THOUGHTS ON THE IRAN “DEAL” SERMON FOR PARASHAT SHOFTIM 5775
This morning, I wish to share my thoughts about an important issue that I have not yet addressed from the bima. I have written about it and talked about it with many of you. However, this is the first and I hope the only time I will address it from the bima.
The issue is the proposed “deal” with Iran.
Right from the start, I want to make it clear that I will not tell you whether you should support or oppose this deal. I leave it up to you to decide. You are all well aware of the issues and I am no better informed on any of the details than you.
But I do have some important things to say and I want to say them today rather than on the High Holy Days. I don’t want to talk about Iran on the holidays as I think that one of the ramifications of spending so much time, energy and resources on this one critical issue is that other areas so important to our people and our faith are being ignored. There are many, many Jews who don’t want to hear about this from their rabbis on Shabbat, let alone on the holiest days of the year. Instead, they are looking to their rabbis to inspire them from a spiritual perspective. We need to be sure synagogues are engaging people who look to Judaism for spiritual and traditional guidance in their lives not focusing only on political issues, as important as they may be.
But, I have felt for a while that there is a piece to this issue that I, as an American rabbi, must address from the bima and will do so this morning.
Before I get to that point, there are four other statements that I wish to make as background.
First, I believe that it is a Jewish value to do everything we possibly can to live peacefully in this world and to avoid military confrontation if at all possible. Attempts at diplomacy and negotiations must always come first. But, diplomacy and negotiations do not always yield successful results and we need to analyze any proposed negotiated settlement to evaluate its wisdom. We must not feel obligated to accept any negotiated settlement as a positive step if it doesn’t achieve what it is intended to achieve.
Secondly, we must accept the fact that Iran is a dangerous nation, a sponsor of terror worldwide. I do believe that there are significant numbers of Iranian citizens who truly want their country to be a responsible member of the world community and look for opportunities to end its isolation. But, Iran’s leaders and many of its citizens continue to spew threats against Israel, against the US and others. Because of this, the threat Iran poses, God forbid, as a nuclear power is immense and horrifying.
But, I absolutely believe that our nation’s leaders understand this. I believe that those who negotiated this plan on behalf of the United States sincerely believe that this negotiated agreement is the best way possible at this time to insure that Iran does not develop usable nuclear weapons. You may agree with them. You may disagree with them. However, I absolutely reject the statement that this “deal” reflects an administration that is full of anti-Semites who take Israel’s security concerns lightly or are apathetic to Israel’s needs. Every time those accusations are raised about our administration or about supporters of this agreement, it just makes the situation that much more tense and adds fuel to an already smoldering fire. It is lashon hara.
Finally, it goes without saying but needs to be kept in mind for what I will say in a few moments; a loyal American does not have to support this treaty just because President Obama supports it. How one feels about this “deal” can not be a litmus test of national or even political party loyalty. This, as all issues, should be looked at objectively by all of us.
With all that being said, let me share the one point that has been on my mind continually for the past six months and, as a leader in an American Jewish community, I feel it must be stressed.
I believe that despite any legitimacy his words and his thoughts contain and they are due serious consideration, the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to directly address American Jewish leaders and American Jews in general in urging us repeatedly and publicly to oppose this deal is a dangerous strategy with potentially significant negative implications for all of us.
Because of this tactic, it now appears to many that American Jews are expected to take marching orders from a foreign leader and that is a very troubling development in our attempt to balance our love and commitment to this country with our concern for and strong connection with Israel.
Because of this strategy, many in the Jewish community now approach this whole issue primarily as a matter of choosing between supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu and our identification with Israel on the one hand or President Obama and our identification as Americans on the other.
That is not what this debate should be about. It should simply and clearly be about the question of what is the best way to prevent Iran from having usable nuclear weapons given current realities and possibilities.
Opposition to this deal is legitimate. But, the opposition should have been expressed from the beginning through our American political system by our elected officials, not principally by Prime Minister Netanyahu. This has been an issue since his speech in the capitol building in this spring. The Prime Minister should never have addressed the issue in that setting in the way he did. It was too visible an intrusion into our political process and it put American Jews, supporters or opponents of the plan, in a potentially precarious situation.
And, to bring up a more general point, in this situation and in others recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said in so many words that he speaks on behalf of Jews worldwide. Regardless of how one feels about exactly what he or any prime minister says at any given time, this is not true.
The Prime Minister of Israel, whomever he or she is, can not speak for all Jews. Each Jewish community must trust its own leaders to guide them on how to address political issues that arise in their particular community. We certainly should be listening to what people are saying in Israel but no one speaks for Jews throughout the world and the claim that that is the case is misguided.
Sadly, I think this tactic shows a clear lack of understanding or respect on the part of Israel’s leadership to the reality of Jewish life outside Israel and how diaspora Jewish communities conduct themselves in their home countries. American Jews have for decades carefully balanced our deep concern for Israel with our proud identification as American citizens and I am afraid that we have lost our balance in recent months due to this debate.
I am heartsick over the tone of this debate. I absolutely believe it is a critical issue and Israel’s security should certainly be a factor for all of us as we consider this question. But, the way in which the debate has been held is wrong.
The date of the vote can’t come soon enough. Then, whatever happens, in addition to being vigilant about Iran’s nuclear capability, we can set about trying to restore the precious, nuanced, and carefully balanced relationship that the American Jewish community has built over the decades, as we remain loyal to our country while we care deeply for Israel.
Meanwhile, I urge you all to educate yourself, make a decision if you haven’t already, contact your elected officials and pray for peace for all.