Trouble for J Street? Liberal Jews Turn on Obama Over Iran Deal

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn

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The top political and intellectual leaders of the Israeli left are coming out against President Obama’s capitulation to Iran. This development will impact the political dynamics in Israel, the American Jewish community, and the US-Israel relationship. And it will leave J Street on the fringe, once again.

Israel’s Labor Party opposition, known during the recent election campaign as the Zionist Union, issued an official press release on April 2 criticizing Obama’s Iran deal. The head of the party’s Knesset delegation, MK Eitan Cabel, elaborated on his Facebook page: “I refuse to join those applauding the agreement with Iran, because the truth is it keeps me awake at night. President Obama promises that if the Iranians cheat, the world will know, but isn’t that exactly what the Americans promised after the agreement with North Korea?”

The senior Labor Party official continued: “When a crazy religious regime with a proven track record of terrorism and cheating receives permission to get that close to a nuclear bomb, I am very worried. The fact that the man who is in charge of making sure the deal won’t be broken has a proven record of mocking his own redlines, makes me even more worried.”

Calling Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts against the Iran deal “a correct struggle,” the Labor Party MK emphasized that he is “standing behind Netanyahu” because “in the face of a nuclear Iran, there is no coalition and there is no opposition–we are all Israelis.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn, himself a virulent critic of Netanyahu in the past, wrote on April 5 that Netanyahu’s call for the international community to insist that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist was taken directly from the campaign rhetoric of Labor Party chairman Yitzhak Herzog.

There are signs of change among leading Israeli left-wing intellectuals, as well. Israeli author Ari Shavit, who has been the darling of the American Jewish left because of his recent book urging more Israeli concessions to the Arabs, may find himself with fewer speaking engagements on these shores in the near future, now that he too has come out against the Iran capitulation.

Writing for Politico on April 2, Shavit called Obama’s deal “a terrible historic mistake.”

“If Iran is nuclearized, everyone’s values and way of life will be endangered,” Shavit wrote. “If the Middle East is nuclearized, the 21st century will become a century of nuclear terror andnuclear horror. The deal that Obama announced on Thursday does not do enough to prevent this. Does an agreement that allows Iran to keep 6,100 spinning centrifuges really lock under 1,000 locks and bolt behind 1,000 bolts the Iranian nuclear project? Does an agreement that allows Iran to maintain research and development capabilities and an underground facility on Fordow really fully take advantage of Iran’s economic frailty in order to ensure the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure?”

By contrast, J Street, the pro-Palestinian lobbying group that represents a portion of the American Jewish left, is defending President Obama’s Iran capitulation and doing everything possible to help him get the deal past Congress and other critics.

Until just days ago, J Street, the Israeli Labor Party, Haaretz, and Ari Shavit were all close allies in the electoral battle to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street supporters and donors threw themselves into the campaign, importing American-style political tactics and arguments that they erroneously believed would work in the Middle East.

  1. Now, suddenly, J Street finds itself at odds with leading voices of the Israeli left. Why are Israeli and American Jewish left-wingers responding so differently to the Iran deal? Simple: because Israelis have to live with the consequences.
  2. For the J Street crowd, it’s easy enough to mouth slogans from the comforts of Potomac and Scarsdale. They will never have to suffer the real-life consequences of their advice. But their Israeli former-comrades know that their favorite cafe in Tel Aviv is just as likely to be hit by an Iranian nuclear missile as some Jewish community in Judea or Samaria.

In the face of the new Israeli left-right consensus on Iran, J Street will be effectively pushed back to the fringes in the American Jewish community. But don’t expect the J Streeters to reconsider their positions. Diehard ideologues rarely have a change of heart, no matter what is happening in the world around them. In the months ahead, they will probably pretend that the Israeli left doesn’t exist, and concentrate their fire on American Jewish leaders and congressmen who dare to question Obama.

Because that, in the end, is J Street’s true mission – not to facilitate peace, not to help protect Israel, but to facilitate President Obama’s political agenda and to protect him from Jewish critics.

Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of Philadelphia, and both are current candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.