Opinion: The Iran deal and the Jewish silent majority
U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler has done everything right. As an undergraduate at Columbia he led a chapter of the Zionist Organization of America. In 1981, while serving in the state Assembly, he drafted a resolution calling on Congress to block the sale of surveillance aircraft to the Saudis. As a member of the House of Representatives, he’s co-sponsored at least a dozen resolutions backing Israel in the last five sessions of Congress.
None of that mattered.
Within hours of Nadler’s announcement of his support for the Iran deal, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a longtime Orthodox political makher in southern Brooklyn, had parked a double-decker bus outside the congressman’s office, with a banner declaring “#AyatollahThanksAmerica” draped over its side. Keeping with the hashtag motif, City Councilman David Greenfield, who never shies away from an opportunity to one-up Hikind, his political rival, logged on to Twitter and blasted Nadler as “dishonest,” saying he had “lied” to his constituents, and later declared that “if you’re an Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn you can’t count on a single member of Congress to represent your views.” (New York Democratic Reps. Steve Israel, Eliot Engel and Grace Meng all oppose the deal, though none represent Brooklyn.) According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, some critics even suggested Nadler “supports the destruction of the state of Israel.”
Nadler is just the most recent victim of the self-anointed “pro-Israel” crowd. Step out of line and they will savagely straighten you out. Any dissent is immediately labeled anti-Israel or support for terrorism, or worse, anti-Semitic. No one is immune: When Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman, frequently the one policing the line, called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his February speech to Congress, the Zionist Organization of America compared Foxman to “the Jewish leaders of the 1930’s-1940s who opposed life-saving efforts to save their European brothers and sisters from extermination.”
But Hikind and Greenfield’s hallucinatory rhetoric on the Iran deal is nothing more than incendiary sleight of hand to obscure this undeniable fact: The American Jewish community still solidly supports the president.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote was an indomitable 78 percent. After much wringing of hands, the 2012 election saw Obama’s support in the Jewish community slip to a still-robust 69 percent (a healthy majority that seems to have held up during the mid-term elections). The only religious groups who voted for the president in greater numbers that year were black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics. Milton Himmelfarb’s famous line still holds true: “Jews have the incomes of Episcopalians but vote like Hispanics.”
As of last April, the president still had the approval of 54 percent of American Jews, as opposed to only 46 percent of the public as a whole, and that was actually a drop. Typically, Obama has run up 13-point advantages in the Jewish community. The erosion of that margin, as Jewish Journal Publisher Rob Eshman has pointed out, only happened after a relentless propaganda campaign against the president.
And when it comes to the Iran deal, two separate polls found American Jews in support of the agreement by 20-point margins.
If that comes as a surprise, it’s because the leadership of major Jewish institutions has been co-opted by conservatives, who have effectively stifled the voice of the silent majority. Hikind, Greenfield, AIPAC, the ZOA purport to speak for the Jewish community as a whole. They do not.
They don’t speak for Israel either. While critics of the Iran deal have claimed unanimous opposition to the accord in the Jewish state, they ignore the country’s smaller political parties (Zehava Galon, of Meretz, came out early in support of the deal), past political leaders (former Labor head Shelly Yachimovich was also ahead of the curve), and most importantly its security establishment: Dozens of retired senior officers have come out in favor of the agreement, including past leaders of Israel’s National Security Council, as well as its domestic and international intelligence agencies, the Shin Bet and the Mossad.
At this point, it borders on trite to observe that debate in Israel on these issues is far more open than it is in the U.S. In their typically aggressive attempt to keep the silent majority on lockdown – and following Nadler’s courageous willingness to buck the specious “consensus” – conservative Jews have forced these fissures into the light. Continued accusations of anti-Semitism, the censorious tarring of opposing viewpoints as anti-Israel, will only cripple the credibility of these charges in the future. Nadler should be commended for his stance, and he and other Jewish leaders need to continue speaking out. The silent majority demands to be heard.
Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and a member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents.