Jonathan S. Tobin Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.
However that didn’t stop the New York Timesfrom running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.
The article attempts to frame the debate as one between evangelical Christians and “neocons” on the right and the peace faction on the left represented by J Street andTikkun. But there is, in fact, no great division on the issue. It is true that conservatives are deeply skeptical of President Obama’s promises on the issue and point out that his actions have never matched the fierce rhetoric on the subject that he has been spouting since even before he was elected president. But the argument about whether Obama has done much on the issue or if he will ultimately do anything at all is a very different question than the one posed by the Times.
As even the Times noted, the only opposition to tough sanctions that mandate an oil embargo on Iran came from the far left or the isolationist far right. But to represent the views put forward by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul as having anything but a miniscule following in the country in general, let alone in the Jewish community is an astonishing distortion.
As for J Street, while it once hoped to replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, that is an assertion that is not treated seriously anywhere but in the pages of theTimes. J Street’s positions opposing Israeli measures of self-defense and refusal to join the consensus on Iran has prevented it from achieving the success it thought it would achieve. Congress pays little attention to its attempt to bite AIPAC’s ankles on the issues and even President Obama, whose cause it was set up to support against attacks from the left, has deserted it. Obama’s speech to AIPAC made it clear that, at least while he was running for re-election, he has ditched the group’s agenda of pressure on Israel for the sake of a dead-in-the-water peace process.
As for Tikkun, it is so far out of the mainstream that it makes J Street look moderate.Tikkun isn’t merely a supporter of Israel’s discredited Peace Now faction as is the case with J Street. It is a home for those on the far left who oppose the state’s existence altogether and back measures of economic warfare to bring it to its knees.
The Times article framed J Street and Tikkun as representing a sizable Jewish faction simply because the editorial slant of the piece demanded it. To claim they represent anything but the far left is absurd. Indeed, the piece’s conclusion contradicted both the lead and the headline when it noted:
The harder line that Mr. Obama articulated also happens to be good domestic politics, according to experts. The president’s statements, they said, calmed the jitters of some Jewish voters about his support for Israel and defused the effort of Republican presidential candidates to use Iran as a wedge issue against him.
That is true. While the left hopes to buttress what it believes is Obama’s true wish to stay out of a conflict on Iran, his tilt on the issue shows that he knows there are very few votes, Jewish or non-Jewish, to be won by sounding as soft on Iran as J Street and Tikkun would like. The only real Jewish debate on the issue is strictly in the imaginations of these extremists and their cheering section at the Times.