This will be one of those posts I write periodically in which I oppose J Street. Howard Berman’s committee is marking up an Iran sanctions bill on October 28th and J Street has announced its support with this statement:
J Street supports the thoughtful and nuanced approach to Iran sanctions legislation articulated yesterday by Chairman Howard Berman.
We agree that it is a vital interest of the United States, Israel and the entire Middle East to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
Further, we agree with the Chairman’s stated policy preferences for achieving that objective.
J Street’s first choice – as it is for President Obama and Chairman Berman- is to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomatic means. We too strongly support the Obama Administration’s efforts to engage Iran and hope for promising follow-through to the first round of talks in Geneva on October 1.
However, should engagement not produce the desired results, we too believe that the United States should seek hard-hitting multilateral sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. If that course of action proves impossible, then the U.S. should work to build the broadest possible international coalition to back such steps.
The imposition of unilateral sanctions, without UN approval or the support of allies, should be, as the Chairman himself says, a last resort.
J Street supports the Chairman’s intention to mark up the bill on October 28th and to give the President further time to pursue our preferred options.
I take issue with J Street’s claim that sanctioning Iran will have any impact whatsoever on the country. As Roger Cohen said last night on Charlie Rose, Iran has had years to figure out ways of getting around sanctions. Stopping the flow of refined petroleum into Iran not only will not harm Iran, it won’t work. If we honor a sanctions regime, our allies Russia and China will not and Iran will get everything it needs, thus defeating the purpose of the legislation and making us look foolish. In fact, Cohen noted that the only party in Iran which benefits from sanctions are the Revolutionary Guards who control the smuggling routes that bring embargoes products into the country. So if you want to support the hardline regime, sanctions are the best way to do so.
It should also be noted that sanctions are a path endorsed by the Israeli government as a first step toward a military attack (when they don’t work). Yesterday, Israel’s deputy prime minister, Dan Meridor, noted Israel’s fondest wish would be regime change in Iran. So the Berman approach, while not intentional, could easily lead down a slippery slope toward the use of force.
I’m frankly shocked that J Street might be asking its supporters to lobby on behalf of an Iran sanctions bill on October 28th. If you were planning to participate in the lobbying day on the Hill I hope you’ll make known to J Street that you won’t cooperate with this part of its agenda. There are many useful issues to discuss with lawmakers when you meet with them. Among those, supporting Obama administration policy on Israel and the settlements and on diplomatic engagement with Iran. I suggest sticking to these issues and not roaming far afield into territory best left to Aipac (which also brought its members to Capitol Hill to lobby for Iranian sanctions during its national conference).
Clearly, under tremendous fire from the Israel lobby, J Street is eager to stake out safe pro-Israel territory so it can lay claim to the center of the political spectrum instead of the far left, with which the right-wing wishes to associate it. But we should be careful in such tactical approach not to fall into the bad habits of our political opponents like Aipac, which also support sanctions. We are different than they are. When we agree with Aipac it’s great to note that, but this shouldn’t be one of those rare times.
I note that Americans for Peace Now has taken a more principled position and opposes the bill. As J Street grows in strength and prepares to consolidate with Brit Tzedek while Israel Policy Forum faces severe financial problems, the divergence between J Street and APN proves why there should not be only one Jewish peace group in this country. If J Street can’t manage to take a progressive position on a particular issue we need a group like APN which can.