The debate over the Iran nuclear deal has entered the head-counting phase. By that, we don’t only mean who in Congress has taken a public position. Last week, 341 rabbis announced their support for the agreement, which Congress is expected to vote on next month. Shortly thereafter, a crowdsourced petition appeared online asking for “only ordained rabbis” to register their opposition to the deal. At press time, 768 had done so. And 26 former heads of American Jewish organizations published a full-page ad in The New York Times last week calling on Congress to support the deal.
Where does that leave us? We know that sentiment is strong on both sides of the deal. And we genuinely believe that those who support it and those who oppose it do so in good faith, with the best of intentions. We also respect those who have chosen not to take a position for any number of good reasons. That is why the Reform movement’s decision not to decide comes as something of a respite in the heat of this battle. Acknowledging that “there is no unity of opinion” among their lay and rabbinic leadership, as well as among their members, the heads of four Reform groups — the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Association of Reform Zionists of America — instead stressed, as we did last week when we voiced our opposition to the Iran deal, that the agreement is a reality and the job now is to see that Israel remains strong and that its relationship with the United States is strong as well.
Certainly, part of the answer lies in boosting Israel’s defenses, which both Congress and the administration seem willing to do. So why not move forward with that now? Further, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy “study group” has urged the administration to clarify certain technical matters of the agreement and to address shortcomings to improve its effectiveness, such as making public the penalties it is considering “for various types of small and mid-sized Iranian violations of the agreement.” The group also looked beyond the deal itself, calling for a “resolute regional strategy” to counter “Iranian negative behavior” in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Those too are reasonable steps that the administration can take, even as it argues for the deal. Without that clarification and without push back from other regional actors, the Washington Institute argues that Iran “will be more inclined to test the bounds of the nuclear agreement.” We agree.
It is time for the Obama administration to make clear that the nuclear deal is part of an overall regional problem that requires a developed regional strategy. The deal is not an end in itself. We call on the administration to articulate with clarity its plan and strategy for the post-deal world.