Over recent weeks, the Iran agreement has been the number one topic of conversation in Jewish circles. Many people have asked me if I am going to speak about it on the High Holidays, and I told them no, I am not. Here is why.
I think the agreement is a bad one. I think it’s bad for Israel, but more important, I think it is bad for the United States. But here’s the catch: I am a Reform rabbi in suburban New Jersey. What do I know about this? I mean, I can read the newspaper as well as the next person, and I have read hundreds of online commentaries, but I do not see how my knowledge or my skills put me at any advantage over my congregants in “pronouncing a verdict” on this agreement. I have not been privy to private briefings as our representatives in Congress have, and even they seem split over the best course of action. In general I trust President Obama, but I believe he has the tendency to put on rose-colored glasses when he asks people to “just get along.” So I have my opinion as an American and as a Jew, but I cannot see how my opinion matters more than anyone else’s on this issue.
What I DO see is that the name-calling we are engaging in is really hurting us – as Americans and as Jews. Those who oppose the agreement are not war-mongers (at least, most of them are not), and saying they are does a disservice to the hours and days they put into considering the various options. And those who support the agreement are not anti-Semites (at least, most of them are not), and saying they hate Jews because they believe this is the best possible option is insulting.
Yes, there are politicians on both sides of this argument who are using it for their own purposes. Many on the political right see this as an excellent opportunity to shake the long-standing tendency of Jews to vote for politicians who support a range of core Jewish principles. And many on the political left are now questioning Jews’ loyalty to the United States, holding this agreement up as a litmus test of Jewish patriotism. Politicians and pundits can say whatever they want, but when we Jews start to echo their words – on either side – we play into the hands of those who are more interested in manipulating us than they are in doing what is best for the United States… AND Israel.
Just days after announcing the agreement, the Ayatollah released a book outlining his long-term plan to destroy Israel. I believe this was a purposeful attempt to thumb his nose at the world in general and at the United States in particular, and it is one of the reasons I oppose the agreement. But I also remember when President Reagan proposed selling AWACS spy planes to Saudi Arabia, and the Jewish world was up in arms over the threat to Israel. Reagan sold the planes, and Israel still exists. Which is why I don’t know if I am right.
Those who know me would have no reason to believe that I am shy about expressing my opinion. I am not worried about displeasing people – even congregants – because it’s impossible to say anything without displeasing someone. But when I speak as a rabbi I want to make sure I am standing on firm, rabbinic ground. In this case I do not feel I have enough information to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that my position is something which my congregants should, as Jews, consider.
At this point it looks like the deal will not be overturned by Congress. I hope the United States will do everything in its power not just to reassure Israel, but to help it protect itself against Iran and everyone else in its neighborhood who wants it destroyed. But I also hope the American Jewish community will take a step back and start to heal the wounds – many self-inflicted – which this debate has brought. Not just in the Middle East, but here, too, we must be smarter than those who take pleasure in our struggle.