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American Jews Reject the Israel Lobby—and Support the Iran Deal

The war coalition of billionaires, fundamentalists, and Netanyahu cronies doesn't speak for Jewish opinion.
peace sign

The Israel Lobby does not represent most Jews. Sound surprising? You’d never know it from most TV talk shows or Republicans denouncing the Iran agreement as a terminal threat to Israel, and least of all from “The Lobby” itself. Its intimidating power depends upon the myth that it represents all American Jews, when it does not even represent a majority. It should really be called the “Likud Lobby,” representing Netanyahu, neoconservatives, militant settlers on the West Bank, evangelicals (mainly old ones) impatient for Armageddon, and the military-industrial complex.

Most American Jews are divided or just don’t care, just like other Americans. The young, especially, do not support the policies of Israeli or American hawks seeking more wars in the Middle East. Many Jewish voices are in accord on the pact.

By a 20-point margin in various polls, American Jews support the Iran agreement. The largest circulation Jewish newspapers carry balanced analyses and discussions. The Jewish Week’s publisher, Gary Rosenblatt, reports interesting and typical polling on Jewish Americans in an article, “Iran Deal Driving Jews Further Apart“:

  • 90 percent are proud to be Jewish
  • 43 percent say that caring about Israel is essential to their Jewishness
  • 65 percent feel “that U.S. support for Israel is either about right or, for 20 percent, too much.”

An earlier Pew poll showed:

  • 31 percent did not feel attached to the state of Israel
  • 39 percent felt only “somewhat” attached
  • 83 percent believe that the settlements on Palestine lands are inimical to Israeli security.

The largest Jewish newspaper, Forward, has published articles like “Fact Checking the Flame Throwers on Both Sides of Iran Deal” and “Why Israel Lobby is Biggest Casualty of Feud over Netanyahu’s Speech.”

J Street, named for the missing street in Washington, was founded to promote the missing voice of non-AIPAC Jews. It is manning phone banks, placing op-eds, and running ads in support of the Iran agreement. The old-line American Council for Judaism has long promoted peace with profound, learned writings since the founding of Zionism. Tikkun is another large organization supporting the agreement.

The New Yorker reports on AIPAC’s declining influence. Last March I wrote “The Crumbling Israeli Lobby” with statistics about its declining support, particularly among younger Jews and Evangelical Christians “rebelling against the excessive biblical literalism of their parents.” The Washington Post published “Jewish Leaders Don’t Speak for American Jews on Iran,” which analyzed the “rift between American Jews and the groups generally known as ‘the Jewish leadership.’” The article follows the money, explaining how a minority of the old and rich calls the tune.

All this support for the Iran deal from Jews of all ages (see J Street’s statistics) has not outweighed the literally billions of dollars which some older Jews are willing to throw into the fight. Congress may yet override Obama and reject the agreement. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus wrote “The GOP’s Alternate Universe On Iran,” explaining that the options remaining after rejection of the deal are leaving Iran to proceed with producing nuclear bombs or starting another war. Although many Republican leaders prefer war, the potential disaster to the world’s economy from the risk of destruction of Persian Gulf oil exports is still to be considered.

The main issues also involve a lot of false information and unproven accusations about Iran. The biggest is that they are religious crazies who would commit suicide if they had just one bomb to drop on Israel. Actually, Iran’s policies have been very cautious. Another is rebutted by Phil Giraldi’s “Did Iranian Weapons Kill Americans,” concerning their supposedly helping Iraq with shaped charges to repel American forces. Another story is that Iran is the largest sponsor of state terrorism because it supports the Hezbollah guerrillas. And so on. They are all familiar to those of us who wrote about and exposed lies about Iraq before Washington destroyed that country.

Republican claims that they are just demanding a better deal are not believable, as other nations won’t go along. The agreement is about disarming Iran’s nuclear potential (that was the basis for multi-national support) not forcing it to surrender itself. The Europeans, Russia, and China never agreed to demand such a surrender.

Most Americans, Israelis, and Iranians want peace, but powerful forces profit from wars. We have an earlier tragic example to learn from, the undermining of the Oslo peace accords, which actually contained compromises and started settling the Palestinian issue. Netanyahu and a handful of neoconservatives put out their own plan, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” This agenda included the destruction of Iraq, and one of the signatories, David Wurmser, explained how Iraq could be thrown into chaos.

Former National Security Council director Brent Scowcroft compares the Iran agreement to earlier diplomatic breakthroughs opening up China and agreeing to armaments control with Russia, “an epochal moment that should not be squandered.” Most American Jews agree.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.