Never Again Can’t Mean Only Us
By Steve Sheffey
Do you think Israel is the only country on earth that can do no wrong? If not, do you think that candidates for office should tell you that Israel does no wrong, or do you want candidates to give you honest answers and tell you what they’ll do about it? I feel more comfortable with candidates who support Israel given its imperfections rather than with candidates whose support for Israel is based on denial of problems that can’t be denied — once elected, who knows what they’ll do when their eyes are opened.
The New York Times asked the Democratic candidates a series of questions, including a loaded question about Israel, and then pulled quotes that in some cases don’t reflect the tenor of the full answers. Watch the short videos for the complete answers to the specific question, which are not their overall positions on Israel.
Batya Ungar-Sargon explains that every Democratic presidential candidate, “from Bernie Sanders on the far left to Amy Klobuchar in the center, has expressed the same liberal Zionist view on Israel: They are all pro-Israel, anti-BDS, pro-two-state, and deeply critical of Bibi Netanyahu.”
Of concentration camps and “Never Again.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was criticized for stating that Trump has established concentration camps for immigrants. Their purpose is not to murder the inmates, but they are concentration camps according to commonly accepted definitions. We must never forget the uniquely Jewish tragedy of the Holocaust, but we must also recognize the universal lessons that derive from that particular horror. “Never Again” does mean never again the systematic murder of millions of Jews, but we betray our values and our heritage if we don’t apply the lessons of history to other human suffering, including what the Trump administration is perpetrating on our southern border. It’s not the Holocaust, and AOC didn’t say that it was. But it’s evil and it’s wrong and it must stop.
The Iran Deal was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It was not designed to stop Iran’s other nefarious activities; the theory was that by taking the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table, we could better address Iran’s other concerning but non-existential activities.
Now, surprise, surprise, a year after Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal while Iran was in compliance and imposed sanctions in violation of the deal, Iran has threatened to increase, not decrease, its uranium production. Who would have guessed? Maybe anyone who remembers that prior to the Iran Deal, Iran accelerated its progress on nuclear weapons as sanctions were tightened. It was only after we entered into the interim agreement with Iran that Iran slowed its progress, and it was only after we entered into the Iran Deal that Iran reversed its progress.
The Arms Control Association said that “Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.” The ACA also supplied some perspective: “While any violation of the deal is concerning, breaching the limit on low-enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.”
That’s because the Iran Deal blocked all of Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Many important restrictions imposed on Iran by the Iran Deal lasted beyond 15 years and some, including a ban on nuclear weapons, were permanent.
In return, we gave Iran access to its own money. It was not a payment from the U.S., and the amount of sanctions relief came to about $50 billion (the $1.7 billion additional payment we sometimes hear about was to settle unrelated litigation with Iran, which saved U.S. taxpayers money). Only someone as unskilled at deal making as Donald Trump would think that giving Iran access to its own money in return for Iran blocking all of its paths to a nuclear weapon was a bad deal. The sanctions that Trump imposed in violation of the JCPOA have forced Iran to reduce its funding of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah is obtaining alternative funding. Who would have guessed?
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an outstanding letter on Iran to President Trump on Thursday. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) issued strong statements calling on Trump to follow the law and return to diplomacy. Instead, Trump doubled-down on his incompetence by calling off a strike against Iran ten minutes before launch based on information he should have known when he ordered the strike.
Oppose H.R. 2407. This bill, introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), would prohibit U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The problem is that Hamas recruits Palestinian children for terrorism and like every country, Israel detains teenagers engaged in illegal activity.
As a practical matter, we cannot quantify how much U.S. aid is used specifically for this purpose, nor can we judge every case. This is nothing like Trump’s separation of families at the border. While we should object to any mistreatment of minors, we should neither single out Israel nor react inappropriately. This does not mean refraining from legitimate criticism of Israel. This does mean honoring our commitments to Israel’s security.
Only a few members of Congress are cosponsoring this bill. Democratic leadership does not support this bill and probably will not allow it to reach the floor. Nevertheless, we should urge our friends in Congress not to support misguided legislation that contributes nothing to prospects for peace or a two-state solution. Instead, we should support pro-peace, pro-two-state solution resolutions such as Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-IL) H.Res. 246, which has 299 cosponsors.
Bibi named a town that doesn’t exist after Trump. Trump loved it and Bibi got his photo op, but there is no funding and no plans to build it. It’s a public relations stunt for Bibi’s voters and a foreign audience of one. Yet another reason to remember the difference between pro-Israel and pro-Bibi.
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Steve Sheffey is Strategy and Policy Adviser to the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) and the publisher of the weekly Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. The views expressed here are his own.