Jewish groups gird for ‘epic’ bat­tle over Iran nu­clear ac­cord

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY STEVEN MUF­SON steven.muf­son@wash­

Jewish Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tions are lin­ing up on op­pos­ing sides of the Iran nu­clear deal, arm­ing them­selves for multi-mil­lion-cam­paigns tar­get­ing law­mak­ers still un­de­cided about the agree­ment.

The op­po­nents’ cam­paigns will be bol­stered by vis­its to the United States by prom­i­nent Is­raeli politi­cians, in­clud­ing Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zion­ist Union op­po­si­tion, who has said he would work with Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to stop the “dan­ger­ous” agree­ment.

The back­ers of the agree­ment are get­ting help di­rectly from the White House. On Thurs­day, deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Ben­jamin J. Rhodes met at the White House with Jewish Demo­cratic mem­bers of the House to ad­dress con­cerns and rally sup­port.

The Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is fund­ing a group, Cit­i­zens for a Nu­clear Free Iran, that is ex­pected to spend $20 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion on advertising and cam­paigns in 30 to 40 states to mo­bi­lize op­po­nents of the deal to write or call their mem­bers of Congress, say peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the plan who sought anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss it.

On Fri­day, Pa­trick Dor­ton, a spokesman for Cit­i­zens for a Nu­clear Free Iran and a part­ner at the com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Ra­tio­nal 360, said the group also would get money from other or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als and would high­light “the dan­gers of the pro­posed Iran deal.”

The Repub­li­can Jewish Coali­tion, which also op­poses the deal, is tar­get­ing 24 sen­a­tors and twice as many House mem­bers seen as be­ing on the fence. It will try to get its 40,000 mem­bers to write to law­mak­ers who are Jewish or who have large num­bers of Jewish con­stituents and to at­tend town hall meet­ings held dur­ing the con­gres­sional re­cess.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a re­ally epic fight. The for­eign pol­icy fight of a gen­er­a­tion,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, pres­i­dent of J Street, a lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group. “It pits folks who brought us the Iraq war and whole neo­con world view ver­sus the Obama world­view and the con­cept that we can con­front en­e­mies with diplo­macy.”

J Street, which backs the agree­ment, is mo­bi­liz­ing sup­port­ers in its own $2 mil­lion to $3 mil­lion ef­fort. It has pro­duced a dig­i­tal ad com­par­ing the Iran deal to the ac­cord Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan reached with the Soviet Union, about which Rea­gan said “trust but ver­ify.”

“We don’t need to trust Iran to honor a nu­clear agree­ment,” the ad says. “This deal man­dates the tough­est in­spec­tion pro­gram in history.”

Ben-Ami said the out­come of the bat­tle is not cer­tain. Congress has 60 days to re­view the agree­ment and can vote to re­ject it, but it would re­quire a veto-proof ma­jor­ity, or two-thirds of both houses of Congress. Ben-Ami noted that a let­ter sup­port­ing the pres­i­dent’s diplo­matic ef­forts in the spring gath­ered sig­na­tures from 146 vot­ing mem­bers in the House, one more than needed to sus­tain a pres­i­den­tial veto.

Among the main tar­gets of lob­by­ing groups are Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who en­joys the sup­port of Jewish con­stituents and re­spect among other law­mak­ers. “Call Sen­a­tor Schumer,” says the home page of the Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive, whose board in­cludes for­mer sen­a­tors Joseph I. Lieber­man (IConn.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Saxby Cham­b­liss (R-Ga.).

“He’s a very im­por­tant vote. And I think some peo­ple will look to him,” said Vic­tor A. Kovner, co-chair of J Street’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee and a part­ner at the law firm Davis Wright Tre­maine. Kovner, a long­time sup­porter of Schumer, said “peo­ple know his com­mit­ment to Is­rael, and that will lend weight to his com­ment and anal­y­sis.”

Other key law­mak­ers in­clude Demo­cratic Sens. Ben­jamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Christo­pher A. Coons (Del.) and Demo­cratic Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), Eliot L. En­gel (N.Y.) and Brad Sher­man (Calif.).

“The pres­i­dent has the lux­ury of not be­ing held ac­count­able on the deal, at least not at the bal­lot box,” said Josh Block, pres­i­dent of the Is­rael Pro­ject. “But if you’re in the House or Se­nate, you’re go­ing to be di­rectly ac­count­able for this.”

Now that there is an agree­ment, Block said, many law­mak­ers will re­con­sider their po­si­tion — and the text of the agree­ment pro­vides ma­te­rial to use to at­tack the deal. For ex­am­ple, the agree­ment lifts eco­nomic sanc­tions on a long list of Ira­nian in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing, Block said, Qasem Soleimani. An Ira­nian ma­jor gen­eral by that name com­mands the Quds Force of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps and has trained Iraqi Shi­ite forces to fight U.S. and al­lied sol­diers in Iraq.

“If you’re a mem­ber of Congress, do you want some­one to cam­paign against you say­ing here’s the man Gen. David Pe­traeus called evil, and we’ve just given him bil­lions of dol­lars?” Block said.

On Thurs­day, Un­der­sec­re­tary of State Wendy R. Sher­man said there are two men named Qasem Soleimani. One is the head of a ura­nium min­ing com­pany, and sanc­tions will be lifted on him. The other, head of the Quds Force, would come off the U.N. sanc­tions list in phase two of the agree­ment “some years away.” She said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would leave him on the U.S. sanc­tions list.

The White House has also said that the ac­cord has enough safe­guards to make sure that Iran does not stray and at­tempt to build a nu­clear weapon.

But the de­tailed and tech­ni­cal na­ture of the de­bate might make public opin­ion sub­ject to ads sum­ma­riz­ing or char­ac­ter­iz­ing the ac­cord.

“Can you get peo­ple down into the weeds on this thing?” Block said. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion hopes not.”

Pres­i­dent Obama has ar­gued the op­po­site: The de­tails of the agree­ment pro­vide re­as­sur­ance that safe­guards are as strong as they can be.

The White House had a list ready on Tues­day, the day the agree­ment was an­nounced, of bench­mark con­cerns is­sued — while talks were still un­der­way— by the Washington In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy and ex­pla­na­tions of how the agree­ment met each of those tests, in­clud­ing mon­i­tor­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion, lim­its on ad­vanced cen­trifuges, sanc­tions re­lief and con­se­quences of vi­o­la­tions.

Abe Fox­man, na­tional di­rec­tor of the Anti-Defama­tion League, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion was not cam­paign­ing on the agree­ment.

“Hav­ing read it, we’re not for it — but we can be con­vinced,” he said. “At this point we’re op­posed. There are too many risks, too many unan­swered ques­tions. Too much that will, at end of the day, be de­ter­mined by the Ira­ni­ans.”

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