Moving Beyond the Iranian Accords: Building a New Jewish Policy Agenda

Moving forward the Jewish community can ill afford the continuation of the demonization of key political players, community leaders, and historically important institutions of importance to this nation and to the Jewish people.

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

An eight-fold strategy must now come into play, as America and its Jewish community moves past the debate and vote over the Iran Nuclear Accords. While some of the issues introduced below have a specific connection to the State of Israel, all of these proposals ought to be a part of the American Jewish community’s advocacy role in shaping the future of the United States in the Middle East and redefining our broader communal agenda:

1. In the aftermath of the Iranian issue, it would seem that the United States requires an overarching Middle East/North African foreign policy; at the moment, it would appear that Washington is operating in a vacuum with no clearly defined goals for ensuring the welfare of our allies, countering the growth of terrorist and military threats that impact our security and vital interests in the region, and providing a coherent statement of our intentions and priorities, so that both allies and enemies are clear about our regional policy objectives and intentions.

2. There needs to be in place an agreed upon protocol for monitoring the Iranian Nuclear Program, so when and if there are violations associated with the existing agreement, the five plus one member states can respond in countering the actions of the Iranian regime. Israel and other Middle East players require a level of assurance that the major powers are committed to this process of on-sight international inspections, along with a protocol for reintroducing sanctions and in taking other actions that may be required.

3. The United States ought to immediately move to formalize its relationship with the State of Israel. Acknowledging Washington’s “special relationship” with Jerusalem needs to be codified through a series of agreements that affirms the specific and on-going character of this relationship. This would provide to the State of Israel a level of assurance that has not existed prior to this moment; further, it would serve to offset the uncertainties and fall-out growing out of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. Such arrangements will advance Israel’s security concerns. But beyond its significance to these two players, it would be a signal to Iran and the world the intentions of the United States to stand by its closest regional ally.

4. Similarly, the US should provide a nuclear cover for our allies and friends throughout the Middle East should the Iranian Republic seek to produce nuclear weapons and threaten America’s partners within the region. In addition, every effort must be extended to prevent the proliferation of a nuclear arms race within the region.

5. As a result of the Syrian civil war, there needs to be a coordinated international humanitarian response to the emerging refugee crisis. This current situation has implications for the countries in the region, as it has the potential for destabilizing Jordan and creating additional border challenges for Israel. The United States along with its major international partners will need to create a resettlement plan that engages the resources of key European, Asian, and Middle Eastern partners in the effective management of this issue. Just as the Jewish community has been committed to the welfare of our own and other displaced persons, Jews ought to advocate for a global response to this crisis.

6. The international community must be prepared to collectively respond to the network of terrorist organizations operating within the Middle East, whose activities today involve attacks on private citizens, religious institutions, and government facilities across the globe. As this threat of violence increases, there has been a corresponding growth in global anti-Semitism.

The last two proposals, offered below, are directed to the internal management of the American Jewish community and its specific relationship to the State of Israel:

7. The American Jewish community must use this opportunity to assess its performance record around the Iranian Nuclear Accord debate. As a result of this controversy, what are the implications or potential fall-out issues resulting from the heightened level of tensions between parts of the Jewish community and the Obama Administration? How do we move to overcome the internal divide within the Jewish community? What might we learn about our “performance” during this round of political activity? Ought we to invest in a process of political healing among the various competing political actors if we are to demonstrate a shared commitment to the future of Israel’s security and the binding up of US-Israel relations. Moving forward the Jewish community can ill afford the continuation of the demonization of key political players, community leaders, and historically important institutions of importance to this nation and to the Jewish people.

The Jewish community will simultaneously need to manage the political fall-out from this debate, as other players, who are clearly less friendly to the Israel agenda, will seek to demonize the role that Jews, Jewish organizations and the State of Israel may have played in this controversy.

Further, the Jewish community will need to deal with the changing geo-political character of American foreign policy interests in the Middle East. The United States will be focusing its energy and resources on seeking to fight the various Islamic extremists groups, to stabilize an array of Arab regimes in the region, and to counter the efforts by Tehran, Moscow and others to alter or destabilize the political conditions on the ground within the region. As a result of these and other competing factors, it will be necessary for the pro-Israel community to rethink how it can best advance its agenda in this shifting environment.

8. Similarly, there needs to be a conversation on the future of the Diaspora-Israel partnership related to the role that Israel will play inside the Jewish community and within the American political arena. Growing out of the events surrounding the Iranian Nuclear debate, what might be the expectations on both sides related to Israel’s role relative to the internal affairs and policies of the United States? In more broadly stated terms, what role should foreign governments play related to U.S. foreign policy interests?

No doubt, there are other issues that Americans in general and Jews in particular will need to consider as part of this re-assessment. It would be a serious error to assume on the part of decision-makers or special interest groups that one can return to the status quo ante. The events covering these past several months have altered the political landscape and transformed policy conversations. For the Jewish community this moment provides an opportunity to assert our core policy interests while re-examining our own political performance covering this critical time frame.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. His collection of writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com