Iran Nuclear Nightmare: Framework Fail

After more than 20 years of sanctions against Iran concerning its illicit nuclear program, President Barack Obama has not only precipitously squandered the international community’s economic leverage, but he has also collapsed diplomatic isolation of Iran that had been built up by Congress, six U.N Security Council resolutions and multiple presidents. Now, following over 18 months of nuclear talks, Obama is poised to legitimize the very pathway to a nuclear weapon he promised the American people for years that he would prevent.

The “framework of understanding” announced by the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran in Lausanne on April 2 represents a series of dangerous capitulations by the U.S. on key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and a damaging betrayal of long-stated American policy. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was grinning from ear to ear at the announcement; however, in our allies’ capitals throughout the Middle East, the response was much less celebratory.

As reported on the day of the announcement, the “understanding” is not a final accord; neither side is bound by its terms. And within hours, Zarif was already accusing the West of lying, overstating Iran’s obligations and shading the rapid pace of Iran’s coming cash and prizes. While many details that could derail a comprehensive agreement remain to be negotiated, the reality of what was announced is deeply alarming and signifies a dramatic weakening of the positions America held for decades.

Iran entered these negotiations as an international pariah state. As the regime pursued its illicit nuclear program, its economy was crumbling under the weight of crippling economic sanctions. When Obama originally opened these talks, the country was six months from bankruptcy and that pressure could have been used to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

However, the Iranians’ shrewd negotiation tactics completely unraveled the original U.S. goal of absolutely no enrichment in Iran. According to the new framework, Iran now stands to operate over 6,000 of the 9,000 centrifuges spinning today. Instead of dismantling Iran’s plutonium plant, now Iran can produce plutonium more slowly. And once the final accord expires, Tehran will be able to build unlimited plutonium reactors.

Obama said a final agreement will not be based on trust. But the entire framework seems to hinge on asking Americans to trust the Iranians not to cheat, and trusting that the Administration knows better than Congress.

Obama said that Congress has an important role to play. He welcomed a vigorous debate about the agreement, but in the same breath warned that if Congress scuttles the deal, then America will be blamed for failed diplomacy. Let’s hope Congress sees this message for what it is: pure politics.

Only Congress can unwind the sanctions it has imposed under the law. And only Congress at this point can ensure that the United States does not pave Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

Joshua S. Block is President & CEO of The Israel Project.

Breaking Free from a Personal Mitzrayim

Passover is a holiday defined by coming out toward freedom. The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, meaning, “from the narrows,” represents not so much a geographic location as a state of mind, from which each of us seeks liberation in our own way. In my case, I started life as a first-born son but could now say I was born, at first, a son. As I reflect upon my own unique journey into Jewish womanhood, it helps me not only relate to the narrative of our past, but recommit myself to the responsibility of being a Jew in the present.

The concept of transgender individuals need not be alien to any sect of Judaism. Talmudic references to suprabinary sexes aside, the necessity of a person to permanently assert a new gender based upon sincere self-awareness, let alone the medicine to influence physical characteristics to match, was simply not on the minds of our sages; whereas, homosexuality, albeit grossly misunderstood, was. In Torah, crustaceans are “shellfish” and cetaceans are “big fish.” As Jews, we read many books beyond Torah, each building on humanity’s knowledge of Hashem’s creations, as they line the walls of our synagogues and homes. Seeing only male and female is seeing only “fish,” a beginning to the conversation at best. Sadly, gender identities, and sexuality in general, remain taboo in many circles of our community. This is not a problem unique to Judaism, yet is one we can uniquely remedy by relating new ideas through the history we tell best.

Gender matters within the Passover story as early as line 16 in Exodus. The Hebrew midwives are ordered to smother the newborn boys, yet spare the girls. Obviously, they disobey. Oppression can take many forms, sometimes only a perception is sufficient. With the help of a different newborn, the dial-up Internet, I discovered scarce reports of other trans-children like myself. The fear in revealing myself was not my parents’ rejection, but rather their support. They would have moved heaven and earth, perhaps to a different state, for me to quietly continue on as a girl, were that my need. Circumstances have changed, but years ago, even the prospect of unintended consequences was itself a captivity. Hidden within me was a girl trapped in her own mitzrayim by the first-born big brother’s obligation to look out for his siblings, rather than change at risk of uprooting them. It took me decades to escape that mindset, but Passover is a reminder that transformation requires both preparing yourself and preparing the world. The woman I am could never have existed before; by outward appearances alone, I’d have been among the smothered.

My journey toward liberation and self-actualization against societal expectations and my own fears helps me look upon the journeys of others, realizing that I once was restricted as well, and in different ways still am. To be a Jew reminds me, in this age and every age, that asserting our own and ensuring others’ freedom of expression is, perhaps, our greatest expression of freedom.

Hannah Elyse Simpson is a medical student in New York City at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is active in numerous Jewish congregations and is the volunteer coordinator for Trans Lifeline, a peer crisis hotline.

Now for the Hard Part

The broad outlines of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, reached by international negotiators last week, offers both hope and concern about whether Tehran’s ambitions can be constrained in exchange for ending crippling sanctions and instituting a robust inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But if ever the devil was in the details, this is it. With the parameters agreed upon, negotiators from Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany must still build the machinery of the agreement, a task they have given themselves until June 30 to do. Only then will we know if this is a good deal or a bad deal.

Still to be spelled out: How and under what conditions will Iran get sanctions relief? How will Iranian compliance be verified? And what will be the response if Iran fails to meet its commitments?

The answers to these and other questions deserve close scrutiny and debate. We welcome President Barack Obama’s expressed interest in engaging Congress as the negotiations continue. That will undoubtedly be an important component, as review by the legislature will potentially give a “good deal” some necessary momentum or lead to a rethinking of components of a “bad deal.” Either way, congressional discussion of the terms of the deal is a good idea.

There are views on all sides of the issue. We have been barraged with almost nonstop critiques and analyses since the president’s announcement (and Teheran’s counter-announcement) last Thursday afternoon. What is needed now is a civil, reasoned debate toward what all agree on: alleviating the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. If that result is assured and verifiable, then let’s make a deal. If not, we need the courage and conviction to say “no.”

A Friend in Trouble

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in 2013.
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In his support for Israel and criticism of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Robert Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, has been fearless and vocal. In his 2012 re-election campaign, he was the top recipient of donations from pro-Israel individuals and groups who gave him a total of $346,470, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

So for many Jews, Menendez’s indictment last week by the Justice Department on federal corruption charges raises the question of how to respond to a friend in trouble.

The best way would be to let the legal process unfold. The government’s bribery charges against Menendez, filed after a two-year investigation, paint the picture of a politician ready to do multimillion-dollar favors for friend and political supporter Salomon E. Melgen. But with the senator’s attorney, Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, suggesting that Justice Department prosecutors “often get it wrong,” it appears that Menendez is preparing for a long legal battle.

Menendez has stepped down from his ranking position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was from that seat that he wrote several bills to toughen economic sanctions against Iran. He was replaced by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Some commentators have noted that the timing of the indictment is suspicious. Menendez in January said the administration’s defense of its Iran stance “sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” The most vocal Democratic critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iran talks was then taken out of the game on the very day an agreement with Iran was reached.

Whether by intent or coincidence, the sidelining of Menendez is unlikely to weaken those who are most outspoken against an Iran agreement and who insist upon a congressional vetting of any deal. Thus, while it appears that the Iran issue will remain a hot button many politicians want to push, it no longer appears that the most strident criticism will continue to come from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Gender and Passover: Breaking Free from a Personal Mitzrayim

Hannah Simpson

Hannah Simpson

Passover is a holiday defined by coming out toward freedom. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, meaning, “from the narrows,” represents not so much a geographic location as a state of mind, from which each of us seeks liberation in our own way. In my case, I started life as a first-born son, but could now say I was born, at first, a son. As I reflect upon my own unique journey into Jewish womanhood, it helps me not only relate to the narrative of our past, but recommit myself to the responsibility of being a Jew in the present.

The concept of transgender individuals need not be alien to any sect of Judaism. Talmudic references to suprabinary sexes aside, the necessity of a person to permanently assert a new gender based upon sincere self-awareness, let alone the medicine to influence physical characteristics to match, was simply not on the minds of our sages; whereas, homosexuality, albeit grossly misunderstood, was. In Torah, crustaceans are “shellfish” and cetaceans are “big fish.” As Jews, we read many books beyond Torah, each building on humanity’s knowledge of Hashem’s creations, as they line the walls of our synagogues and homes. Seeing only male and female is seeing only “fish,” a beginning to the conversation at best. Sadly, gender identities, and sexuality in general, remain taboo in many circles of our community. This is not a problem unique to Judaism, yet is one we can uniquely remedy by relating new ideas through the history we tell best.

Gender matters within the Passover story as early as line sixteen in Exodus. The Hebrew midwives are ordered to smother the newborn boys, yet spare the girls. Obviously, they disobey. Oppression can take many forms, sometimes only a perception is sufficient. With the help of a different newborn, the dial-up Internet, I discovered scarce reports of other trans children like myself. The fear in revealing myself was not my parents’ rejection, but rather their support. They would have moved heaven and earth, perhaps to a different state, for me to quietly continue on as a girl, were that my need. Circumstances have changed, but years ago, even the prospect of unintended consequences was itself a captivity. Hidden within me was a girl trapped in her own Mitzrayim by the first-born big brother’s obligation to look out for his siblings, rather than change at risk of uprooting them. It took me decades to escape that mindset, but Passover is a reminder that transformation requires both preparing yourself and preparing the world. The woman I am could never have existed before; by outward appearances alone, I’d have been among the smothered.

A hint at how to prepare the world for redemption comes in another line from Exodus, so early in the tale that I fear it gets passed over. Line eight speaks of a new ascending Pharaoh, to whom Joseph and the prosperity the Hebrews brought was unknown, no sooner were we enslaved. Today, multiple states have introduced legislation proposing that I must use men’s public restrooms. I may comply at risk of violence or defy at risk of arrest. Further bills, notably one just passed in Indiana, may give anyone who desires an exemption from serving me in the first place. Yet again, the world finds itself dignifying discourse around where a minority can pee or where they can be.

As Jews, our own history should remind us: Next come the ghettos. Joseph was viceroy to a mighty empire, yet within a line was erased without even a why or how. Perhaps the Hebrews in Mitzrayim became complacent in their affluence? For all that American Jews take for granted, not 75 years ago this same nation could not make space for a single ship of refugees waiting at its shores. How soon could the tides change or the sea split once again? For whom must we stand up now, lest no one be left to stand for us?

Our narrative as a people of eons adds Milk to Miriam and Moses, growing braver with each new hero or heroine who rises to the challenges of preparing the world in that day, so long as we keep telling their stories and broadening conversations.

My journey toward liberation and self-actualization against societal expectations and my own fears helps me look upon the journeys of others, realizing that I once was restricted as well, and in different ways still am. To be a Jew reminds me, in this age and every age, that asserting our own and ensuring others’ freedom of expression is, perhaps, our greatest expression of freedom.

Hannah Elyse Simpson is a medical student in New York City at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, a marathoner, supporter of Israel, and total unabashed nerd. She is active in numerous Jewish congregations and is the volunteer coordinator for Trans Lifeline, a peer crisis hotline. She has recently been featured on refinery29.com and has been interviewed by Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. Find her on Twitter @hannsimp.

Safety … and Faith

2013_Runyan_-Josh

Editor-in-Chief

As negotiators from the United States and five other world nations tried to hammer out a nuclear agreement with Iran, Jewish community members here gathered at the Park Heights JCC to tackle what is probably a more pressing issue: fire safety.

The message delivered by Dr. Eli Matt Goldstein, founder and president of a fire prevention firm, couldn’t have been more prescient for the diplomats huddled in Lausanne, Switzerland. “You can’t prevent accidents from happening,” he said. “However, there are things we can do to do things more safely.”

Replace “accidents” with “disaster,” and it would pretty much sum up the thoughts of anyone worried about the prospect of a nuclear-armed regime in Tehran. An Iran possessing nuclear weapons would present as much of a regional and global risk as a faulty hot plate would to a home. All must be done, therefore, to prevent the Islamic republic from continuing its unchecked march to collecting enough fissile material to develop a bomb.

The problem is that the cycle of international negotiations to prevent a rogue regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon has happened before, with disastrous results. When North Korea withdrew from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1993, a flurry of diplomacy produced the 1994 “Agreed Framework” in which the communist nation agreed to suspend its nuclear development and submit to international inspections in return for economic guarantees. By 2002, the deal had broken down. In 2005, North Korea admitted it was in possession of a nuclear bomb. In 2006, it completed its first successful nuclear test.

What, pray tell, will prevent Iran from doing exactly the same thing? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in the event of an accord between Iran, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, the Iranians will choose to violate its terms at a time it deems fitting, much like the case of North Korea.

What we’re left with, essentially, is a hot plate that, no matter how well it’s designed, will always carry with it — by virtue of it being a hot plate — the risk of catastrophic failure. The only choices left are to design something completely new — as you’ll read in this week’s JT, New Jersey engineer David Y. Sarna is evaluating induction technology to develop a “hot plate” that warms food but not the surrounding surface — or to mitigate the effects of an imperfect status quo.

For observant Jews, learning to live with inherently unsafe hot plates will require more smoke detectors and fire extinguishers as well as developing escape plans and no-go zones. But for the world at large, learning to live with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran will require the kind of regional realignments, such as Sunni Arab nations taking the fight to Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, already taking place in the Middle East.

A completely redesigned nuclear deal would be nice, but all evidence so far points to either a bad deal or nothing at all. Such prospects don’t do much to create a safer world, but then again, the world never was such a safe place anyway.

At the end of the day, all that’s left after making things as safe as possible is to have a little faith.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Calling for a Boycott

In the article “Center of Attention” (March 6), writer Cnaan Liphshiz (of the JTA) describes the virulent and blatant anti-Semitism in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Jews are openly harassed and discriminated against there, and these countries still venerate the Nazis and their pathologic hatred of Jews.

We can fight back against these anti-Semites. We can boycott all the products that we import from these countries. Businessmen would have an even greater impact because they can boycott an even higher volume of products.

Restarting U.S.-Israel Relationship Also Depends on Palestinians

040315_Foxman,-AvrahamAs someone who was critical of several steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his campaign for re-election, I am even more troubled by statements coming out of the White House calling for a reassessment of policy toward Israel, including a reconsideration of the historic American veto in the U.N. Security Council.

Let me be clear: I wish Netanyahu would do more to solidify relations with Israel’s ally in America and to stand up to those in Israel who seek to make impossible a Palestinian state. None of this, however, justifies what we are hearing from the Obama administration.

From the beginning of the Obama years, there was a disturbing indifference to the mindset of the Israeli public, characterized by the president’s speech in Cairo and focus on Israeli settlements as the key obstacle to peace.

Certainly, resentment at Netanyahu’s sidestepping the president in his speech before Congress is understandable. However, if there was concern about the election of a right-wing government, attention should have focused less on not liking what Israeli democracy produced and more on examining why Israelis voted as they did and what can be done to change that reality.

The answer lies not in the United States distancing itself from Israel, which will encourage Palestinians in their belief that they can have their cake and eat it, achieving a state without accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. And it will reinforce Israeli fears of being under siege.

Rather, it lies in doing something the administration has seemingly been reluctant to do: pressuring the Palestinians into finally making the qualitative leap toward accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. This and this alone could truly change the dynamic of the conflict that has been troubling the world for so long.

Steps that would represent such change would include concrete indications of finally recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, accepting that the Palestinian refugee problem would be resolved within a new Palestinian state, declaring that a peace accord would represent the end of the conflict and future demands and eliminating the hate campaigns in the media and schools against Israel and Jews.

The absence of any progress on all these issues over many years leaves Israelis with the belief that not much has changed on the Palestinian side, and that they need to tough it out until change comes.

There are good arguments against this Israeli approach even if there is no change on the Palestinian side. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral initiative despite his belief that Israel currently had no peace partner. But as these elections show, most Israelis are ready to vote for security in the current environment.

On the other hand, if real positive Palestinian change would occur, that would generate the greatest impact for change on the Israeli side. A diminution of fears about Palestinian intentions is the best formula for a more moderate Israeli electorate and Israeli policies.

This should be a time for healing between American and Israeli leaders. The prime minister, the president and congressional leaders should not be trying to score points at the expense of the other. Instead they should refocus on the common values and interests of the two nations and recognize that we both face many common challenges in the Middle East.

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

Fact: JVP Wages War on Israel

In its shockingly sympathetic and uncritical coverage of the annual membership meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace (“Jewish Voice for Peace Converges in Baltimore,” March 20), the JT mischaracterizes JVP as a benign organization whose “progressive look at the Middle East” emphasizes “sympathy toward the Palestinian people.”

In fact, the JVP wages political warfare against Israel not only by promoting the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, but also by regularly smearing Israel with accusations of “apartheid” and “racism,” and by supporting a Palestinian “right of return,” which are code words for the destruction of Israel. (The JVP Passover Hagaddah includes “denial of the right of return” as one of the “ten plagues of the Israeli occupation.”) To further these goals, JVP works closely with such virulently anti-Israel groups as Electronic Intifada, Code Pink, Sabeel and the International Solidarity Movement. Why was this omitted from the JT article?

Also disturbing is the forum afforded by the JT to the Rev. Heber Brown of Baltimore’s Pleasant Hope Baptist Church. In the past, Brown has charged Israel with perpetrating a “genocide” of the Palestinian people and a “Palestinian holocaust” and has referred to Jewish National Fund tree-planting campaigns as “environmental attacks on Palestinian existence. At the JVP event, the JT quotes without comment Brown’s ludicrous claim that Israel denies Palestinians the “right to vote,” even though the Palestinian electoral process is entirely controlled by Hamas (for residents of Gaza) and the Palestinian Authority (for residents of the West Bank).

While the JVP meeting was indisputably newsworthy, the JT does its readers a disservice by disseminating the JVP’s distorted narratives without challenge. In a world where there is no shortage of publications and news sources spreading lies and distortions about Israel, the JT should be vigilant not to do the same.

You Want Twisted Logic?

As a matter of full disclosure, why was it not noted that Alexander Murinson’s From This View (“Twisted Logic,” March 20) is a politically motivated piece of Israeli scholarship in the service of Azeri — and, ironically, Turkish — propaganda?

Azerbaijan and Armenia are technically at war because of a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Jewish state is on very good terms with Azerbaijan but less so with Armenia.

According to Wikipedia, “the State of Israel has yet to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Yair Auron, an Israeli historian, scholar and expert specializing on Holocaust and genocide studies, corroborated (in 2000) that Israel is worried about hurting its current trade relations with Turkey and wants, as a side note, to retain the uniqueness of the Holocaust. But (in the U.S.) the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have recognized the Armenian genocide as an historical fact.

Needless to say, in 2015, Israel no longer worries about trade relations with an increasingly hostile and Islamist Turkey.

To denigrate the Armenian tragedy of World War I because, in the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” some anti-Bolshevik Armenians subsequently joined forces with the Nazis during World War II, is anachronistic and viciously perverse — a true case of “twisted logic.”

For example, as noted in an article titled “Finland” in the March-April issue of the Orthodox publication “WhereWhatWhen,” when the Finns feared an invasion by Russia during WWII, they allied with the Germans. There were Jews patriotically serving in the Finnish army. This resulted in “an odd situation — Jews fighting along with the Nazis against a common enemy. There is a picture of Jewish soldiers praying outside a military tent next to a tent bearing the swastika.”

According to Murinson’s thinking, these Finnish Jews should have been brought to Israel to stand trial as Nazi collaborators. Talk about “twisted logic”!