US Jewish groups divided over more Iran sanctions

AIPAC and AJC reject White House call for time-out on new economic pressure, while ADL amenable to administration’s approach

Then-AIPAC president Michael Kassen, left, and executive director Howard Kohr, meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2013. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Then-AIPAC president Michael Kassen, left, and executive director Howard Kohr, meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2013. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — In the wake of an unusual meeting at the White House last week, Jewish organizations in the United States are divided over whether to suspend lobbying for new sanctions against Iran.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC stated flatly that there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to seek new sanctions on Iran. The American Jewish Committee said it found the argument in favor of increased economic pressure on Iran “compelling.” And the Simon Wiesenthal Center declared that “only further sanctions, not talk, can stop the centrifuges.”

By contrast, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told JTA that he favored the administration’s request — made to the Jewish leaders at last Tuesday’s meeting — to suspend for 60 days lobbying for new congressional legislation that would intensify sanctions.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was unavailable for comment.

Top National Security Council staffers had made the request for a suspension of lobbying for new sanctions at the hurriedly convened White House meeting.

The message the Jewish leaders heard, The Times of Israel learned, was that while the Obama administration recognizes that military intervention could slow or complicate Iran’s progress to the bomb, it does not believe that military might can completely resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — since Iran has mastered the technology, and will merely redouble its efforts if it sustains a military strike. Therefore, in the administration’s assessment, every effort must be made to reach an agreement via the diplomatic engagement that resumes in Geneva in the next few days.

In addition, the US Jewish leaders were told, the administration is concerned that if the international community is not demonstrably receptive to the ostensibly moderate outreach efforts of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, there is a risk that he will be marginalized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and this rare opportunity for rapprochement will be lost. Thus, in the administration’s view, the last thing that the US should be doing right now is imposing more sanctions on the Iranians — discrediting Rouhani, as the administration sees it.

What’s more, President Barack Obama’s team was at pains to point out, if the US is perceived to be adopting too tough a stance against the Iranians, the international coalition facing off against Iran — the P5+1 countries: the US, China, Russia, France, the UK and Germany — might well start to crumble.

Thus the administration asked the assembled Jewish organizational leaders to stop lobbying for new sanctions, and give diplomacy some time to work. In a couple of months, the White House staffers promised, they would call in the Jewish notables again, and take stock.

AIPAC quickly made plain its opposition to this approach. “AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions and there will absolutely be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts,” said a statement by AIPAC President Michael Kassen.

And while AJC director David Harris showed some sympathy for the Obama administration’s view that new sanctions could disrupt renewed talks with Iran, he said he found the argument in favor of such sanctions “more compelling.” Writing in Haaretz, Harris noted, “Since it is the ever-toughening sanctions that got Iran to negotiate in the first place, there needs to be a reminder that things will get still worse for Tehran if nothing changes soon on the ground.” He added: “Elaborate efforts on Iran’s part to buy time — with Tehran’s mastery of modulated feints, nods, winks, and hints of openness — just won’t wash.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday, for its part, urged two leading US Senators to push for the immediate adoption of the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which earlier passed the House with broad bi-partisan support. In letters sent to Senators Richard Menendez (D-NJ) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), chairs of the Foreign Relations and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committees, respectively, Wiesenthal Center officials disagreed with the White House’s push to give Iranians more time to stop their nuclear program.

“It is important to remember that the Iranians are now celebrating the 10th anniversary of lying about their nuclear ambitions. The world can’t afford to allow them to celebrate another anniversary of obfuscation,” the letters stated. “The only hope of stopping the program in the eleventh hour, is the threat of an even more powerful sanctions program, already approved by the US House of Representatives… The Wiesenthal Center urges the Senate to vote on the bill immediately and for the President to sign it. Unless and until the Iranians can prove they have stopped their nuclear program, they deserve no moratorium on sanctions.”

David Horovitz contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: