Jewish groups praise Iran sanctions passage, dovish groups split
06/25/2010 - 07:50
James Besser

My email inbox today has been chock full of statements from Jewish organizations and Capitol Hill politicians lauding final passage of the new, tougher Iran sanctions bill, and groups like AIPAC deserve a pat on the back for getting the legislation through a largely gridlocked Congress.

This from AIPAC:

“The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISAD) is the toughest Iran sanctions bill ever to emerge from Congress and provides the best hope that political and economic measures can peacefully persuade Iran to end its illicit nuclear program before it is too late. The vote was 99-0 in the Senate and 408-8 in the House with 1 voting present.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), never at a loss for colorful words, said “This bill has teeth, real teeth, great big nasty sharp teeth that are finally going to force businesses and banks around the world to choose between access to the American economy and financial system, or business as usual with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship.”

There is almost universal agreement in the Jewish world that the sanctions bill will help, although I haven't encountered a single Jewish leader naive enough to think putting new sanctions on the U.S. books – and the recently passed UN Security Council sanctions – will automatically mean victory in the fight to stop Iran's nuclear quest. There's the question of enforcement; companies and countries eager to trade with Iran have been adept at finding loopholes, and enforcement by many governments – including our own and Israel's – has been lax.

And Iran has a lot of experience end-running sanctions. (See this week's Jewish Week story about the tough choices that lie ahead for Jewish leaders here

Still, a lot of people see the U.S. and UN sanctions measures passed in recent weeks as a positive step and an alternative to military action – U.S. or Israeli – that would almost certainly be costly and full of risks.

One interesting wrinkle in the Iran sanctions response: the two major Jewish pro-Israel, pro-peace process groups disagree.

Americans for Peace Now says the final bill approved by Congress includes “positive changes,” but the group still opposes it.

Among the things APN doesn't like: the timing of the bill and its “underlying strategy.”

Referring to the final House-Senate conference report, the group noted “with deep regret” that it “does not include a single positive reference to diplomacy or engagement. Anyone reading the report would be hard-pressed not to draw the conclusion that Congress believes sanctions alone will be sufficient to change the behavior of Iran's government, and that if these sanctions fail, the answer is even more and harsher sanctions.”

J Street, the pro-peace process political action committee and lobby, took a different tack. Director of policy and strategy Hadar Susskind said this in a statement: “J Street welcomes Congressional passage of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 and urges swift Presidential approval. It is a vital interest of the United States, Israel, and the entire Middle East that Iran not obtain nuclear weapons.”

J Street called for a “dual track approach that combines meaningful diplomatic engagement with broad-based sanctions is necessary to convince Iran to clarify its nuclear intentions. We commend the President for his efforts in strengthening the resolve of the international community on Iran.”

J Street also supported the inclusion of presidential waiver authority in the final bill – something most pro-Israel groups opposed. But language in the bill will make it harder for presidents to invoke waivers.

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It's curious that the new sanctions are being soft-pedaled in the U.S. press. Articles are sparse and low-key. This is one of the few blogs which has picked up on the significance of them (kudos). As commenter Norman stated, these sanctions are a de facto declaration of war. They are not unlike Frank Roosevelt's attempt to blockade Japanese energy imports, during the six months preceding Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, an objective concern for peace would mean pressing for ALL nuclear programs in the region, including Israel's, to be brought under international inspection and regulation. For an energy import-dependent nation like the U.S. to kick an Islamic oil producer in the teeth is insane. AIPAC will bear the blame for pushing the US into an unnecessary and unwinnable war.
The sanctions bill just passed is a step on the way to war with Iran. As you note, absolutely no one thinks sanctions will change Iran's nuclear activities, but as you don't note, these new sanctions legitimize the idea of "crippling" innocent Iranians. Diminished gasoline supply in Iran, as called for by the sanctions bill, will raise the costs of food and transport, no doubt hurting the poorest first. Hindering Iran's energy sector will also affect government subsidies and health programs for innocent citizens. In addition, as Dennis Ross has implied, the bound-to-fail sanctions serve as a step which will then justificy military action as "the only remaining alternative". Already the Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, closely allied with AIPAC, and the Bipartisan Policy Center, formerly associated with Dennis Ross and staffed by former Office of Special plans neoconservative Michael Makovsky, is calling for military action if Iran doesn't give in. A show of force in the Persian Gulf, by Israeli and American submarines and warships, is reportedly in process. This step may well trigger Iranian countermeasures and escalation, as will the use of any naval embargo. The use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear Iran, in violation of American agreements, is openly discussed -- now that dehumanization of Iranians is validated by the sanctions. Negotiations will also fail if they require absolutely shut-down of Iran's internally popular uranium enrichment. There is a far better option that arms control experts believe would give the most realistic security against an Iranian nuclear weapon. It involves giving Iran the right, perhaps with international collaboiration, to enrich uranium in return for intrusive inspections (see to ensure against nuclear weapons development. Israel won't agree, but if American Jews would consider this, they could prevent a disastrous war for all concerned. In the long run, that horrible war will be blamed on Israel and American Jews, not Iran.