Iran: No Deal Is Better Than Bad Deal

In his Aug. 21 From This View column (“Iran Deal: The Risks of Rejection”), Laurence Marder bemoans the failure of opponents of the Iran deal to make the case for the benefits provided by congressional rejection, which he claims will instead “open the door to uncertain and unmanageable risks.”

Undoubtedly, a decision by Congress to reject the Iran deal is not without risks. Risk is inherent in foreign policy, and certainly U.S. policy toward Iran is no exception.

Since no one can predict the future, it is within the realm of possibility that, as Marder speculates, rejection of the deal could cause the sanctions program to collapse and Iran to push to obtain a nuclear weapon. It is equally possible that some American allies will maintain sanctions against Iran or that the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the United States will secure a better deal.  It is also possible that Iran will avoid pursuing “breakout” to a bomb in order to avoid the imposition of further sanctions or a military response by the West.

However, the issue facing Congress is not whether rejecting the Iran deal poses risks or even whether bad things might happen if the deal is rejected. Rather, the question is whether the potential and unknown adverse consequences of rejecting the deal are greater than the undisputed and known adverse consequences of approving a deal.

Accepting the deal will result in at least two adverse consequences, both of which Marder acknowledges in his article.  First, because the deal leaves almost all of Iran’s extensive nuclear infrastructure intact and imposes restrictions on various aspects of Iran’s nuclear program that expire in as little as 10 to 15 years, approval of the deal legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and enables it to become a nuclear threshold state.

Second, because the deal provides Iran with near-immediate sanctions relief in the form of the release of billions of dollars in assets, approval of the deal will allow Iran to pursue and accelerate its ongoing campaigns to expand its pernicious influence in the Middle East, to undermine America’s allies in the region and to finance international terrorism.

Add to the list the triggering of a Middle East nuclear arms race, the strengthening of the Iranian regime and the increased threat that will be faced by the State of Israel, and the conclusion is clear: Even if the results of rejecting the deal are uncertain, the adverse consequences of the deal as currently structured are so disturbing and catastrophic that rejecting the deal is by far the preferred course of action.

In just a few more weeks, the proposed deal with Iran will be presented to Congress for its vote. The time remaining should be expended on pressing our representatives in Congress for a deal that does not legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state, does not trade massive sanctions relief for temporary constraints and does not agree to concessions that will make the world a more dangerous place. Thesecurity of America, Israel and the world requires no less.

Cecil’s Life Matters: Lion Webs

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaAfter the killing of Cecil the Lion a few weeks ago, there were two very distinct reactions: one mourning the loss of life of this majestic beast, some even calling for the poacher’s death in retaliation; the other bemoaning what was viewed as a distorted reaction of the worldwide outcry over an animal’s death when there are millions of people suffering with far less media attention.

Does the life of Cecil really matter in the grand scheme of things?

We often name animals in an effort to endear them to us. We care more for things that we give human qualities to.  This can be traced back to the roots of the conservation movement when President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a captured bear during a hunting trip. Toy companies found a great marketing angle selling stuffed bears with the president’s namesake.

Zoos have adopted the naming practice as well, which has led to a mass education effort about biodiversity and has brought nature closer to those living in highly developed areas while making nature more approachable and lauded.

Some claim that ‘humanizing’ wild beasts by naming them removes us from their ferocity, which is a very real threat to many people who find themselves in close proximity to wild animals. Lions, tigers and bears are not cute. They are vicious and threaten livestock, crops and the lives of people.  This threat used to be relegated to remote areas, but with their natural habitat siphoned off and fragmented due to human development, these beasts are often left with little choice but to venture closer to us.

In exploration and then development of new lands, wild animals were seen as something to conquer and diminish — for safety as well as for sport. People have been replacing nature with buildings, roadways and artificially manicured parks, driving animals to the ever diminishing undisturbed margins.

Besides creating cramped conditions, what do people have to do with the animal kingdom?

The mapping of the interconnections and interdependency of living things are called food webs. They demonstrate the directional exchange of energy, essential for survival and balance of ecosystems. The basic components illustrate the mechanisms needed for sustaining vegetation (producers), the first level consumers that eat the plants (herbivores), the secondary consumers that eat the primary consumers (carnivores), and the decomposers that process dead or decaying matter into essential elements to be taken up again by plants.

Compromising any population so adversely that it affects the balance of the ecosystem also impacts people’s ability to live sustainably off the land.  One may argue that the reason why beasts such as lions are feared, and cause maiming and crop destruction, is because of imbalanced ecosystems.

Even with conservation and restoration efforts, habitat fragmentation threatens the future of many species.  The land animals need to roam, forage and find suitable mates has been severely carved up and diminished, and efforts to create protected corridors for migration are fraught with political obstacles.

So what of Cecil’s death?  An absolute tragedy; but not because a lion’s life is more valuable than a human’s.  Because people have not yet learned that we are all interdependent on each other in order to survive. People alone cannot balance ecosystems. We need other species to make the systems on our planet work.

For or Against? Let’s Debate

Alan Dershowitz attends the Inaugural Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala on June 4, 2013 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. Sheldon Adelson, Mrs Miriam Adelson and Dr Mehmet Oz were honored. (Newscom TagID: ptsphotoshottwo181060.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Instead of engaging in a series of debates on the merits and demerits of a controversial Iran deal, the Obama administration has resorted to ad hominem attacks on its detractors, including liberal democrats who have long supported the Obama administration but now oppose the deal.

The administration seems to be losing support for the deal among the general public, Democratic members of Congress, foreign policy experts and even the liberal media. Polls show overwhelming opposition to the deal among ordinary Americans, and a majority of both chambers are opposed to it as well. President Barack Obama doesn’t like the trending opposition to his legacy deal, so he is trying to stifle the debate by attacking the motives of those who oppose the deal and the means they are employing to educate the public about its faults.

President Obama has described those who would oppose the deal as “the same columnists and former administration officials that were responsible for us getting into the Iraq war.” He has also decried the millions of dollars spent by groups opposed to the deal who have been “putting the squeeze” on members of Congress with TV ads and lobbying campaigns.

However, this is not the time or place to debate whether lobbying groups enjoy too much influence in our political system. What is clear is that they have an absolute right under the First Amendment to petition their government for a redress of grievances, and that many Americans have reasonable grievances against the Iran deal.

Yes, groups such as AIPAC and Nuclear Free Iran have spent large sums advocating against the agreement, but so too have organizations affiliated with the administration, such as J Street, which, in its own words, serves as a “blocking back” for the president.

President Obama’s characterization of opponents of the deal as a collection of billionaires and war-hungry neocons is misleading, incomplete and unfair. The reason why many Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike — most recently the prospective Democratic leader Chuck Schumer — have come out against the agreement is that it is a bad deal, and public polling has repeatedly shown that Americans oppose it and believe that it will “make the world less safe.” I, along with other liberals who opposed the Iraq war, have expressed serious doubts about the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.

The Obama administration should now stand by its own promise to encourage a substantive discussion about this important issue. With that in mind let me propose a series of TV and radio debates between supporters and opponents of the agreement. I hereby challenge any administration defender to debate me, or other opponents of the deal, on its merits and demerits. The American public has the right to hear all sides of this issue without the president’s bully pulpit being used to bully loyal Americans who oppose the deal into silence. So let the name calling stop and let the debates begin.

Preparing for the Year-End and the New Year

The beginning and end of each year are times that stimulate all of us to think. Even those who are not in the habit of making a daily “accounting of this world” (Bava Batra 78b) tend to do so at these moments, these days that are so conducive to examining, summing up and planning.

Beloved are the People of Israel.  The Almighty gave us times and festivals at the beginning and end of each year: for contemplation; for receiving answers to our most urgent questions; and for confronting the challenges that we may face in the (hopefully better) days ahead.

And if this is true every year, how much more must we think, repent and make good decisions when the days of the year give us no rest and when the routine of daily life blurs our most fundamental thoughts: What is life about? What do we live for? Where are we going?

The days of the month of Elul, and the following month — the seventh month, Tishrei, with its numerous festivals and special days — are bountiful both in their commandments and in their prayers. All this is so much to take in, that we may become insensitive to the days’ messages.

The month of Elul does not have a specific focus, unlike Yom Kippur, which is a single day of total concentration. And the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which have a stern aspect to them, are not at all like the days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, days of relaxation and joy.

In each case, we will not be able to understand or fathom the significance of the answers that we may receive, unless we first pose the appropriate questions. To prepare for the end of the year and the beginning of the next, we first need to contemplate the questions that ought to be asked. By honing our questions, we create the soil upon which the answers can sprout into substantial influence.

Beyond the need to teach and remind ourselves of the festival’s laws, there is also a psychological purpose to this study: to prepare ourselves both for the rituals that we will do and for our mindset: how we are going to enter into the festival. This is the work of plowing, which prepares the soil to take in the gifts of Heavenly bounty and make them grow.

In all aspects of spiritual life, there is, of course, room for a great amount of privacy and individuality. In the words of the wisest of all men (Proverbs 14:10): “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger has a part in its joys.” Private, inner experiences cannot be fully shared with others. Perhaps it is only the ministering angels who can “accept from each other.”

Despite all the differences and partitions dividing one soul from another, Jewish souls are bound in some way. This closeness enables us to be givers and receivers even in those things that come from the innermost recesses of our hearts. We must therefore try to receive from each other virtues and emotions that will help each and every one of us find our own personal path to the Almighty Creator.

Iran Deal: The Risks of Rejection

Within hours of the announcement of a deal with Iran, pro-Israel organizations led by AIPAC condemned the agreement and called upon Congress to reject the deal.  Over the ensuing weeks, significant and valid objections have been raised.

For example, many of the constraints on Iran begin to lift after only 10 years, when the reduced number of centrifuges can begin to increase; and in 15 years, the stockpile restrictions on enriched uranium can increase. Further, numerous conventional arms limitation, particularly in the area of missile capability, will be lifted in less than 10 years. The end result is that the agreement risks delaying, but not preventing, Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapons state.

Secondly, Iran gets not only sanctions relief for compliance, but also a release of frozen assets. Many rightfully suspect this will enable Iran to enhance its support of terror networks such as Hezbollah. Iran remains unbowed and sees itself as the winner of the negotiations.

In short, this deal is deeply flawed. It should be denounced as such.

But we do have a deal that prevents (to a reasonable probability) a nuclear Iran for up to 15 years and arguably much longer.  If we are to oppose it, we are obligated to analyze with proper depth, what comes next.

It appears that AIPAC has inadequately made the case for the benefits congressional rejection will provide.

Here is what has been offered so far:  Rejection will lead to a “better deal.”

This is the hope, but what is the path that takes us to this conclusion? Is there the risk rejection actually benefits Iran? What if the sanctions crumble or if the P5+1 refuse to back a toughened negotiation position? If either event occurs, Iran’s position is enhanced, and we may lose the advantages of the deal we had (monitoring, extension of breakout times, no economic leverage, etc.).

Lastly, if a better deal fails to emerge and Iran proceeds with nuclear-weapons activity, we may face the prospect of military action. The irony is that  numerous American and Israeli intelligence reports (that have been made public) conclude that military strikes on nuclear-research facilities and reactors will only buy the world two or three years.

Does AIPAC favor military action when the Iranian deal gives us a longer time line?

AIPAC has the resources to lead us. It should provide the evidence in logic and fact (if available) to prove that rejection will lead to a better outcome.

Yes, the Iran deal is flawed and dangerous for both Israel and the U.S.

But rejection opens the door to uncertain and unmanageable risks. Any organization that asks Congress to oppose this deal should assume the obligation to teach us the benefits of rejection and not only the problems with approval. We have only a few weeks left. Please answer the call.

The Importance of Deeper Connections

Michael J. Elman, M.D.

Michael J. Elman, M.D.

Jewish tradition centers on the family. We celebrate our most deeply rooted observances, such as Shabbat and the Passover seder, in our homes, where we  transmit our eternal heritage and rich traditions from one generation to the next. No matter the size, Judaism begins and ends with our family. Indeed, the great contemporary Jewish sage, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, described the Jewish people as one large family.

Because of the vital importance of family, the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education aims to meaningfully engage families in a manner comfortable for them. The future of our community depends on the success of this ambitious mission.

Connecting Jews to each other and to our shared heritage is the CJE’s highest priority. An agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the CJE aspires to serve as a key catalyst for Jewish growth within individual families.  By creating innovative educational experiences, the CJE strives to inspire and motivate parents and children to connect with Jewish learning, Jewish living and Jewish community.

Through the millennia, Shabbat served as the focal point for family time together. For many today, Shabbat provides a nurturing, relaxed opportunity for families and friends to connect.

This year, our community will participate in projects that celebrate the beauty of Shabbat and enable people — from all levels of observance — to experience it in relevant and meaningful ways.

The Associated has partnered with other organizations to create First Fridays (firstfridaysbaltimore.com), a movement to inspire and encourage friends and families to bring Shabbat into their lives in some fashion on the first Friday of every month. This innovative project kicks off on Oct. 2 and is a wonderful way for anyone to make time and connect with their loved ones and their heritage in their own unique way.

Associated Women has collected resources on a website, associated.org/ shabbatresources, which encourages community members to spend Shabbat together and to open their homes to interested individuals and families.

Both of these sites provide resources to make Shabbat accessible and comfortable for people who may never have celebrated Shabbat and who need a starting point from which to embark on a Shabbat experience.

Once again, our community will participate in the Baltimore Shabbat Project, a worldwide observance of Shabbat, on Oct. 22-24. Programs include challah baking for women and girls, family and neighborhood-based Shabbat meals, programming for men and boys and a communitywide Havdalah concert. Around the globe, thousands of Jews will share in similar preparations for Shabbat and will observe the day in a way that is comfortable and inspiring for each of them. The Baltimore Shabbat Project aims to unify the global Jewish family through Shabbat.

All these important initiatives will help us make deeper connections. Even in our strong, vibrant Baltimore Jewish community, we unfortunately hear from people who feel disconnected from Jewish life. Through innovative engagement opportunities for families, educational resources and welcoming experiences, we aim to help people identify with our heritage, feel proud to be Jewish and feel connected to each other.

The Forest, the Trees and the Iran Deal

Concluding the nuclear deal with Iran has intensified political arguments not only in Washington, but also within the pro-Israel community. Many groups are devoting significant time and resources to opposing the agreement and attempting to prevent its approval by Congress out of a belief that it will leave both the United States and Israel less safe. In view of the political reality, however, the energy being spent to fight it is misplaced. Instead, we must prepare for the day after the agreement goes into effect to ensure that the United States and Israel are in the best possible position to confront the new realities that this deal will create in the Middle East.

Despite the various shortcomings identified by the agreement’s opponents, the campaign to scuttle it is a Sisyphean one. Even if a majority of senators and congressmen have strong misgivings, it will be extremely difficult to siphon off enough Democratic votes to make its rejection veto-proof. In addition, most polling confirms that a majority of Americans, including Jews, support it. While nothing is ever certain, the deal’s passage in Congress and eventual implementation appears assured. Thus, the vital task at hand is to ensure that, in the post-deal world, American and Israeli shared interests are protected. This undertaking, which cannot be pushed off for the next 60 days, should address three primary issues.

First, the U.S.-Israel relationship cannot afford to sustain any more damage as a result of the discord about Iran. Washington and Jerusalem must now repair ties at the highest levels while continuing to coordinate in the closest possible manner on regional defense, security and intelligence matters. Israel’s security is harmed when its support is seen as partisan, and the recent period of rancor between American and Israeli leaders must be set aside as an aberration rather than a new baseline.

Second, the forest of the two-state solution cannot be lost in the trees of the Iran deal. There is no better way of guaranteeing Israel’s future as a safe, prosperous, democratic state than preserving the ability to negotiate a separation from the Palestinians when conditions allow. In no way should efforts to counter Iranian regional mischief be conditioned on Israeli movement toward a Palestinian state. Finally, the squabbling over the Iran deal has opened up large fissures in the American Jewish community, and the wounds will not easily heal should they be allowed to fester. Principled policy differences and heated debate over the wisdom and efficacy of the agreement should not derail the universally shared goals of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and a commitment to Israel’s security. We must deal with the world that we have. The international community has reached an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Let us now work together to shape a post-deal environment that advances important U.S. national interests, especially the security of Israel and our other regional allies.

Confronting Racism in Orthodox World

Chava Shervington, president of the  Jewish Multiracial Network.

Chava Shervington, president of the
Jewish Multiracial Network.

When I was 24, an Orthodox matchmaker tried to set me up on a date with a man older than my parents. When I objected, she told me, “Stop being so picky. Not many guys are willing to consider a black girl.”

As an African-American Orthodox Jew, this was hardly my first encounter with the questionable treatment I and my fellow Jews of color endure.

“Why is the goy here?” one black Jewish parent overheard when taking her child to a Jewish children’s event.

At one yeshiva in Brooklyn, the mother of a biracial student was asked to stay away from the school because it made the other parents uncomfortable.

An African-American acquaintance told me he overheard a worshiper at morning minyan talk about how he didn’t want to daven with a “shvartze” — while my acquaintance was putting on his tefillin.

Orthodox society is a beautiful community dedicated to charity, Torah learning and growth through observance of mitzvahs — and I believe we’re better than this racism suggests.

As a racial minority, it’s possible to be an integrated member of the Orthodox community, find your spouse and successfully educate your children in yeshivas — but it requires an abundance of self-confidence, tact and tenacity.

It takes confidence to keep going to synagogues when every time you show up to a new minyan you’re not sure if they’ll count you for the required quorum. It takes tact to politely rebuff yet another inquiry about your “journey to Judaism” or “why you read Hebrew so well.” It takes tenacity to keep going to kosher restaurants and Orthodox-run stores when all eyes gravitate toward you the moment you walk through the door (and stay there).

We Orthodox Jews of color constantly have to demonstrate our authenticity and belonging. It’s frustrating, exhausting and, frankly, heartbreaking.

While we may not be used to seeing African-American, Latino or Asian Jews in our midst, we must treat them as we do other Jews, and create a community that is welcoming and inclusive.

It’s time to reassess our self-image. The presence of African-Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities in the Orthodox community is growing rapidly, whether born Jewish or through conversion. We need to start paying attention.

The Jewish community is hardly alone when it comes to the problem of racism, nor are racist attitudes limited to the Orthodox. But as an African-American Orthodox Jew, I feel a special obligation to confront racist behavior in my own community. A society so focused on Jewish outreach and personal growth should be especially concerned with changing behavior that alienates Jews from Orthodox observance and community.

There are many causes for the racism that exists among Orthodox Jews. Insulated to some extent from secular society, the culture of political correctness that has permeated the general culture hasn’t quite achieved the same reach inside the Orthodox world

It’s time for change.

Let us create welcoming environments by using inclusive language and ceasing derogatory speech and the use of racial and ethnic slurs in our schools and shuls, and let us change the way we educate our children. Rather than denigrating outsiders as a way to elevate ourselves, we need to focus more on how everyone is created in the image of God.

Orthodox Jews of color do not need a special welcome mat — just acceptance and consideration.

Israel: Always Alone, Always Excluded

Rarely do remarks on polarizing topics open people’s minds these days, as our nation becomes ever more divided along political fault lines. Yet this month, Rabbi Moshe Hauer connected with nearly 2,000 people who gathered at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, an Orthodox synagogue in the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish Community.

He reached people intellectually and emotionally on the difficult subject of the Iran nuclear deal. Although the deal may appear to be done, given the recent approval of the six major world powers and the U.N. Security Council, Congress will vote on it mere days from now. Weaving together biblical references, the Holocaust and modern-day threats to the Middle East, the rabbi reminded everyone of the challenges to the State of Israel, which he described as “the nation that dwells alone.”

Israel was certainly alone during the last six years of secret negotiations.  The U.S. now finds itself on the threshold of approving what amounts to a treaty with Iran, a country that wants to destroy our most important ally in the world’s most volatile region. Israel was also alone, when at the 11th hour, Iran successfully negotiated lifting the embargo on the purchase of conventional weapons systems. Israel was again alone when the demand for “anytime, anywhere” inspections somehow gave way to allowing multinational bureaucrats to set terms and conditions for such inspections.

While acknowledging their importance, Hauer steered clear of these details. Instead, he focused on the consequences of excluding key stakeholders from decisions about “deals” that determine their future. Noting as an example a conference intended to determine the fate of Jewish refugees in 1938, the rabbi noted that only one Jew, Golda Meir, was invited to observe, but not speak.  That’s more than we can say about the Iranian negotiations. Not surprisingly, the refugee conference accomplished nothing and allowed murderous dictators to determine the fate of Jews by default in that critical year.

The infamous Munich agreement, the hopeless attempt at appeasement in 1938 that bought Hitler time to build his killing infrastructure, is the other deal the rabbi cites as an example.  Negotiated between the German chancellor and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, that deal was sold to the public as “peace for our time” and instead led to World War II and the Holocaust.  Some are now making a far more outrageous claim that 99 percent of the world supports the Iranian
nuclear agreement.

Some members of Maryland’s congressional delegation say they will be studying the Iran deal.  What they should be studying is Hauer’s straightforward explanation on the basics of negotiations and determine for themselves whether conditions were met that account for the interests of Jewish people and Israel.

The public record on Iranian animosity toward Israel is clear. Israel will either get lucky and Iran will become peaceful, flush with oil revenues and weapons, or history will repeat itself.

The Iran Deal’s Many Dangers

Abraham H. Foxman is the former national  director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Abraham H. Foxman is the former national
director of the Anti-Defamation League.

My long tenure as national director of the Anti-Defamation League is at an end. It has been a highly satisfactory and meaningful 28 years as director and 50 years as a professional at this prestigious organization.

So why did I choose to write an article on my last day? It is the same imperative that has motivated me all these years: If I see something troubling to the Jewish people, I cannot be still.

And I am deeply troubled at this time by the agreement between the P5+1 nations and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

I hear the argument that Iran would be a threshold nuclear state without an agreement. But the truth is, it would have been an illegitimate one that would have justified continued disapproval, sanctions and the threat of a military option against its nuclear program.

That is why the original goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure was not wishful thinking, but a vital part of what needed to be achieved. It was necessary to deny the nuclear legitimacy of a regime that even after reaching an agreement earlier this month still calls for death to America and Israel, fosters terrorism throughout the region and the world and is expanding its sinister deadly influence throughout the Middle East.

Under this deal, either 10 or 15 years down the road, Iran will have a nuclear program legitimized by the international community with the ability to break out quickly to build a bomb. The most dangerous regime in the region should never be given such legitimacy on such a perilous project.

When one adds to that the rapid ending of sanctions, most likely within six months, this will significantly add to Iran’s mischief-making power in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza.

The argument that Congress needs to support the deal because sanctions will dissipate even if it doesn’t is not sufficient. The Iranian regime needs to be looked at with a clear eye. Congress can and should try to find ways to overcome the serious flaws in this deal.

There has been much discussion about how Iran has lived up to its commitments since the framework agreement. But that’s because its main goal was to have sanctions lifted. Once sanctions are removed,a duplicitous regime that has never admitted to seeking a weapon will surely find ways to circumvent the agreement despite inspections and snapback provisions.

It is not easy to dismiss Israeli concerns as right-wing overreaction when Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni all condemn the deal. This is a time for Congress to recognize and act on those concerns to ensure Israel can defend itself by itself and to back up the President Barack Obama’s pledge that “the U.S. has
Israel’s back.”

A better deal should have been struck, and it is not a policy to say this is the best we have.

I hope this critical debate over the next 60 days is conducted in a civil manner. Those who oppose the deal should not criticize the administration’s motives in reaching an agreement. On the other hand, the administration should desist from the kinds of demagogic accusations and insinuations claiming that opponents of the deal are warmongers.

Let’s get this right. Whatever the outcome, let it be a triumph for the democratic process.