Nearly a month has passed since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers (the "Iran Deal") was announced, and the resulting debate within the United States, and perhaps particularly within the Jewish community, has been heated and, occasionally, unsavory.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised – the stakes are high and the history between the principals fraught – but the past few weeks have been particularly ugly. Persons of integrity and intellect are being crudely bashed, and the debate has been too often debased by insult and innuendo.
The arguments for and against the agreement are by now familiar. They have been stated and restated, hashed and rehashed, and little that is new or likely to affect public opinion – or, more importantly, the opinions of members of Congress – has come to the fore.
Wherever we may stand on the deal, we can and should agree upon certain basic facts and principles that will help frame the issues and, almost as important, the ways in which we choose to approach them and each other going forward.
First, let us dispense with the name calling. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Kerry are "appeasers" doing their best Neville Chamberlain impressions. They have the benefit of deep intelligence support and, believing strongly in a change in policy direction based upon that intelligence, have taken a negotiating position with which many agree — but with which many others, of course, do not.
Second, those who oppose this agreement are not "warmongers." It is insulting in particular to Israelis and to the many others whose sons and daughters, after all, are most imperiled by Iran to suggest that opposition to this deal is motivated by some ghoulish desire for military conflict. There are many reasons to oppose this deal, but to suggest that a kind of blood thirst is the primary motivation is grotesque.
Third, opposition to this deal, particularly among Jews, does not mean that Jews are loyal to Israel first and to the United States second. The "dual loyalty" smear has no place in our public discourse and should not be tolerated.
Fourth, it is wrong of the administration to use coded words and phrases like "moneyed interests" and "bullet points from lobbyists" to suggest that Jewish organizations, notably AIPAC, are improperly fanning the flames of discord. There is nothing remotely new or unique to this debate about lobbying, bullet points, or the expenditure of money to influence legislative outcomes.
References to Israel's possible isolation as a result of this deal are similarly unsavory kneecap shots. These comments are not what we have come to expect from our leaders.
Finally, Jewish communities nationally are engaged in much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, first over the Iran deal, but with near equal fervor over the extent to which this or that organization or movement ought to be weighing in on the deal at all. There is much rending of garments over the impact of the loud dissent and public opposition over the deal, which many perceive to be threatening not only to Israel, but to our own communities.
Let's pause to take a breath.
In about a month, Congress will vote on the Iran deal. The United States will either be party to the deal or we will not. Iran will continue to be under close scrutiny, as will the negotiators and other public figures who have had lead roles in this high stakes affair. All of us hope for an outcome that will provide the surest path to security for ourselves and for Israel, and during the next month of debate we will continue to make our points as effectively and, I hope, respectfully as we can.
If or when the agreement goes into effect, however, we as a community must not allow the emotions inherent in the debate to divide us. Instead, we must continue to do what we have always done together, go where we have always gone together, and speak and even shout alongside those with whom we have always engaged – together.
This agreement is critically important, but it is a moment in time in the arc of our people's history. The Iranian government is a deadly and malevolent force, but we are not under their sway, nor is any tyrannical Ayatollah in any sense a pharaoh to today's Israelites. Today, Israel is strong, resolute, capable and resourceful.
Diaspora Jews are also strong, resolute, capable and resourceful. We are also prominent, vocal, influential, and engaged, and we must remain so.
So let us speak up for – or, in my case, against – this deal in the best ways that we can. Let us engage as loudly as we need to, but in the best traditions of our people. Let us not shy away from debate, and let us avoid the sniping and the side skirmishes that many would be only too happy to see consume us.
Let us do our jobs as Jews. Let us engage in the struggle, and continue not only to survive but to thrive.
That is, after all, what we do best.