Editorial Opinion

Losing the Battle

The Editorial Advisory Board

Try as they may, neither the opponents nor the proponents of the Iran deal in Congress will be victorious. When the dramatic denouement finally occurs in mid-September, the U.S. House will reject the deal. As things stand now, it is not certain that Senate opponents to the deal will muster even the 60 votes required to bring cloture to a filibuster, and thus there is a real chance that the Senate will fail to vote one way or the other. With only one deliberative body chiming in, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement (JCPOA) will thus go forward.

Should cloture be achieved, the Senate will then also reject the deal. If both deliberative bodies reject the deal, President Barack Obama will implement a veto. The House will likely override. But it now seems clear there will not be 67 Senators to override the presidential veto. To put it simply, Congress will not be able to override the veto.

The JCPOA will thus become an agreement which the United States will abide, even as the country remains split on the issue and at least one legislative body expresses its will against the President.

On the other side of the agreement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will manage a review of the deal in the majlis, the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly, where it will be approved.

Therefore, by the end of the month of September, the JCPOA will go into effect.

Nothing, barring an unanticipated flare-up in the region that radically changes the political environment – keep an eye on Israel’s northern border – can help the critics in Washington or Tehran to stop the deal.

In order to defeat the deal in Washington, opponents need Democrats, lots of Democrats. And that is how Prime Minister Netanyahu lost the battle.

Mr. Netanyahu spent a sizable chunk of his formative years in the United States. In the mid-1970s he was studying in Boston, where he first met Mitt Romney. Netanyahu naturally gravitated towards the Republican geo-strategic worldview, and became far more comfortable in the company of Republicans than Democrats. In January 2009, on the eve of Israeli elections which would propel him back to the premiership, and just before Barack Obama’s inauguration, Netanyahu confided to Alon Pinkus, then consul-general of Israel in New York: “You are familiar with the language of [President Bill] Clinton and you know Obama and [future White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel. I am not. You speak Democratic; I speak Republican. Help me to understand them.”

Netanyahu’s professed intimacy with Republicans, and his open estrangement from Democrats, has contributed every bit as much to the sour relations between allies as Obama’s cerebral diffidence towards Israel. Shunning a policy set by his predecessors – always keep Israel a non-partisan issue – Netanyahu calculated that the policies of his government aligned best with the platform of the Republicans, and proceeded accordingly.

To win a veto override, the opponents of the Iran deal need Democrats. How does one conduct a campaign to whip Democratic congressmen and senators when one can’t speak their language, and when one openly embraces the “other” side?

Take but one salient example: Israel’s Washington ambassador, Ron Dermer (a former Republican operative, and oftentimes referred to as “Bibi’s brain”), is persona non grata at the Obama White House, and is barely tolerated in Democratic conference rooms of the Senate Office Building. Never has an Israeli ambassador to the United States been so singularly irrelevant at such a decisive moment.

Here, unfortunately, is where many American Jewish organizations, some federation boards and community relations councils, have intervened to take up the government of Israel’s cause. While poll after poll tells us that the predominantly Democratic-identified American Jewish community supports the deal (and hopes for the best), our organized leadership, joined by conservative Republican groups, are pouring tens of millions of dollars into an ad campaign to oppose the deal. It is a strategy that simply is not working with the legislators that must be convinced.

The opponents speak in Fox News; the Democratic legislators they need to persuade speak in National Public Radio. Such a strategy was destined to fail.

The profound disconnect over the Iran deal between the rank-and-file Jewish community and the established leadership of major Jewish organizations will prove to be a decisive inflection point for the future trajectory of American Jewish life. As the vote deadline nears, ugly emotions have come to dominate.

Fall on the one side of the chasm, as did Senator Chuck Schumer, and some will call you a “traitor or warmonger” Fall on the other side of the chasm, and some will call you an “appeasor.” Partly this is political theater, but at the same time it is tearing the Jewish community apart. Baseless charges of antisemitism and Jewish self-hatred befoul the air.

Tumult such as this is potentially a good thing. Prior disconnects between the Jewish national and local leaderships on the one hand, and the rank-and-file Jewish constituencies they represent on the other, have led to significant, and mostly welcome, responses from our leadership. Think of the radical shift that the Reform movement produced in the 1930s when it embraced the cause of Zion, or the ascendancy of the broad-based American Jewish Congress over the elitist (at the time) American Jewish Committee.

The good news is that American Jewish organizations do respond to change. The current leadership of AIPAC and the President of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations oppose the deal; we now know that three former presidents of the Conference and the last director of AIPAC support the deal. This kind of fissure will eventually be healed, but it will involve painful soul-searching for the American Jewish community.

For the first time since the 1950s, the American Jewish posture towards Israel is in play, precisely at a time when it ought not to be.

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