On Oct. 21, several Jewish organizations will host a community conference, “Understanding the Iranian Threat.” The Web site of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle notes it “Will provide a look at Iran’s history and political landscape; an in-depth analysis of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran; its strategic threat to Israel, the United States and the world; and, an understanding of how we can prevent it.”
While the panel speakers (from AIPAC, the Jerusalem Post and the Israeli government) are qualified to represent the views of the Israeli government, AIPAC and StandWithUs, two of the sponsors, are not qualified to discuss “Iran’s history and political landscape” since they likely have never visited Iran, do not speak Farsi, and have no academic expertise in this field.
This event will present a partisan view of the Iranian crisis. Expenses for this event will be paid by AIPAC and StandWithUs,
hard-line pro-Israel advocacy groups. Speakers will discuss “crippling sanctions” (Bibi Netanyahu’s term) and, failing them, a possible military attack on Iran.
Yaakov Katz, the speaker from the Jerusalem Post, wrote that such an Israeli military attack on Iran could cause the current hard-line government to fall. In fact, almost every serious Iran analyst believes that a military attack on Iran will unite the nation behind the hard-line clerics and doom the reformist movement. The leader of the opposition, Mir-Hussein Moussavi, has publicly warned that further sanctions will hurt his movement.
We as Jews should think about the long-term impact of U.S. and Israeli actions. If we really wish a more democratic Iran open to foregoing nuclear weapons, then a pragmatic approach advocated by the Obama administration is the only way to go. As tempting as confronting Iran is, we should think about the impact of threats and harsh rhetoric on political reality. Iran’s current hard-line leadership is an unsavory lot. But a policy of threats and confrontation will strengthen it and not attain our goals.
The conference claims to represent the consensus views of the local Jewish community. But the 2009 American Jewish Committee national survey finds that about one-third of Jews oppose an attack on Iran. This realist strain in Jewish opinion will not (as of the day I write this) be represented by any panelist at the event.
The Israeli foreign ministry, AIPAC and StandWithUs should not control this debate within the Jewish community. For that reason, a coalition of local community groups, including some in the Jewish community, will host a conference that will present the alternative views that should have been offered on Oct. 21.
In December, at Town Hall Seattle, Keith Weissman, former director of AIPAC’s Iran desk, Ian Lustick, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Trita Parsi, director of the National Iranian American Council, will present a pragmatic approach to the Iranian crisis, which embraces diplomatic engagement and eschews force.
Unlike the Oct. 21 event, each of these speakers has academic and direct personal experience of Iran along with deep experience in Israel and its interests. I invite Seattle’s Jewish community to hear a point of view endorsed by one-third of our fellow Jews, one that will unfortunately not be otherwise heard.