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Analysis Conf-of-Prez2

Published on September 15th, 2015 | by Jim Lobe

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Conference of Presidents Illustrates Gulf in Jewish Opinion on Iran

by Jim Lobe

There’s no better illustration of the yawning gap between the leadership of major national Jewish organizations and the larger community that it purports to represent than the coincidence of the release of the latest survey of Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and a statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) directed at its 53 constituent members. A copy of this statement, made available to LobeLog, is reproduced below. (I can’t find it anywhere on the CoP’s website.)

The substantive parts of the statement, issued by CoP Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice President Malcolm Hoenlein, very much reflect the extremist (not to say apocalyptic) views about Iran and its leadership expressed by Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government (as opposed to the perspectives of many of Israel’s former military and intelligence chiefs or the U.S. intelligence community.

The statement claims, for instance, that “Iran boasts that for the first time in history, Shiite’s [sic] (i.e. Iran) control four Arab capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a, with designs on others.” And that “The deep concern, fear and frustration we have heard directly from Arab leaders, and, at times, in their public pronouncements, bears [sic] witness to Iran’s efforts to …create a Caliphate, designs which do not stop with the Middle East but extend to Africa, Asia and increasingly South America, enabling them [sic] to pose a danger to the US from across our borders.”

But those assessments, as seemingly hysterical and Bibi-like as they are, are not what I wanted to focus on in this post. Rather, the following paragraph really caught my eye:

In order to determine the positions and views of our fifty-three member organizations, we undertook to poll them. The process was elongated as we acquiesced to requests by several organizations to allow additional time for them to complete their deliberative processes. The result was that 55% of the member organizations responded that they are against the agreement. Less than 10% expressed support. The remaining organizations fell into various categories. Some expressed concern with the agreement but did not take a formal position, others do not endorse specific legislative measures at any time, and others felt constrained from declaring a position for a variety of reasons. There is a broad recognition of the common interests that are of the utmost importance.

In other words, the leadership of the organized Jewish community—and it’s important to remind readers that the CoP last year rejected J Street’s application for membership—appears to have opposed the JCPOA by quite a large margin, assuming that very few of the organizations that didn’t take a formal position for institutional or other reasons would have joined the paltry “less than 10%” that voiced support.

Now, let’s compare that with the AJC poll of more than 1,000 Jewish respondents conducted between August 7 and August 22, a period when the multi-multi-million-dollar anti-deal ad campaign—sponsored by AIPAC’s spin-off, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran (CNFI), United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), and other groups—was well underway. Asked whether they approved or disapproved of the “deal on Iran’s nuclear program” reached by the U.S. along with five other countries, a slight majority of 50.6% of respondents said they approved of the deal (16.4% “strongly,” 34.2% “somewhat”). while 47.2 opposed it (27.4% strongly, 19.8% somewhat).

(In other polls regarding attitudes toward the Iran deal, the more information provided to respondents about the actual terms of the deal, the more respondents were inclined to support it. For example, the LA Jewish Journal survey of 501 Jews across the country in July described the agreement as one in which “the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.” Consequently, 49% of respondents said they would support such a deal, while only 31% opposed it. Of course, the sparse wording of AJC’s question may be related to the fact that the AJC itself, like the CoP, officially opposed the deal and may have feared that any description of the JCPOA’s terms could have tilted the results in favor of the agreement. But that’s sheer speculation on my part.)

Moreover, as we pointed out on Friday, the AJC poll found significantly greater support for the JCPOA among younger Jews respondents than among their older co-religionists. Fifty-eight percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 said they approved of the deal; only 38% said they disapproved. A 53% majority of those aged between 30 and 44 also approved; 45- to 50-year-olds were statistically split (48-49%); while the 60-and-over group registered a small, but statistically insignificant, majority (48-51% split) opposed. So, if I were a CoP executive, I’d be very concerned that my constituent organizations are not only generally unrepresentative of the Jewish community as a whole. I’d also be concerned about evidence that they’re significantly out of touch with the organization’s younger members (just as younger Jews are increasingly disaffected with Israel).

Looking at the AJC survey results, I’d also be concerned about CoP’s priorities. Aside from the Israel-Palestine conflict, maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” and fighting efforts to “delegitimize” Israel, the only foreign-policy issue most of its members have been consistently concerned about over the past decade has been Iran, Iran, Iran. Yet, when asked which of six alleged threats they considered the biggest facing the United States today, Iran was named by less than one in ten respondents (9.5%) — behind the Islamic State (a whopping 51%), China (12.8%), and Russia (10.1%).

Of course, the answer may have been different if AJC had asked what posed the greatest threat to Israel, but my suspicion is that the Islamic State would have been named many more times than Iran. And if that suspicion is correct, it raises a big question: why isn’t the CoP and its members doing more to address that concern? After all, if they’re so concerned about “Sultanates” and stability in the Middle East in general, don’t the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other violent Islamist groups deserve more attention? And do the U.S. and Iran share a common interest in defeating the Islamic State? Does Israel? Or might asking those questions lead to answers that Bibi Netanyahu, AIPAC, and the AJC might not approve of given all the effort they’ve put into scaring everyone about Iran?

Here’s the complete CoP statement, which was issued on Friday, September 11:

For more than a decade, the Conference of Presidents has been addressing the dangers posed by the extremist Islamist regime in Iran. We have been at the forefront sounding alarms about Iran’s drive for regional hegemony, support for terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah, gross violations of human rights, long-standing drive for nuclear weapons, efforts to undermine US allies and other governments in the region, and its repeatedly declared intention to seek the destruction of Israel. Over the years, these goals have not changed; if anything, they have grown more severe and have been translated to new facts on the ground. Iran boasts that for the first time in history, Shiite’s (i.e. Iran) control four Arab capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a, with designs on others.

Over the years, we arranged numerous demonstrations together with groups of all faiths including Muslims and Iranian Americans. Many thousands gathered outside the UN each year when former Iranian President Ahmadinejad came to address the U.N General Assembly. Countless events, statements, meetings with US and world leaders, efforts of all kinds to have the world understand the true nature of the policies and plans of the Ayatollah Khamenei led government. The election of President Rouhani was presented as a sign of moderation. In fact, internal repression and external aggression have increased. Executions of regime opponents have hit all-time highs, and the IRGC has gained more power.

We have long advocated that the Iranian nuclear drive not be defined as essentially a Jewish or as an Israeli issue. It is a potent danger to the world, to the vital interests and security of the US, and is a threat that will further destabilize the already tumultuous situation in the Middle East and provide new opportunities for Iranian intimidation and exploitation.

In the period since the agreement was signed and during the preceding months of negotiations we offered many opportunities for those representing all points of view to be heard by our member organizations. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did live webcasts that drew many thousands from across the country and around the world, Secretary of State John Kerry, Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, General (Ret.) Amos Yadlin, and many other experts, scholars, and officials spoke to Conference gatherings or teleconferences.

The Conference’s broad-based National Task Force on Iran and its High-Level Experts Group met several times to discuss the ramifications of the agreement and possible short and long term responses. The sessions saw intensive exchanges regarding the numerous issues including the effectiveness of the proposed inspection regime, the reality of snapback provisions, the use of tens of billions- potentially hundreds of billions- of dollars that will be made available to Iran. A small percentage of these funds can radically augment the activities of Iran’s terrorist allies that do not require big funding to do massive damage. The ideas and suggestions yielded by these discussions were pursued over the past three months.

Throughout this extended period, we sought to sustain cohesion within the Conference and the community, while allowing for a full exploration and discussion. Unity does not equate with homogeneity. Despite any differences, there is a shared goal not only amongst all of our member organizations, the larger community, the Administration, Congress, our allies but even some non-allies, that Iran not be allowed to secure or have the ability to produce nuclear weapons. There can be no time limit on this. Iran must never be allowed to have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The consequences of any other outcome are unthinkable. We already see the arms race heating up in the Middle East, and many countries are reported to be seeking nuclear capacities.

While recognizing the many common goals, we acknowledge that there are differences of views and assessments. Overall, the American people have been quite clear. Week after week, polls showed increasing concern regarding the negotiations with the Iranian regime. They question if the agreement will provide the safeguards necessary to achieve the intended purpose. They see the expected financial windfall for Iran as likely to be used for terrorism and other destructive activities. Moreover, they are concerned that the UN Security Council Resolution appears to allow for early termination of the five-year and eight-year restrictions on conventional and ballistic weapons once Iran is found to be in “full compliance.” Judging by the arms deals being negotiated, and some already concluded, the floodgates of military supplies will open resulting in the region and the world being far less safe.

A lot has been written and speculated about the positions of the American Jewish community regarding the agreement. They fail to make a distinction between divisions and differences of opinion. The JCPOA and the related UN Security Council Resolution involve complex issues of the highest order of consequence. The intensity of discussion is a reflection of the depth of concern and appreciation of the historic decisions involved. Because of the numerous reports based on assumptions and speculation about the Jewish community we prepared this statement that presents the context, concerns, and conclusions that have guided us.

In order to determine the positions and views of our fifty-three member organizations, we undertook to poll them. The process was elongated as we acquiesced to requests by several organizations to allow additional time for them to complete their deliberative processes. The result was that 55% of the member organizations responded that they are against the agreement. Less than 10% expressed support. The remaining organizations fell into various categories. Some expressed concern with the agreement but did not take a formal position, others do not endorse specific legislative measures at any time, and others felt constrained from declaring a position for a variety of reasons. There is a broad recognition of the common interests that are of the utmost importance.

It is imperative that the special relationship between the US and Israel continue to be enhanced, to advance the interests and security of both countries. Israel should not, is not, and cannot be a partisan issue. The American people in every poll show overwhelming support and understanding for Israel, recognize it as a key democratic ally with shared values and objectives. We hope and trust that the assurances offered during recent weeks that Israel’s security needs, especially in light of the aftermath of the agreement and the explosive regional situation, will be met. The mutual support and cooperation between the United States and Israel are vital to both. It is essential for those, particularly Iran, who might seek to harm the US and Israel to see that the two countries remain aligned.

It is essential that the Iranian government understand, and believe, the determination of the United States and our allies to use “all means” to assure full Iranian compliance and cooperation. The calls for death to America still echo at Friday prayers, sometimes led by Khameini himself. History has long taught us to take the threats of dictators seriously. Khameini means what he says and seeks the means to implement his dangerous aspirations. Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Jews, Kurds and many others are also targets, often at the cost of their lives.

The deep concern, fear and frustration we have heard directly from Arab leaders, and, at times, in their public pronouncements, bears witness to Iran’s efforts to infiltrate, undermine, and eliminate governments in the region, to create a Caliphate, designs which do not stop with the Middle East but extend to Africa, Asia and increasingly South America, enabling them to pose a danger to the US from across our borders.

The calls to violence, threats against the US and its allies, the calls to annihilate a member state of the UN, training exercises that involve bombing a mock-up of the USS NIMITZ, seizing a ship under American protection in international waters, providing funding and weapons to terrorists in blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions – are met too often with little if any reaction.

Throughout these discussions and activities we kept the focus on the target- Iran. We sought to prevent the debate from becoming personal, politicized, or uncivil. The abusive comments or threats did not emanate from the organized Jewish community represented by the members of the Conference of Presidents. Indeed, there were comments by advocates on both sides of the issue that were unacceptable. We know that words bear consequences and especially when they target individuals or groups in our society.

It is entirely appropriate for Americans to petition their government and elected officials, especially about an issue of such great consequence. It is in keeping with what American democracy demands of its citizens.

We believe that it is in the short and long-term interests of all parties, that Congress have the opportunity to fully discuss and debate the issues involved and vote. All concerns should be aired, perhaps leading to better understanding and a greater consensus with new ideas and initiatives to improve the current situation. We are concerned that curtailing the process and discussion will create additional sources of tension and recrimination.

We do not want lingering disputes to inhibit or detract from the need to continue to address the challenges posed by Iran and other vital issues that we will face in the near future. This is underscored by expressions of profound concern from experts and members of Congress. At times, the sharpest criticisms came from those who expressed support for the agreement.

The ultimate outcome of the process is known. Everyone should now be looking for the most productive engagement to enable all to come together on “the day after”. We must emerge stronger and in a better position to ensure that the nefarious goals of the Iranian regime be challenged effectively and determinately.

Once Congress finishes its work, we will move on to the next stage. We must continue to educate and alert the American people and the world to the dangers posed by Iran and especially an emboldened Iran. We are in the process of developing suggestions to be presented to the Administration and Congress after consultation with both, and with experts, officials, and our members. The “day after” engagement will again require our energies, long-term commitments, and above all, our unity.


About the Author

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Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



One Response to Conference of Presidents Illustrates Gulf in Jewish Opinion on Iran

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  1. I didn’t bother to read the CoP statement, but Lobe’s analysis is very interesting and informative.

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