Yoffie calls for unity on importance of sanctions
Rabbi Eric Yoffie.(Union of Reform Judaism)
Last week, the Forward published an op-ed by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Reform movement, in which he called on liberal and centrist Jews—his constituency, in other words—to “wake up” to the dangers of a nuclear Iran. The basic message wasn’t news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the Iran issue, but Yoffie’s real argument wasn’t about whether Iran is a threat to the Jewish state. It was about the imperative for the Jewish community to set aside increasingly partisan differences and mobilize as a whole on this existential issue. The left, he wrote, may be underestimating the threat to both Israel and the U.S. But the right isn’t helping by mixing up its opposition to the Obama administration’s Iran policy with its broader discontent, thereby turning off people administration supporters who might otherwise be willing to sign on to a tough-on-Iran platform.
Yoffie talked to Tablet Magazine today about his diagnosis, and how he hopes the left will respond.
What prompted you to write this now?
As I said in the essay, the conservative response was the motivating factor. The common sense notion is that you need American support for dealing with Iran, and the anti-government rhetoric seems so counterintuitive and counter-productive. I have heard it, and having that experience in several instances had me shaking my head, and saying I need to write about it. On the one hand it indicates concern for Iran, but on the other hand it seems to be so counterproductive and not focused on Iran at all, but focused on all kinds of other agendas. Do we care about Iran, or is it a pro-settlement agenda, or an anti-Obama agenda? And is Iran getting lost in the fog?
You wrote that you were puzzled about the relative silence from left and center of the Jewish community on Iran. Why do you think that’s been the case?
On the liberal, centrist side of the equation, I don’t think people feel as passionately about it as they should. So much of the rhetoric on the right strongly suggests, implies, or directly acknowledges that what we’re really pushing for is military action, and that really makes the left and center uncomfortable. My view is that, as the Obama administration has said, we’re not taking anything off the table, but that while it’s getting late, crippling sanctions can still make a difference. I think that’s the way to go. Liberals and centrists are scared off by the implication of military action and that’s a factor in their thinking. But that can’t be a reason for staying silent.
You invoke 1967 to indicate how urgent the threat is.
This is the critical time. It’s not something we can wait six months to talk about. We have to talk about it right now. I think we’re running out of time on the ability of economic sanctions to be effective. So there is real urgency now. And the Obama people have ratcheted up the rhetoric. But if it’s between that and delivering results, results have not been delivered yet. (more…)