Sept. 13 is to pray for their success in the coming year.

“It won’t help the Ravens for us not to be thinking of lofty topics,” he said.



‘What Do You Think I Should Do?’ Being pro-Israel comes with ‘wrenching’ choices, J Street U students tell Hillel CEO

Eric Fingerhut, Hillel International president, addresses J Street U students,  as Amna Farooqi, J Street U president and Benjy Cannon, former J Street U  president, listen.

Eric Fingerhut, Hillel International president, addresses J Street U students,as Amna Farooqi, J Street U president and Benjy Cannon, former J Street Upresident, listen.

J Street U student leaders did not want to talk about inclusion on campus.

More than 120 of them had come to “talk about the occupation and the two-state solution,” Amna Farooqi, the newly elected president of the student arm of J Street, told Hillel
International’s president during a Monday meeting in Chevy Chase, Md., where J Street U’s three-day summer leadership institute was taking place.

For his part, Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, stuck to the message that Jewish students are welcome at Hillel and that anti-Semitism linked to boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts on campus poses a serious threat. Hearing this, student activists repeatedly tried to steer the conversation back toward occupation and their sense of being marginalized by the wider Jewish community. Fingerhut wasn’t willing to dwell on these topics. But he was willing to offer them something else — an apology.

In the spirit of the month of Elul, a time when Jews reflect on their actions from the previous year, Fingerhut apologized for any offense caused when he backed out of a planned talk at J Street’s conference in March. The cancellation led to a student protest outside of Hillel International headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

“There’s no question that the political dynamics are fraught, and I know we had that conversation,” Fingerhut said while gesturing to Benjy Cannon, J Street U’s former student board president. “But there’s nobody responsible for any hurt that occurred in March except me.”

He clarified, when pressed by Cannon, that he “took a step back” from the conference — though not, he said, a step away from student engagement — when it became clear that his speaking during the J Street conference could be viewed as an endorsement of the group’s policies.

“This is about engaging students,” said Fingerhut. “It’s not about endorsing an organization’s political agenda, because Hillel doesn’t do that.”

Politics is everywhere, said Zoe Goldblum, a sophomore at Stanford University and newly elected vice president for the Northwest Region of J Street U, describing for Fingerhut how the BDS campaign on her campus turned into a referendum on race, oppression and occupation.

Goldblum described a meeting in which pro-divestment students, mostly people of color, sat on one side of the room wearing red wristbands and kaffiyehs, while on the other side, wearing blue-and-white T-shirts, was the mostly white group of pro-Israel students.

This led to a dynamic, she said, of “you can either support divestment and support anti-oppression, anti-occupation or you can be a pro-Israel student.” For students who oppose oppression and occupation while supporting Israel, she said the choice was “wrenching.”

“I am telling you this story because I and students like me honestly do not know what to do when we go back to school in a few weeks,” said Goldblum. “As the president of Hillel International, what do you think I should do?”

Fingerhut, who addressed the proliferation of BDS on campus in his prepared remarks, responded that Hillel is proactively building coalitions and mending frayed relationships with students of color and with social justice movements.

In an attempt to turn the conversation toward the “elephant in the room,” as Cannon called it, namely, the influence of donors and stakeholders in the Jewish community, Solomon Tarlin offered up a personal story.

At Boston University, where Tarlin is a junior, J Street U is recognized under the Hillel umbrella. Immediately following the Hillel student board’s decision to include the group, Tarlin claimed that big-name community donors began haranguing the local Hillel director.

Tarlin then turned and asked the audience if anyone else experienced the same thing. More than a dozen hands shot up.

Said Tarlin, “How can we work together to counteract the outside forces that are restricting our ability to fight for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state?”

Fingerhut responded, “The debate, with all due respect, is not between J Street and powers that be in the community, it’s amongst the Jewish people, amongst the Jewish community on campus, some of whom will agree with you, some of whom won’t.”

Hillel’s responsibility, he said, is to make sure all pro-Israel student groups have a home at Hillel so that students can decide for themselves what position to take.

Farooqi, a senior at the University of Maryland who moderated much of the conversation, pressed Fingerhut to address when “donors’ values take over students’ values,” referring to a story shared by a student from Northwestern University in which the word “occupation” was taken out of an anti-BDS statement jointly issued by the campus chapters of J Street U and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a result, the student said, of donor pressure.

Rather than address donor influence, Fingerhut told the audience that he disagreed that J Street U is the only organization working toward a two-state solution.

Said Fingerhut, “That would not be the opinion shared by those who are working — including students — with other pro-Israel organizations on campus. They would see it very differently from you.”


What happens next? With a vote on Iran nuclear deal approaching, expert weighs in on likely outcomes

Congress has less than a month left to review the Iran nuclear agreement before it comes to an expected vote in mid-September. Despite opponents lobbying hard and spending millions to sway undecided lawmakers, President Barack Obama may still get his way, the Senate majority leader said recently.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to the Associated Press, told a business group in his home state on Monday that Obama has “a great likelihood of success” in pushing the Iran nuclear agreement forward.

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed earlier this year, Congress has 60 days to review and vote on a deal. A vote on a joint resolution of disapproval is expected to take place Sept. 17.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

It’s generally accepted that Republicans have enough support to vote down the deal initially, but Obama has promised a swift veto. To sustain a veto, 34 Democrats in the Senate and 146 in the House are needed.

As McConnell put it quite simply, “[Obama] can win by getting one-third plus one of either house.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the second Senate Democrat, the other being Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. Menendez called the current agreement “a very expensive alarm system” that in his estimation was a “far cry from significant dismantling” of Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier in the day, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) became the 21st Democrat to back the deal.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, said Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

As of press time, no Republicans have come out in favor of the deal. To overcome a Democrat-led filibuster of a motion disapproving the deal, six Democrats would need to join with the GOP. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) the one Republican who considered supporting the deal, said recently he will vote no.

Said McConnell, “The campaign of the president to get it approved will be entirely among Democrats, probably Democrats in very safe Democratic seats whose only fear in re-election would probably be getting [through] a primary.”

If opponents of the deal are able to overcome a presidential veto, what are the consequences to the United States for rejecting the deal?

No one can say for sure, but Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution in Washington, examined likely outcomes in an extensive paper published earlier this month.

Under INARA, if Congress disapproves the deal, then Obama is prohibited from issuing waivers needed to lift sanctions, a key component of the United States’ commitment under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thus removing Iran’s incentive to keep its own commitments.

In the short term, Einhorn wrote, the president could not enact limited sanctions relief required by the Joint Plan of Action reached in November 2013. The release of $700 million to Iran each month from its estimated $100 billion in frozen overseas accounts would stop.

It would become increasingly difficult to enforce sanctions on the purchase of Iranian crude oil. Since 2012, United States oil sanctions compelled countries to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil every six months. Under the JPOA, countries were allowed to stop their import reduction without risk of sanctions. Reimplementing sanctions would impact India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and, most notably, China, the largest purchaser of Iranian crude oil.

China might offer up token sanctions to keep the United States happy, wrote Einhorn, but it is far more likely that China would find a workaround or completely ignore the United States’ sanctions. Other countries would follow China’s lead.

At the same time, the United States would be trying to enforce other existing sanctions. Some major international financial institutions, Einhorn predicted, might get on board rather than risk being cut off from the United States financial system, but the temptation of entry into Iranian markets may be too much for European allies.

The European Union and European governments might not crack down on sanctions busters, forcing the United States to become a worldwide sanctions enforcer, setting up a scenario where the United States government could impose sanctions on allies in pursuit of compliance.

“And as the ranks of sanctions evaders grew and as the defectors came to believe there was strength in numbers, such a campaign could become increasingly confrontational, futile and self-defeating, especially if the sanctioned entities had substantial economic links to the United States,” wrote Einhorn.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, in Einhorn’s view. In the meantime, Iran would likely begin expanding its nuclear capacity with the justification that the United States did not hold up its end of the deal. Then it would be harder to get partners back to the negotiating table, and even if the United States succeeded in restarting talks, Iran’s nuclear program would be further along than it is today.


Shakeup at Anti-Iran Deal Group In Congress, Democrats stating their positions

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Monday was named chairman of an advocacy group opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. The move came after it became known that United Against Nuclear Iran’s president, former White House adviser Gary Samore, is a supporter of the agreement.

Samore was replaced as president by David Ibsen. The leadership shakeup came the same day as the group announced that it will finance and run television and digital ads as part of a national campaign against the deal.

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

“UANI has led the effort to economically isolate the Iranian regime, and its bipartisan and international expertise makes it a highly respected voice on the merits of the Iran agreement,” said Lieberman. “I am honored to assume this new leadership role at this important time.”

Lieberman, who has been a regular on television and radio criticizing the deal, also sits on the advisory board of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

That effort was bolstered last week when Senate leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his opposition.

“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Schumer said in a statement on Aug. 6. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor and, after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”

Supporters and detractors of the deal had lobbied Schumer hard. Liberal groups, such as MoveOn, furious with Schumer’s dissent, promised backlash in the form of halting donations.

With Republican lawmakers nearly unanimous in their opposition to the agreement, the question is: Do the Democrats have enough supporters to sustain a presidential veto if Congress votes to reject the deal?

On Monday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) became the 10th of 27 Jewish Democrats in Congress to back the deal.

Schumer’s counterpart, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week she would support the deal, which she described as “imperfect.”

“Our goal has been, and remains, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We have far more ability to achieve that outcome if we approve this deal,” she said in a statement.

Maryland’s Jewish Democratic senator remains undecided. Sen. Ben Cardin was instrumental in brokering the legislation that allows for the current 60-day congressional review of the nuclear agreement.

“Sen. Cardin considers this a tough decision and very consequential,” Sue Walitsky, Cardin’s spokeswoman, said in an email. “He believes that each senator and member of Congress has to make his or her own decision based on what is right for our country — not [what is right for the] president, but the national security of the United States.”

Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which opposes the agreement, took a group of 25 members to lobby Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) last week. In a meeting with the senator’s staffers, the group outlined their main reasons for opposing the deal, namely, a lack of “anytime, anywhere” inspections and Iran’s financing of terrorist organizations.

“We feel that this is the test of our generation. If this deal goes through, it can affect the whole order of the world and the safety of our children and grandchildren for generations to come,” said Stern.

Lobbyists aren’t the only ones increasing pressure on undecided politicians. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama made direct appeals to the American public.

Obama, in a speech at American University on Aug. 5, said Israel’s government was the only one that stood openly opposed to the nuclear agreement.

“This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated, and because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support,” he said.

We feel that this is the test of our generation. If this deal goes through, it can affect the whole order of the world and the safety of our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

Obama met with American Jewish communal leaders from AIPAC, J Street, the American Jewish Committee and others at the White House the day before, spending two hours poring over the deal. According to JTA, the president acknowledged the concerns that pro-Israel opponents of the deal were unfairly cast as warmongers.

However, that did not stop Obama from excoriating opponents as “ignorant” and likened Republicans in Congress to Iranian hard-liners.

“It’s those hard-liners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” said Obama, referring to extremists in Iran. “It’s those hard-liners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus.”

The day before Obama’s speech, Netanyahu told the American Jewish community to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran.

The deal gives Iran two paths to a bomb, Netanyahu told the more than 10,000 people who tuned into the Web address put together by the Jewish Federations of North America and member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal, or Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.”

He spent much of his talk pushing back on criticisms levied against him by supporters of the deal. He specifically attacked the allegations made that war is the alternative to the deal reached by the P5+1 nations and Iran on July 14.

“Don’t let the world’s foremost terrorist regime get its hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Netanyahu concluded. “Oppose this bad deal.”

The White House countered the Israeli prime minister’s points, sending off infographics from the new @TheIranDeal Twitter account using the #JFedTalk hashtag during the talk. Marie Harf, senior adviser for strategic communications at the State Department, jumped into the online conversation tweeting out from her own account: “Fact: If we walk away from @TheIranDeal, we walk away alone. #JFedTalk.”

Congress will decide in September whether to reject the deal.

JTA contributed to this report.


Presidential Call Obama invokes Iraq War, tells nuclear deal supporters to ‘get active’

President Barack Obama invoked the Iraq War to rally liberal organizers to make their voices heard in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

During a 22-minute phone call during the evening of July 30 with thousands of primarily Jewish organizers, Obama said, “One of the frustrations that I’ve always had about the run-up to the Iraq War is that everybody got really loud and really active after it was too late.”

Obama issued a challenge to listeners to “get more active and loud and involved and informed and start making your voices heard with respect to members of Congress because the lobbying that’s taking place on the other side is fierce, it is well financed, it is relentless.”

The president specifically drew attention to “the $20 million that’s being spent lobbying against the deal on TV ads that are already running” and linked those opposition groups to columnists and “former administration officials who were responsible for us getting into the Iraq War.”

Obama’s comments were a thinly veiled swipe at Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a new action group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has reportedly raised between $20 million and $40 million to shore up opposition to the agreement.

J Street, the liberal self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, has raised $5 million dollars to promote the deal and continues to fundraise, according to Jessica Rosenblum, director of communications for J Street.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, shot back at the president’s comments, particularly in reference to lobbyists.

“Apparently, the president’s claim that he ‘welcomes a robust debate’ was just rhetoric like his administration’s repeated pledges to make Iran submit to ‘anytime, anywhere inspections,” Brooks said in a statement. “President Obama should stick to the facts and stop demonizing Americans who are rightly skeptical of his dubious deal with the Tehran regime.”

Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, dismissed the RJC’s criticism.

“I listened to those words and heard, ‘This is what’s lining up against you on the other side of the line — get organized and be able to play the game with equal force,’” said Rosenbaum. “I view those comments as nothing more than a locker-room speech.”

According to Rosenbaum, the NJDC will use resources, both monetary and people, to support the agreement, which the organization concluded was “a good deal for the U.S. and for Israel, and more broadly, for the world as a whole.”

Patrick Dorton, a spokesman with CNFI, declined to comment on the specific allegation by the president that the opposition is composed of “billionaires who happily finance superPACs.”

“We hope that Americans and members of Congress take a close look at all the details,” said Dorton. “This is a very important decision. This isn’t just a so-so deal. It’s a terrible deal for the United States. Our campaign is a public education effort, and we want members of Congress to look at the fine print.”

Congress is currently within the 60-day review period. Members could vote in September to scuttle the deal. Detractors and supporters of the Iran nuclear agreement are using the August congressional recess to ratchet up pressure.

With the clock ticking down, Obama urged supporters of the deal to act, particularly as congressional
offices are being flooded with phone calls from the opposition. Lawmakers, the president said, are starting to get “squishy” from the “political heat.”

The president reiterated that he has “never been more certain about a policy decision — than this one right here. But the politics are going to be tough if you all don’t get involved and don’t get active.”

Much of the phone call was spent refuting criticisms levied by deal opponents and reiterating his support for “friends and allies” in the region.

Republicans have mostly declared themselves opposed to the deal, which means increased pressure is being placed on undecided Democrats, most notably the Jewish Democrat from New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Obama called 20 House Democrats to the White House on July 29 to sell them on the deal. Also in attendance were Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has come out in support of the deal, on July 30 said that Democrats who vote to override a promised presidential veto would face political consequences. Like Obama would do later that day, she cast this summer’s events as a fight against well-funded opposition.

“In the absence of your voices,” said Obama, “you’re going to see the same array of forces that got us into the Iraq War leading to a situation in which we forgo a historic opportunity and we are back on the path of potential military conflict.”


Rabbis Take Flight Orthodox Union steps up campaign against Iran nuclear deal, including visit to D.C.

As part of an OU video clip, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) talks about the Iran nuclear deal.

As part of an OU video clip, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) talks about the Iran nuclear deal.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has intensified its campaign to pressure members of Congress to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

Since the deal was announced, the OU has sent out a slew of national action alerts. But in recent days, it has called on its member rabbis to fly to Washington on Sept. 9, just days before Rosh Hashanah, to lobby against the deal, and it released a series of new videos via its email list and social media targeting Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The Democratic senators remain publicly undecided on how they will vote and serve communities with significant Orthodox populations.

The Cardin clip, taken from video a shot at the OU’s annual leadership mission to Washington, shows the senator declaring, “The agreement must provide an ample enough time before Iran could break out to a nuclear weapon with robust enough inspections that we can find out if they’re cheating.”

“Call or email Sen. Cardin and ask him to vote against the Iran deal because its inspections are not ‘robust enough,’” reads the final image of the 30-second clip.

Cardin, who was instrumental in securing the legislation allowing for the 60-day review period and vote by Congress, will be the focus of an additional digital campaign.

A save-the-date notice for the September lobbying blitz read in part, “We are confident that hundreds of rabbis traveling to Washington on the eve of this vote and just days before Rosh Hashanah will have a highly visible and real impact upon this fateful vote in Congress,” reported JTA. “We will only have this impact with your participation.”

According to Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the OU, while the OU shares the “long list of concerns and criticisms” voiced by other organizations, its campaign focuses on the proposed inspections regime and the billions of dollars Iran is due to receive once sanctions are lifted.

Added Diament: “We share [Israeli] Ambassador [Ron] Dermer’s concerns that even if Iran abides by the deal to every paragraph and subparagraph, in 10 to 15 years, whenever they get to the end of the deal, they’ll be a full-blown nuclear state with the blessing of the international community.”

The OU plans to keep pressure on Congress through the August recess and “right up to the vote,” said Diament.