Jews I woke up Thursday morning, August 6, and read a Tweet that the night before Maryland Senator, Ben Cardin, had met with the President of the U.S.
I immediately emailed our Senator: Dear Ben, I understand that you met with the President last night. I’m sure you are aware of the fact that I know a lot more about the situation in Iran than he does! If you have any questions, I – and my military aides – are available for discussion. The fact of the matter is it is very possible that the President knows more than I know … more than most anyone knows. How many of us know one centrifuge from another? How many of us know what “yellow cake” is if it doesn’t come in a box from Manischewitz? So what do I know? But in the past, that hasn’t stopped me from talking!
Yossi Klein Halevi, one of Israel’s most respected and responsible writers, tells us that Israel is facing the greatest danger to its existence since 1948. How can I not speak about it? This is one of those moments in time that are truly historic. In the U’netane Tokef prayer we recite on the High Holidays we find the angels “trembling and shaking; Heini baw yom hadin – behold the Day of Judgement is here.” This Rosh Hashanah it is not just the angels who are trembling and shaking! With the vote on the Iran agreement, all of us are trembling and shaking! The vote may be over but the aftershocks are going to be felt for many years to come. So this morning let me tell you how I feel about the agreement and what I know about it. I want to give you three perspectives on how I feel in my heart about what has unfolded; the perspective of an American, the perspective of a Jew, and the perspective of an American Jew.
But first let me tell you what I KNOW… what I think by now we should all know. - Right from the start, I knew America would find a way to cut a deal with Iran. Our President made that a top priority from day one and bent over backward, at the cost of both lives and honor, in order to make it happen. The fact that the majority of the members of Congress and a majority of the American people were against the deal was not going to be allowed to stand in his way. - From day one I knew the European Union would go along with most any deal.
The European Union long ago showed that their behavior is no different than that of a prostitute. Only money counts! The ink on the deal had not even dried when leaders from Germany were already running to Iran to start cutting deals. Let me remind you: Germany owes a little moral debt to the Jewish people and Germany is the best friend that Israel has amongst the European countries. And yet, they were the first to run to Iran to get in line for the cash! Money talks! Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg • Beth Tfiloh Congregation • Baltimore, Maryland • September 14, 2015 ________________________________________________________________________________ 2 - I also know that Iran will go for the bomb … with or without the deal, Iran will go for the bomb. For the Iranian regime it’s a matter of survival. They are a Shiite country surrounded by a sea of Sunnis. They see themselves threatened from within and from without. They see what happened to Libya’s Khadafi when he gave up the bomb. They see what happened to Saddam Hussein when he didn’t have the bomb. And they see what happened to North Korea, which lied about the bomb, violated its agreement with the U.S., got themselves the bomb, spit in the face of the world and no one messes with them because they are capable of using the bomb! Iran knows all this. It is going for the bomb … no matter what! - And I know that Iran is capable of using the bomb. Our battle with Iran has a strong religious element. After all, we are “The Great Satan!” As a rabbi, I know the power of religion … it can bring out the best in people but it can also bring out the worst! The best is seen in free-loan societies, Bikur Cholim, the countless charitable organizations. But religion – our religion – has also motivated some of our people to stab a person for being gay, or burn down a home and kill a father, mother and son for being Palestinian … all done in the name of religion! The Iranian regime is composed of religious fanatics who are morally indistinguishable from ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and all the other mass murdering Islamic movements.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September, 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as 12 years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path by blowing up their own bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them. Does that sound like rational behavior to you? If they kill their own kids, you don’t think they would be ready to kill ours? So those are the things your rabbi knows; what I hope we all know.
Now, let me tell you how I feel; what my heart and kishkes tell me. As an American, I feel that this deal is a terrible blow to American prestige and will be perceived by most around the world as a sign of weakness our America’s part. So many of the things we had been told would be part of any deal with Iran seem to have disappeared! Even most of its supporters took note of its many flaws. Did you know that part of the deal calls for America and Iran to exhibit “mutual respect?” We have to respect the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. “Mutual respect?” This, to a country whose most popular rallying cry is “Death to America!” Did you know that the deal enables Iran to bar any American from serving as one of the international inspectors of Iranian nuclear facilities? Did you know that the deal obligates us to help protect their facilities from sabotage? We have to help protect them! Did you know that Iran’s Ayatollah declared that the deal must be approved by the Iranian parliament, but the President of the U.S. did everything possible to avoid bringing the deal for approval by the American Congress? Mutual respect? Whatever happened to self respect? I am not one of those who question the intentions of Barack Obama. I certainly am not one of those who consider him an anti-Semite. We should stop talking that way! He really believes this is in the best interests of all concerned. I just think that he is wrong … and it’s not the first time he’s been wrong, and a majority of the American people and American Congress think that he is wrong!
As a Jew, I am heartbroken at how readily America and the rest of the world is prepared to make its peace with a country that calls for the destruction of Israel. Iran is the only country in the entire world that calls for the destruction of another country! And that country happens to be the place where half of the Jews in this world reside. The nuclear deal opens up the Iranian regime to more than $100 billion and although Iran needs the money for its economy, no one is kidding themselves into believing that this is all they will use it for! National Security Advisor Susan Rice says we should expect that some of the money Iran will get “would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kind of bad behavior we have seen in the region.”
Hillary Clinton, in speaking in favor of the deal says, “This does put a lid on their nuclear program but we still have a lot of concern about the bad behavior and actions by Iran.” Do you know what some of the “bad behavior” is that they are talking about? They’re talking about killing Jews! That’s been Iran’s “bad behavior” … blowing up the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires; blowing up a busload of Jewish tourists in Cypress; giving millions of dollars to Hamas for its rockets and tunnels to kill and kidnap Israelis; providing Hezbollah with 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel. And how is all that labeled? “Bad behavior.” That’s the “bad behavior” America is prepared to accept? The “bad behavior” of an Ayatollah Khameini, who publicly proclaims: “This barbaric, wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” That’s the “bad behavior” we are releasing $150 billion to help support? With no strings attached?
As a Jew, I have to cry out to the world and ask: WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? And now, let me tell you how I feel as an American Jew. I am hurt! I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and concerned, and I really shouldn’t have to feel that way! I’ve been made to feel that way by two people: the President of the U.S. and the Prime Minister of the state of Israel. I had been a longtime supporter of Bibi Netanyahu and still agree with his position on most issues. When pressured to make concessions that go against Israel’s security and best interests, he has had the backbone and gall to tell the world to “Go to hell.” And yet, at times, he has put us – American Jews – in an uncomfortable position. His obvious tilting toward Mitt Romney in the 2012 election was something no foreign leader should do. It only served to help move American support for Israel from bi-partisan support to part of the Republican/Democratic divide. That divide was only made larger when Mr. Netanyahu addressed Congress at the invitation of Republicans to speak against the Iran accord. Prime Minister Netanyahu: you have every right in the world to say exactly how you feel; you just don’t spit in the eye of the President of the U.S. on his own home turf. He is the President of the U.S. – our President – and you don’t have to make a speech to Congress when you know it will cause divisions amongst members of Congress and the American Jewish community; when the speech could have been given at another time, in another place. The leaders of most every American Jewish organization were against the speech, and I know of no one whose opinion changed because of that speech. But I know that it put the American Jewish community in a very uncomfortable position. The Prime Minister of Israel should not put us there.
But that can’t compare to how President Obama made us feel during the month of August. What he and his aides had to say made me – as an American Jew – feel not just uncomfortable, but hurt and angry. As a rabbi and an American Jew, I don’t remember ever speaking badly about this country, the greatest country on earth! As a rabbi I lead this congregation every Shabbat in a prayer for the President of the U.S., in a prayer for the soldiers of the U.S. I should not be made to feel uncomfortable as an American Jew! But that’s how the President made me feel in August! Remember back in the 1990s when Papa Bush was lobbied by the American Jewish community against his decision to withhold loan guarantees to Israel, he shouted out those ugly words that he was “one lonely little guy versus powerful political forces … a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” That statement unleashed so much anti-Semitism that he later apologized. And now?
Now we have the President of the U.S. publicly singling out Prime Minister Netanyahu as doing what no foreign leader has done: interfering in an American decision when many leaders over the years have done that and the President himself has done that to others! As if Prime Minister Netanyahu has no right to do that when Israel is the one country which will be most affected by this deal and Israel was not even given a seat at the table! That’s just what happened with Czechoslovakia in 1938 and we know where that led … and Prime Minister Netanyahu should keep quiet? Even more: we American Jews should keep quiet! The President and his aides made statements complaining about those who disagree with his policy on Iran, using words about “lobbying” and “foreign interests” and “war mongers” and “money.” You didn’t hear that kind of talk when the Rockefeller Foundation has given more than half a million dollars to lobby in favor of the deal. You only hear that kind of talk when it’s about Jewish lobbying against the deal. It’s as if our money is kosher when it’s given to support a President’s election but “treif” when it’s given to reject his policies. All this talk encouraged the belief of some that American Jews are guilty of a “dual loyalty.” We don’t deserve that! Did you ever hear of Irving Berlin and Louis Brandeis and Betty Friedan and Abraham Joshua Heschel and Ann Landers and Estee Lauder and Emma Lazarus and Jonah Salk and Chaim Solomon and Levi Strauss and Julius Rosenwald and Lauren Bacall and the Marx Brothers and Bob Dylan and Gloria Steinem and Steven Spielberg and Leonard Bernstein and Alan Greenspan and Albert Einstein and Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and David Sarnoff … and that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the contributions American Jews have made to this county! Don’t you dare hit us with a charge of “dual loyalty!” That charge is usually used to make Jews reluctant to speak out, and it placed the heaviest guilt trip on Jewish congressmen and senators who were made to feel concerned that if they speak out against the deal, it will look like they are siding with Israel against the U.S. That’s what happened when Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin came out against the deal! MoveOn.org immediately said it would no longer support those who opposed the President. But they didn’t say that when Nancy Pelosi came out against the President’s trade bill! Cubans can come out against the President on Cuba and no one questions their loyalty! But when it’s a Jew?
We are always made to feel uncomfortable … and in the past that has caused many of us to bend over backward even when it was to our own detriment. Felix Frankfurter was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors before Roosevelt appointed him to the Supreme Court. In his book, Prelude to Catastrophe; FDR’s Jews and the Menace of Nazism, Robert Shogan points out while the Holocaust was taking place, Frankfurter said nothing to Roosevelt about his fellow Jews. Why not? Because he was Jewish! In letters he wrote to friends, Frankfurter said that he wished he wasn’t Jewish … then he would have been able to speak up without being accused of being biased for his own people. So, because he was Jewish, he bent over backward and never helped his people. This pattern has been repeated again and again at the expense of Jewish lives and honor. Considering the pressure that has been placed on them by the President of the U.S., considering the threats that have been made against them regarding their future in the Senate, considering the ugly question of dual loyalty that has been thrown at them … Senators Schumer and Cardin and other congressmen deserve the gratitude of our people. Our own people’s Sen. Diane Feinstein of California was one of the only Senators who endorsed the deal the day it was unveiled. She had not even read it and she voted for it! Other, so-called long-time friends read it, denounced the deal and then voted for it! Cardin, Schumer and a few others stood up when, in the past, and present, others in their position broke down. They made us proud as American Jews. And we should be proud! I am a proud American and I am a proud Jew. I am proud to be a citizen of this country, the only country that provides so much support for Israel. And that is not a matter of Republican or Democrat. And I am proud to be a Jew because our people have known of frustration and despair, but we never descended to the barbarism of suicide bombers or blowing up buses. I am a great lover of America … and a great lover of Israel. Does that mean that I have a dual loyalty? Absolutely! No different than the dual loyalty I had for my mother and father. I loved them both, and was loyal to both of them … but when one was ailing, I gave that one more of my attention and support than the other. That’s life! And today when the United States is the most powerful country on earth, and my other love – the state of Israel – is the most threatened country on earth … I have to give it my extra attention and support. When it comes to issues of security, America can make mistakes … but Israel can’t!
Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense both for George Bush and for Barack Obama, and can thus be considered unbiased and evenhanded, in writing of his support of the deal points out: “I thought we wanted it a lot more than they did, which is never a good posture to negotiate from in the first place … so despite a flawed agreement that has alienated nearly all our friends in the region, we must deal with the Iranian agreement we have, not the one we wanted … We should harbor no illusions about the regime we’re dealing with … I think we swallow hard, acknowledge our negotiators got 'out-negotiated' acknowledge we have a flawed deal and make the best of it.” And I would just say: if you’re mighty America living 6,000 miles away … you may be able to swallow such a deal. But if you are Israel, the size of New Jersey, living just around the corner from people calling for your annihilation, you just can’t allow such a deal to be shoved down your throat! It is as simple as that! Let me make it clear: I know that there are some amongst us who disagree with some or much of what I have said. There are some – who knows how many – American Jews who support the Iran nuclear deal. They sincerely feel it is in Israel’s best interests. This is their right and who is to say I am right?
The age of prophecy is long gone. The fact of the matter is the Iran deal caused division in the American Jewish community. Debates broke out amongst Federation leaders whether individual Federations should take a stand on the subject. Some felt it was too divisive to take a stand, others felt it was too important not to take a stand. There was division. And sometimes that division brought out an ugly side of us hurling accusations and using words that one Jew should never express to another. We really ought to be ashamed of ourselves! You can be in favor of the nuclear agreement and still be a lover of Israel. I, myself, don’t agree with every Israeli decision regarding settlements and the Palestinians. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But, given that every major Jewish organization came out against the Iran deal, and every major Israeli political leader – left, right and center – came out against the deal, and close to 90% of the Israeli people came out against the deal … if you, as an American Jew, do what J Street has done: lobby and give money to override and undermine the gut feelings of the people and leaders of Israel, putting their security at risk … then go ahead, call yourself “pro-peace.” But I can’t help but question whether you should go around calling yourself “proIsrael.” It’s one thing to disagree. It’s quite another to undermine! J Street has become the darling of some Jewish kids on college campuses … well meaning kids, and adults as well … for its liberal, humanitarian approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But when you are going against the wishes of every major Israeli political party and leader – Likud, Zionist Union, Hatunah, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, Yisroel Beiteinu – Netanyahu, Herzog, Livni, Lapid, Kahlon, Bennett, Deri, Lieberman – when you try to negate the wishes of 90% of the Israeli people, you are not being “pro-Israel” you are being “pro” … what you think from here what Israel should be doing there. And the sooner our college kids and their parents learn the truth, the better off we all will be! All too many American Jews are like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. This summer he wrote a piece how he would feel about the Iran deal if he were an Israeli grocer. What a ridiculous thing to write! From Bethesda, he knows how a grocer in Beer Sheba and Bnai Brak would feel? How many of them does he know? Does he know how they feel when the sirens go off when rockets are incoming? Does he know how it feels being given a gas mask – just in case? Does he wake up in the middle of the night worrying if his son or daughter in the IDF is okay while defending the border with Gaza or Syria? Does his child wet his bed from sleeping in a shelter? “If he were a grocer in Israel” … but he’s not! Don’t tell the people of Israel how they should feel! They are telling you how they feel … and they feel very threatened! And with good reason! In every fiber of my being, I believe that no matter what, Israel will be okay. “In every generation they rise up to destroy us, and the Almighty saves us from their hands.” If Pharaoh couldn’t do it and Haman couldn’t do it and Torquemada couldn’t do it and Hitler couldn’t do it … I believe with a full heart that no Ayatollah is going to be able to do it!
I believe it because I believe in the words, “henei lo yanum v’lo yishan shomer Yisroel – the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” That’s the only way I understand how the Jews have survived and will continue to survive. And besides, while Jews the world over flock to the synagogue this morning, there is a group of Jews I know of who are not in the synagogue. God bless them! They are serving a higher purpose. They are in submarines of the Israel Defense Forces, floating through the Mediterranean and the waters of the Middle East armed with missiles tipped with nuclear explosives. And everyone – including the ayatollahs in Iran – knows it. But is that a way to live … to know that if they nuke us, we will nuke them? Listen: we are playing for big stakes now! It’s not just the lives of the people of Israel that are at stake. Right now, the future of the Jews of Europe is up in the air. We are talking about the collective future of the Jewish people.
75% of European Jews feel the need to hide their Jewish identity in public. Jews from France and Turkey and Greece and the Ukraine are already leaving. Jews in Britain and the Scandinavian countries are fearful for their safety. If it becomes necessary, Israel will welcome them with open arms. But if European Jews have to uproot their families, let them be able to come to a country that is safe and secure. We owe that much to Israel! Just one generation ago the Jews were a lost and broken people. Israel enabled us – American Jews – to stand proud and tall once again. We got the benefits, but Israel paid the price.
In a recent article in New York’s Jewish Week, Rabbi Gerald Skolnik reminded us of one of the iconic Zionist poems, Natan Alterman’s Magash Hakesef – the Silver Platter. Chaim Weizman once said [in 1947], the State of Israel will not be given to the Jews on a silver platter. And Alterman wrote this powerful poem about a battle-weary boy and girl emerging from [the smoke] as the people were beginning to celebrate the state. The people look at them - filthy, exhausted, barely standing - and don’t know what to make of them. The people ask, ‘Who are you.’ And they answer, ‘We’re the silver platter.’ Along with the 6 million, more than 25,000 Israelis have given their lives on that silver platter. We must do everything humanly possible so that we do not lose any more. That is why, in recent weeks, time and again synagogues, Jewish organizations, AIPAC and others called upon you to write and call your Congressmen and Senators to speak out against the deal. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I did it, knowing that the chance of getting enough votes to override a Presidential veto was going to be nearly impossible. So why cry out? For two reasons: first, you don’t only cry out when you think you’ll win! You cry out to have your voice heard, and we did that and our voice was heard! People say the President won. That may be so. Once again we were reminded that AIPAC is not as powerful as the President of the U.S. That should not come as any surprise! But we didn’t lose! Right away the President invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington. Negotiations are going on to strengthen America’s military aid to Israel. And it is quite an achievement that our voice was heard loud enough that now the whole world has been forced to pay attention to the agreement; according to the most recent poll only 22% of the American people support the agreement; and both houses of Congress stand against the President of the U.S. That is no small accomplishment! After generations of Jews finding themselves muzzled into the silence of the lambs, AIPAC has given us a voice that is heard loud and clear. And I’ll tell you another reason why we cried out. When you stub your toe, what do you do? You cry out! Why do you do it? It’s not going to heal you and it’s not going to make you feel any better. So why do you cry out? You cry out because you’re in pain. And when you’re in pain, you can’t help but cry out. The Jewish people have been in pain! And many of us cried out … many of us have not. We can all make our voices heard at this time. The purchase of an Israel Bond is not simply an investment in the future of the state of Israel, it is a statement. It is not just how many dollars are raised that counts … but how many bonds have been purchased. The number of bonds we sell makes a loud statement about American Jewish support for Israel.
Every year our congregation, thank God … and God bless you … has been one of the leading voices heard through Israel Bonds. I plead with you to do it again this year. I am proud that the Haron Dahan Foundation is now one of those organizations which is matching your purchases. I can tell you that this was done not simply because Mr. Dahan would have wanted us to do it; we did it because our financial advisors told us it was a good investment. Yes, it’s a good investment but even more, it is a powerful statement. We owe that much to Israel! So take a hold of your bond cards – every one of you – Republicans and Democrats, pro and con, and do your share … and feel good and proud knowing that you’re giving here, helping the Jews who live there. Knowing that no longer do we go like sheep to the slaughter … now we roar like the lion of Judah. Living up to the immortal words of Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent and Jerusalem’s sake not be quiet until her righteousness go forth as brightness and her salvation like a torch that is burning.”
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