By: Aron Chilewich, Jewish Journal—
Over the past three weeks, more than 900 rabbis across every major denomination have signed an open letter calling upon the United States Congress to reject the proposed Iran nuclear deal. The letter was written by two Los Angeles rabbis, Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation and Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul. It appears to have garnered more signatures than any of the other campaigns by Jewish spiritual leaders supporting or opposing the deal, of which there have been a few.
An earlier letter supporting the deal was signed by 340 American rabbis and released on Aug. 16 by the nonprofit Ameinu.
The new letter is being released at a time when it has become increasingly uncertain whether Republicans in the Senate will receive enough Democratic support to pass a resolution of disapproval — or to override a presidential veto in the event that the resolution of disapproval passes. If Congress rejects the deal, President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the resolution. Opponents need a two-thirds majority of both houses to override the veto.
“For more than 20 months, our communities have kept keen eyes on the nuclear negotiations overseas. As our diplomats from Washington worked tirelessly to reach a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear challenge — we have hoped, and believed, that a good deal was possible,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, that hope is not yet realized.”
The authors posted the letter on an online petition website, setting as their goal 1,000 signatures from ordained rabbis in the United States by Sept. 7. As of Aug. 25, the letter had received 902 signatures — including from Los Angeles rabbis such as David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and Meyer H. May of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Rabbis, Bookstein said, “have a responsibility as leaders in the community to speak out when people’s lives are in danger, and to take a stance — we call it in Hebrew pikuach nefesh, saving a life.”
The letter calls on other Jewish organizations to express a “collective opposition to this dangerous agreement,” at a time when Jewish-American organizations are increasingly divided on how to respond. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee are among the many groups that have publicly opposed the agreement.
J Street, a prominent liberal Zionist group, has backed the agreement, as has Ameinu, the liberal Zionist organization that released the earlier letter.
The letter organized by Topp and Bookstein asserts the deal “will not subject Iran to an airtight, comprehensive inspections structure,” and will provide the regime with the means to “develop a covert nuclear program.”
“The deal would also lift key arms embargos, so that in eight years Iran will be given international legitimacy to arm terror groups with conventional weapons and ballistic missiles,” the letter states.
Nuclear experts, however, have largely praised the deal’s controls. Twenty-nine prominent American scientists lent support to the deal in another open letter, published in early August. Five of nine Jewish Democratic senators also have publicly backed the deal. So far, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is the only one of the nine to speak out in opposition.
As of press time, 56 senators — including Democratic Sens. Schumer and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — were publicly opposed to the deal, though 60 votes will be necessary to pass a resolution of disapproval.
Congress is expected to take up the deal in the coming weeks. The deadline for passing a resolution is Sept. 17.