Aside from the inimitable Code Pink–which on July 22 disrupted a Ted Cruz campaign speech after he’d denounced the deal—the anti-imperialist left has been relatively quiet about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
I’m referring of course to the agreement signed in Vienna July 14 between Iranian representatives and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France and Germany) designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on that country.
The apparent disinterest perhaps reflects a “plague on all their houses” mentality. After all, none of the governments involved invite much admiration. There’s no reason to favor the big powers over the Islamic republic, or the mullahs over the western One Percent. They’re all bad.
But still—everyone who doesn’t relish the prospect of World War III or the expansion of the U.S empire should support the agreement. This support should be rooted in part in the understanding that the movement opposing the deal is peddling fear-mongering lies, just as the neocon-dominated George W. Bush administration did in the months leading up to the Iraq War.
The people involved in that crime—who campaigned for that unconscionable war beginning in 2003 (and still raging)—have never been punished. Many still hold positions of influence, in government or the media (these being thoroughly intertwined). Some of these people continue to publicly hope and pray that the U.S. will bomb Iran, to affect yet another “regime change” after those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Those in the movement to oppose the nuclear deal—unlike the bulk of thinking humanity—haven’t concluded that U.S. interventions in the Middle East (based on ignorance and sometimes, slavish pandering to Israel) result in nothing but mass death, horrible havoc and developments spiraling out of any imperialist’s control. They actually think that the bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites could produce some positive benefits for them or for their friends.
The clash over approval is the culmination of a struggle between two factions of the U.S. power elite. One faction produced the Iraq War and its catastrophic aftermath. The other wants to back off from the hawkish attack mode, at least for a time. The latter faction has concluded that more war in the Middle East actually doesn’t even abet the ends of the U.S. ruling class that the government is designed to serve. (It is becoming in any case more interested in the South China Sea than the Persian Gulf.)
Many pundits are saying that opponents are unlikely to succeed in sabotaging the deal, even if Congress rejects it. But the opposition is intense, and unpredictable things are happening in U.S. politics every day. The worst, most ignorant people might in fact get their way. Reports that the powerful, influential New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer will vote against the deal increases the prospect that it might actually fail and the bombers win out.
Polls show that support for the deal has plummeted among U.S. respondents from 56% on July 19 to 44% July 25. The millions spent on fear mongering ads are paying off.
So I’d like to offer some (free) talking points for supporting ratification of the JCPOA. I’m not suggesting you “write your congressman”—-because I believe that cause is hopeless. Politicians do not respond to reasoned argument. They might however respond to sea-changes in public opinion observable on the streets.
I’m suggesting you talk to your friends and try to affect public opinion as much as you can, making it less possible for the Bomb Iran faction to get its way.
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1. The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran does not even currently have an active nuclear weapons program, and has not had one for at least a dozen years (if it ever did).
2. The Supreme Leader of Iran (a country in which religion rules) has issued a binding religious edict banning the production of nuclear weapons. It’s probably not a ploy (as alleged by those who want to bomb Iran).
3, The international sanctions regime against Iran is based upon a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 that Iran’s actions “constitute non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.” But that report was politically driven by the U.S. and opposed by 13 of the 35 IAEA delegates at the time, including Russia and China.
4. Israel (which unlike Iran is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has secretly produced and possesses its own nuclear weapons) and its lobby in the U.S. lead the opposition to the deal. The Israelis do so for reasons that have less to do with a supposed nuclear threat than Iran’s support for Hizbollah, the Syrian regime and support for the Palestinian resistance.
5. The U.S. opponents of the deal are politicians rooted in the religious right that has a tendency to unconditionally support Israel and accept Israeli leadership for mainly religious (and non-rational) reasons.
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1. Most people in this country are probably convinced at this point that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. They do so because the mainstream media refers to it routinely, as though it were a real thing in the real world.
But a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)—reflecting the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies including the CIA— reported in 2006: “We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dryly stated at the time that Russian intelligence on Iran (which might actually be better than U.S. intelligence), “doesn’t allow us to say with certainty that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program… We have no information that such efforts had been conducted before 2003, even though our American colleagues said it was so.”
In his meticulously documented Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (2014), historian and award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter also asserts that there is no evidence for the U.S. allegation that Iran’s Islamic leaders were pursuing a nuclear weapons program as of 2003.
In 2006 the NIE stating clearly that Iran had no nuclear weapons program was bitterly opposed by Vice President Dick Cheney. (Cheney, as anyone paying attention knows, has a history of making things up and upholding—with a snarling face—sheer myths like Saddam’s al-Qaeda ties long after normal humans had realized this was bullshit.)
Cheney’s highly secretive office had been instrumental in building the case for invading Iraq, centering on the false, fabricated charge that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Cheney—who with his chief of staff Scooter Libby had repeatedly visited the CIA at the Pentagon to urge inclusion of disinformation in intelligence reports on Iraq—is known to have supported the neocon drive for the U.S. to bomb Iran.
(Recall that Libby was indicted and convicted in the Plame Affair, the vengeful outing of a CIA officer whose husband had revealed how George W. Bush had used a bogus report of a sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq to frighten the American people into supporting the invasion.)
Cheney had also responded in anger to an Iranian government overture passed on to the U.S. by the Swiss ambassador to Tehran in 2003, indicating Tehran’s desire for talks with the United States. He indeed berated the Swiss diplomat for even passing on the document. “We don’t negotiate with evil,” he growled.
Opposition to the NIE by Cheney and the neoconservatives delayed its publication to late 2007. (It is possible that the allegation of a pre-2003 program—which would at least justify ongoing suspicion— was only inserted at this time.) On a trip to Israel Bush assured his hosts (who then as now were insisting that Iran was months away from having nukes) that he personally didn’t believe the report.
(Imagine that—the U.S. head of state declaring that he didn’t accept the conclusions of his own 16 intelligence services about the Iranian nuclear program, preferring to accept the Israeli prime minister’s view—which, as it happens, was actually also contradicted by Israeli intelligence at the time! Reality has nothing to do with the matter.) The report’s content was reiterated after Obama took power, in a 2012 NIE.
Let us step back in time a bit. In the 1970s Boston Edison and other power companies were publishing ads like this:
The Shah of Iran is sitting on top of one the largest reservoirs of oil in the world. Yet he’s building two nuclear plants and planning two more to provide electricity for his country. He knows the oil is running out–and time with it. But he wouldn’t build the plants now if he doubted their safety. He’d wait. As many Americans want to do. The Shah knows that nuclear energy is not only economical, it has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year safety record. A record that was good enough for the citizens of Plymouth, Massachusetts, too. They’ve approved their second nuclear power plant by a vote of almost 4 to 1. Which shows you don’t have to go as far as Iran for an endorsement of nuclear power.”
The charge leveled by the neoconservatives in this country from the beginning of this century—-that with all its oil, Iran’s sole purpose for pursuing nuclear energy had to be the production of nuclear weapons—was nowhere heard at that time. On the contrary, the Shah was praised for his wise plan to develop nuclear power with U.S. corporate help.
The Shah had been placed in power following a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953. Before his fall during the revolution of 1979 he pursued nuclear power with U.S. encouragement, under the U.S.’s “Atoms for Peace” program. The U.S. signed an agreement in 1957 that resulted in the sale of a research reactor to Iran.
It would not be surprising if Iran once contemplated a nuclear weapons program. In 1974 the Shah told a French reporter that Iran would be “in possession of a nuclear bomb” much “sooner than believed.” His statement produced some concern in Washington, already perturbed (if very quietly) by Israel’s secret acquisition of nuclear weapons. But in those days nobody ever talked about bombing Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons!
Rather, Iran was accorded “most favored nation” (MFN) status and allowed to undertake the processing of nuclear fuel. It was accorded the status of “Major Non-NATO Ally” (MNNA). The Shah was a chief U.S. ally. While his CIA-backed SAVAK was torturing political prisoners using the most grotesque methods imaginable, he was depicted in the U.S. as the good guy, stabilizing the price and flow of oil. He was the “gendarme of the Gulf” helping to suppress leftist movements in places like Oman.
The ayatollahs who had come to power in Iran after the revolution of 1979 were unsure about the morality of the whole nuclear program and for a time suspended it entirely. But when Iraq—then Iran’s arch-foe—was trying to produce nukes in the 1980s, Iran resumed nuclear work with Soviet support. (The Soviets did not like the mullahs, who had annihilated the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party members, and the mullahs did not like the Soviets, who they saw as atheist devils. This was a strictly practical deal.)
The Iranians may have considered producing nuclear weapons at that time, but there’s little evidence of that. And Iran pointedly refused to respond in kind to Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Ayatollah Khomeini indeed forbade chemical weapons on the basis of his understanding of Islamic law.
For what it’s worth: there are at least twelve states that at one time or another have secretly pursued nuclear weapons development, including Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, Switzerland and South Korea but then halted development, usually under external pressure. South Africa, in a clandestine program abetted by its ally Israel, actually produced nuclear weapons in the 1970s, but ended its program in 1991.
(Shouldn’t one, by the way, ask oneself in passing why Israel—that supposed “light unto the nations”—was one of the South African regime’s closest friends and economic partners throughout that dark period of apartheid?)
The U.S. media and political class never clamored against these violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty the way they are howling against Iran’s nuclear program. And again, there is no evidence that it’s anything other than a civilian program such as Brazil’s.
2. Among world leaders. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei enjoys a unique (and not widely understood) position. The Supreme Leader under the Iranian constitution is both head of state and top ranking political and religious leader. His power exceeds that of the president, currently Hassan Rouhani.
(The occasional U.S. media characterization of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “dictator” reflected sheer ignorance. His power was checked by Supreme Leader Khamenei, a fractious parliament, and often-critical press.)
The Supreme Leader is elected by a council of Islamic jurists, viewed by devout Iranian Shiites as “custodians of the people.” The same council vets candidates for political office, weeding out those it deems insufficiently pious. Iran has a multiparty parliamentary system and heated debates occur in the parliament (Majlis).
Lawrence B. “Larry” Wilkerson (a Vietnam War veteran, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War, and former chief of staff of Colin Powell, Secretary of State under George W. Bush), has stated recently: “I would say very, very candidly that Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Persian Gulf region right now. My Republican colleagues will roll their eyes at that, but it is the most democratic country. It’s a theocracy, no question about it. But it is possessed of the democratic tendencies that far outweigh those of, say, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or even Egypt.”
(Just as an intellectual exercise, do some web-surfing comparing the appearance of Iranian women—who show a lot of hair under their stylish scarves in public—and Saudi women who by law peer out through slits in their abaya. Ask: where are women more oppressed—in Iran, a country the U.S. demonizes, or Saudi Arabia, a country the U.S. loves and respects? And then look at the list of Jewish synagogues, kosher stores and Hebrew schools in Iran, where Judaism is constitutionally protected and where Jews have guaranteed representation in the parliament, as a result of a fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini that emphasized the need for Muslims to respect the Christian, Zoroastrian and Jewish religions.
Then try to find a list of Jewish institutions in Saudi Arabia. I warn you: you can’t find anything because Islam is the only legal religion in Saudi Arabia. Anyone who, say, converts to Christianity can be executed. Mention this to your friends who are unaware of such facts, and mention that Christianity is not only legal in Iran but institutionally respected. Put things in perspective. Then maybe compare the discussion of Judaism in school textbooks in Saudi Arabia and Iran.)
Shiite Islam emphasizes religious authority over politics. The reasons for this, and the original Sunni-Shiite split in the seventh century over the issue of religious and political authority, are far too complex to go into here. The point is that the Supreme Leader speaks with authority and his occasional edicts (fatwa) are, for Shiite believers, law transcending normally legislated law. The complicated Iranian political system has to be understood as an awkward merger of Shiite Islamic religious principles and modern western-influenced constitutional concepts.
Over ten years ago Khamenei issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. Those opposed to any deal with Iran alternately claim there’s no evidence that the edict was ever actually issued, or dismiss it as merely a clever ploy. Some, citing Shiite concepts of religiously sanctioned lies, insist that the fatwa is one of these. But they have little understanding of the concepts they so pompously cite (as though they were Islam scholars!)—such as taqiya, which allows a believer to outwardly deny his or her faith to avoid being killed for it.
Their message is rather: These bazaar merchants have a natural tendency towards dissimulation. You can’t trust them.
But President Obama has publicly acknowledged the fatwa as recently as last March, treating it as a pronouncement that deserves to be taken seriously. To dismiss it as a subterfuge is like treating a papal encyclical as meaningless, simply because we know that clerics in the Roman Catholic Church sometimes lie. The encyclical has its own meaning in the lives of believers. The people of Iran have been told by their government that their country is not pursuing nuclear weapons, and taught—by a papal sort of figure—that to so would be un-Islamic, morally wrong.
It’s hard to imagine Khamenei suddenly announcing that he has changed his mind on the issue and retaining his position in what is in fact a very complex Iranian political system. To charge that the fatwa is just some sort of trick is to express not just ignorance but profound disrespect for Iran’s religious culture.
3, The sanctions the deal will remove, in return for Iran’s agreement to scale back its existing nuclear program and to submit to enhanced IAEA inspections (more intrusive—and arguably humiliating—than any country has ever submitted to before), were begun in 2005. They were imposed after the IAEA concluded that Iran was not in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But that conclusion itself is questionable.
In 2002 the IAEA discovered a secret Iranian uranium enrichment program. The Islamic republic, faced with unremitting U.S. efforts to sabotage existing contracts between Iran and Russia to develop its nuclear program, had resorted to clandestine activities in alleged violation of the NPT.
But since there was no evidence for a specifically weapons application for the enrichment, the discovery did not result in an IAEA referral to the Security Council. Rather, it led to an intrusive inspections program, to which the Iranians consented, and to Iran’s signing of an additional protocol designed to alleviate fears about its nuclear program.
In 2003 Germany, France, and the U.K. began negotiating with Iran to limit its nuclear program in return for normalized relations. (The first two were disturbed by the U.S. war on Iraq—that they’d refused to endorse—and troubled by the prospect of an expansion of the neocons’ endless war scheme to include Iran. And Germany had long maintained a strong trade relationship with the country.) Tehran suspended its (perfectly legal) uranium enrichment activities to pursue a dialogue with Europe, while the Bush administration conspicuously distanced itself from that effort and even disparaged it.
But in March 2005 Europe and the U.S. made a deal, in the context of the Franco-American rapprochement, which followed that crazy period when U.S. politicians and pundits had vilified France for its opposition to the war on Iraq based—as the French knew—entirely on lies. (The U.S. and France as fraternal imperialist countries had recently cooperated on Haiti, the Ivory Coast, Syria and Lebanon and would soon collaborate in the NATO gangbang that destroyed the modern state of Libya).
It was a package deal. The U.S. would temporarily back (or not obstruct) the European negotiations with Iran (knowing that the Iranians would probably not meet the Europeans’ conditions). And the U.S. would agree not to thwart Iran’s bid to join the IMF or its efforts to obtain spare civilian aircraft parts. In return, if Iran refused to give up its right to enrich uranium, the Europeans would agree to vote with the U.S. to refer Iran to the Security Council. And the EU nations would also add the popular mass-based Lebanese political party, Hizbollah, to its list of “terrorist organizations.”
In August U.S. Ambassador John Bolton arrived at the United Nations, as a recess appointment chosen by President Bush. (The Senate—not that its members are good judges of character—-had refused to confirm him in the position, due to his well-deserved reputation as a neocon liar and undiplomatic brute.) He proceeded to strong-arm U.S. allies to bring a case against Iran to the Security Council that would result in an international sanctions regime. In September 2005 the IAEA voted that Iran’s actions “constitute non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty” and referred Iran to the UNSC for punishment.
Although the IAEA had concluded (and continues to conclude) that Iran has complied with its agreements to the agency and shows no evidence of diverting enriched uranium for military purposes, the statement alluded to Iran’s refusal to answer questions about past (pre-2003) activity. The key issue was the charge that a mysterious laptop stolen from a dead person in Iran and supplied to the U.S. in 2004 revealed a program for weaponization.
(It is most likely that the laptop originated with the anti-Tehran Mojahadin Khalq or MEK organization or with Israeli intelligence and was delivered to the U.S. via Israel.)
An unnamed senior European diplomat has said the evidence is “open to doubt” and that he himself “could fabricate that data.” Iran has dismissed the report as a fabrication. The U.S. refused to turn the material over to the IAEA (citing as usual “protection of sources”). Still, when it came down to a vote, 22 of the 35 delegates in the IAEA voted to accuse Iran of NPT violations and take the case to the Security Council.
12 of these were NATO nations, voting on orders as a bloc. The others included close U.S. allies such as Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Venezuela voted against, and Algeria, Brazil, China, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen all abstained. (That is: they expressed disagreement while trying to avoid incurring the full wrath of the world’s sole hyper-power.)
John Bolton’s earlier crowning moment had been in 1991, when following the collapse of the USSR and the first Gulf War—resulting in what the first President Bush called a “new world order”—he had campaigned as a State Department official for the rescinding of the 1975 UN resolution that had defined Zionism as a form of racism. It had passed in that year (when there was still a Soviet Union and the U.S. was not yet the uncontested global hegemon) with a vote of 72 nations for, 35 against and 32 abstaining.
That vote had conveyed global opinion that Israel’s settlements in what was (and remains) occupied territory was wrong and rooted in an ideology of ethnic superiority and entitlement.
In 1991 the U.S.-authored resolution to rescind the vote on Zionism (a single sentence resolution, lacking any rationale at all) passed with 111 for, 25 against, and 30 abstentions. It was a stunning display of U.S. intimidation. UN representatives from Third World nations were appalled at Bolton’s coercive tactics, threatening withdrawal of aid programs from any country whose government didn’t switch its vote. It had nothing to do with anyone’s changed mind about the actual content of Zionist ideology.
Similarly Bolton helped orchestrate the IAEA vote in September 2005, a sheer exertion of bullying power needing no logical justification.
In a series of resolutions beginning in July 2006, the UN Security Council demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment of uranium or face penalties. The Iranian regime resisted the pressure, arguing quite appropriately that the Non-Proliferation Treaty allows it the right to do so for peaceful purposes and charging that the resolutions were based on lies.
In defiant response to the UN resolutions, Iran radically stepped up its program. Some members of the UNSC, including Qatar, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon, abstained from the votes, regarding the whole process as unfair. Permanent Security Council members China and Russia voted to maintain the sanctions, while protecting their own trade interests with Iran.
Like the sanctions the U.S. has long maintained against Cuba, these sanctions have produced great hardship. Their proponents indeed boast about it. But for most of us, what possible reason is there to retain them following an agreement that insures that Iran is and will remain in compliance with the NPT?
4. The Israeli government is working hard to sabotage the deal. It hates the Iranian regime. It misses the rule of the overthrown Shah, who maintained cordial relations with Israel and once provided it with 90% of its oil. The Iran of the Shah was one of the few Muslim nations Israel could point to as a friend. Now Israeli leaders despise Iran for its support for Hamas in Gaza, Hizbollah in Lebanon, and the government of Syria (a country partly occupied by, and in a formal state of war with, Israel).
Most of all Israeli leaders hate Iran for challenging the legitimacy of their state itself—established, as it was, on the basis of the flight of over 710,000 Palestinian Arabs in fear for their lives following Zionist terror attacks. But that recognition of historical facts is of course not unique to Iranians. The basic facts of Israeli settler history are the reason why few Muslim countries are willing to recognize Israel diplomatically. In opposing the ethnic-based Zionist state, Iran is doing nothing other than what’s normal in the Muslim world.
Israel’s pressure on the U.S. to abandon the deal is not really based on a fear of a nuclear attack from Iran; its own intelligence agencies downplay that possibility. (The spy agency Mossad reported in 2012 that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”) What Israel fears is the revival of the Iranian economy that will come with the lifting of sanctions, and the further rise of Iran as a regional power that might more effectively abet the cause of Palestinian liberation.
Iran (also known as Persia) is, of course, a huge country with an ancient civilization (to which its significant Jewish community has made major contributions). Its population is ten times that of Israel, its military budget half that of Israel. Iran has not attacked another country in over 300 years. It is comfortable in its borders and has few outstanding territorial issues with surrounding states.
(Israel in contrast has attacked ay least five states during its brief existence—always insisting it has to do so according to some special concept of “self-defense” that allows it to “preemptively” strike when its leadership decides—and has occupied the West Bank and Golan Heights, and controlled the Gaza strip, since 1967.)
Israel’s systematic vilification of Iran, and its agents’ circulation of disinformation (like the ludicrous charge made in 2006 that the Iranian Majlis was considering a law to badge Jews), is designed to spur its great patron, the United States, to bomb Iran, topple the mullahs and bring back the halcyon days of Israeli-Iranian cooperation.
Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who addressed the U.S. Congress March 2 to denounce the nuclear deal, is regarded as a liar by other “world leaders.” (French president Nicolas Sarkozy referred to him as such in a private conversation with Obama accidently broadcast in 2011. Not contesting the characterization, Obama replied: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you.”)
Netanyahu—-like Chicken Little warning that the sky is falling—has warned that Iran is months away from nuclear weapons since the early 1990s. He has repeatedly demanded that the U.S. bomb Iran to destroy its existing nuclear facilities—just as Israel itself bombed the French-built Osiraq reactor in Iraq in 1981.
(That bombing, by the way, was in clear violation of international law, and incurred a very rare U.S. vote of condemnation in the UN. The U.S. routinely, as a matter of religiously observed policy, vetoes all resolutions criticizing Israel. But in this instance Ronald Reagan was so annoyed by the obvious Israeli violation of the UN Charter that he ordered the U.S. ambassador to the UN to vote with everybody else. Not that the incident had any impact at all on the annual U.S. care package to Israel.)
(Israel also bombed a Syrian facility alleged to be a nuclear reactor under construction in 2007. But that strike met with Washington’s tacit approval.)
During the Bush/Cheney administration—when they felt they had their best chance—the Israel lobbyists not only obtained abject U.S. acquiescence to further illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank but pushed for the U.S. to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities on Israel’s behalf. The effort reached its screeching crescendo when Norman Podhoretz (sometimes called the “godfather of neo-conservatism”) published a piece in 2007 virtually demanding that the U.S. attack Iran to avert an immanent “nuclear holocaust.”
Former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney would have gone for it. But Dubya—apparently restrained by Condi Rice—demurred. Bush did however contribute to the fear-mongering by alluding in a scripted speech to this “shadow of a nuclear holocaust” threat. (Notice how the “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud over New York City” talking point had morphed into the “nuclear holocaust over Jerusalem” talking point. The propaganda master Goebbels would have been so proud!)
If there were ever any doubt about the strength of the Israel Lobby (the only state-linked lobby in the U.S. that doesn’t have to register as an agency of a foreign government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, due to the strange exemption it received during the Johnson administration in the 1960s) recent events have indicated its awesome clout.
In recent months the Republican majority in Congress has invited the Israeli prime minister to address it in order to condemn the impending Iran deal and urge its defeat—a mind-boggling break with precedent and plain insult to a sitting president by a foreign leader in the midst of his own re-election campaign. And the Republicans in the Senate sent a bizarre letter to the Iranian leadership, warning it that even if the deal is signed the Congress will probably reject it.
Aligned with a number of Democrats of like mind, they seem determined to validate the often-heard claim: “The Israel Lobby controls Congress.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina actually told Netanyahu in public, in Jerusalem: “We will follow your lead.” (It’s less like kissing the ring of the pope than total ass-kissing.)
Meanwhile the Israeli regime oddly cozies up with the Saudi leadership, acknowledging secret meetings since 2014 to coordinate anti-Iran strategy. The Israel leadership can say that they aren’t the only regional opponents of the Iran deal but that Arabs oppose it as well.
But the Saudis do not fear an Iranian nuclear weapon, nor share the same set of concerns with the Israelis. For them the basic issue is ethnic—Arab vs. Persian—and religious. They see the ayatollahs as dangerous heretics. They despise Shiism and (non-Arab) Iran’s support for Shiite parties throughout the Middle East. Most of all, they fear their own Shiite minority concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province right across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
The dirty little secret of the Saudi leaders, who adhere to the strict Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, is that they are more concerned with containing the Shiites in the region (including Yemen) than confronting the Israelis over the issue of Palestinian rights.
5. The U.S. opponents of the deal are led by politicians rooted in the (Christian) religious right that has a tendency to unconditionally support Israeli positions for ideological reasons. It must not be imagined that that opposition is led by American Jews; indeed, a recent poll showed that 49% of these supported the agreement and only 31% opposed it. Rather, opposition stems from Christian evangelicals who constitute a large portion of the Israel Lobby and are the bedrock of unthinking support for Israel in this country.
They believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people and often cite a biblical passage (Genesis 12:3) to explain their position (and cut off conversation, rejecting logical discussion in favor of faith). Since it is so central to the problem at hand, it’s worth lingering on this passage for a moment.
“I shall bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and all the clans on earth will bless themselves by you.” (New Jerusalem Bible translation, which I think is the best.)
Or in another rendering: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
And (just because it’s the preferred version of so many evangelicals), here’s the King James Version: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
This text is incessantly invoked by U.S. politicians to explain slavish devotion to the state of Israel, even as Israel defies international law. For example, Republican Senator from Oklahoma James Inhofe has unashamedly declared, on the floor of Congress: “I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel, and that it has a right to the land, because God said so… God appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am giving you this land’ — the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”
In May 2011 Sarah Palin (who, let us recall, was once in line to become the U.S. Vice President and so commanded a certain amount of support) addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition. In her speech she acknowledged the religious basis for her allegiance to the Jewish state:
“I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis, we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle.” This is very typical.
But this principle of supporting people you imagine to be descended from Abraham is not one that should determine rational policy. It’s a principle based on myth.
According to the Bible chronology (when you add up the who-begot-whos) you have to place Abraham between 1996 and 1821 BCE (or as Christians might prefer “BC”). That is a thousand years before the Hebrew written language in which the story was first composed even appeared. To think the Genesis story is “history” is to abandon critical reasoning entirely.
No responsible historian gives this story more credence that the myth of Pandora’s Box. The most prestigious scholars of Jewish history at Israel’s Tel Aviv University, such as archeologist Israel Finkelstein, believe that the Old Testament scriptures were for the most part written from the seventh through fifth centuries BCE and that Abraham was a fictional figure.
A 2015 Gallop poll showed that 60% of Israelis describe themselves as either “non-religious” or “convinced atheists.” A recent poll showed that only 40% of American Jews believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people. It’s not Jews promoting this myth of a God-given land, or anybody’s need to bless it or be cursed. It’s a certain sector of U.S. Christians!
A recent poll showed that 82% of white evangelicals and 55% of all Christians in the U.S. subscribe to this belief. Some of them— Christian Zionists aligned with (irreligious) neocons hell-bent on transforming the Middle East for the (imagined) benefit of Israel and the American Empire that nurtures it—are the backbone of the effort to sabotage congressional approval of the Iran deal.
Many of them seriously believe that Jesus will come back, perhaps soon, and that—in accordance with biblical prophecy—his Second Coming will be preceded by horrific violence in the Middle East in the End Times in accordance with God’s Plan. They are not thinking about the repercussions of a war involving Israel and the U.S. versus Iran in terms of the suffering of local people so much as the joys of the Rapture that their religion tells them lies ahead.
Iran, to be sure, is run by religious people who have their own expectations of the return of a Hidden Imam. But they are not threatening the world nearly as much as Netanyahu’s amen choir, our own Christian crazies.
* * *
The U.S. and Israel have nuclear weapons. Iran does not.
Israel refuses to even discuss its nuclear weapons, and its nuclear weapons program dating back to the 1950s.
Iran in contrast has opened itself to highly intrusive inspection of its nuclear program.
The U.S. and Israel have attacked other countries with their armies. Iran has not.
Many U.S. politicians (who for some reason never, ever refer to Israel’s nukes) think Iran is a special case, and that it should uniquely be denied the right to have any nuclear program at all. Because nuclear-armed Israel objects and claims it is “existentially” threatened. But does that make any sense?
Israel wants to U.S. to attack Iran, or threatens to do it itself. Iran wants to avoid attack.
Some in Israel consider Israel special, because of the specific history of Jewish people in Europe, and the fact that states neighboring what is now Israel are hostile to it (for some reason—that some Israelis just can’t figure out—and so attribute to an age-old “anti-Semitic” hatred of their blameless selves).
So this very special country of Israel doesn’t need to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or publicly acknowledge its nuclear arsenal, or participate in regional disarmament talks.
And the government of Israel, while receiving three billion dollars in U.S aid from U.S. tax payers every year, need not even politely refrain from crude intervention into the patron country’s political process. Because it is so special.
Israel kidnaps and imprisons Israeli scientists who reveal details about its nuclear weapons program. It sends agents to murder Iranian nuclear scientists as they drop off their kids at school. It engages in cyber-attacks on Iran’s legal activities. None of this is cool or should be supported by normal moral and thinking people.
One final talking point. A question, really.
Does Iran’s effort to continue the U.S.-backed civilian nuclear program—begun with U.S. encouragement during the reign of the Shah—threaten people in the U.S. in any way?
If it doesn’t, why (and on whose behalf) should one deny Iran its rights under international law, or threaten to bomb it?