There has been a special feeling of urgency in the Jewish world during the just-concluded meetings in Geneva between Iran and six other nations, including the United States, on the Islamic Republic’s ongoing nuclear program.
On Tuesday morning, both the U.S. and Iran announced the conclusion of the negotiations — and released the text of a 154-page agreement which the United States Congress, in an unusual arrangement, will have to approve.
As of Tuesday, there has been little indication that the final fine print has provided any comfort for those concerned by the negotiations. Certainly the large contingent of Jewish groups — about 50 early this week, part of a quickly growing list — that have come together to raise awareness of the threat they feel Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose aren’t changing their plans for rally in Times Square next week.
Major areas of concern include Iran’s willingness to allow surprise site inspections and its demands that the sanctions that seem to have brought it to the negotiation table in the first place be lifted immediately. (Sanction are far easier to lift than to re-impose, critics say.) Another area of concern, at least for Jewish groups, is Iran’s often-repeated desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Although such threats often are dismissed as mere if ugly rhetorical flourishes, many Jewish groups warn that history teaches that it is imprudent to ignore them.
“This began as a grassroots efforts that has grown to include many major organizations, because of a very widespread and growing conviction that the convictions being discussed will result in either no deal or a very bad one,” Laura Fein of Teaneck, the executive director of the Zionist Organization of American’s New Jersey chapter, said.
“Either of those results would increase the likelihood that only military action will be able to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. As the negotiations drag on, more and more Americans recognize that the deal is a disaster, not eliminating Iran’s capacity to create nuclear weapons as originally intended, nor even holding Iran’s program in place, but in fact legalizing and facilitating Iran’s ability to get the bomb.”
Dr. Paul Ferbank of Ridgefield Park, who is a member of both ZOA and Americans For a Safe Israel, provided some background on how the rally is coming together.
The core group — members of about 12 groups — came together in October to protest the Metropolitan Opera’s performances of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” an opera that they said glorified the Palestinian terrorists who commandeered an ocean liner, murdered a disabled Jewish passenger, and threw him overboard, still strapped into his wheelchair.
“That rally was successful, in that the opera has not played anywhere else in the world,” Mr. Ferbank said. It also showed the groups — mainly but not entirely Jewish — what they could do.
As important as that cause was, it pales compared to this one, he said. “That was about anti-Semitism. This is about a threat to the Western world.
“This rally is meant to wake people up,” he said. “It’s not about any political party. It’s not about the president. It’s about a bad deal that could lead to a catastrophe. It’s meant to wake people up.”
Elizabeth Berney is the ZOA’s director of special projects.
“This is the most important existential issue facing Israel — and also Europe and America,” she said. “It is so dangerous. In addition to the potential for Iran bombing Israel — or Saudi Arabia — or New York — one of the other huge dangers of the deal being negotiated is the amount of the money — the billions and billions of dollars, an estimated $150 billion — that will be released to Iran in sanctions relief. That will be used to build more bombs, and foment terrorism around the world.
“That is a very terrifying prospect. Iran arms Hamas. It arms Hezbollah. Look at what it did in Argentina, with the AMIA bombing. Look at the barracks in Lebanon. It is one terrorist atrocity after another and Israelis and Americans will be in huge danger.
“We are trying to influence the American people,” she added. She wanted to dispel any idea that the rally is planned to attract only right-wing participants.
“The speakers are mainly military experts, and many of them are nonpartisan,” she said. “They know what the dangers are.” Speakers range across the political spectrum, she added, including such well-known figures as Alan Dershowitz, who is notably liberal as well as an outspoken supporter of Israel.
Now that a deal has been struck, Congress has 60 days to approve it; either an agreement will have been signed or rejected just before the rally, and that period will have started, or it will be imminent. “The timing is not accidental,” Ms. Berney said. “There is a need to wake people up during this period.”
She encourages as many people as possible to join the rally. “We have a very good relationship with the New York City police,” she said. “They know us. And we also have our own security, and the police work with us. They always have been very sympathetic to our protests.
“I remember that during the Klinghoffer protests, many of the police officers spoke to us, and they said that they agree with us. I am sure that we will have the same kind of help during this rally.
“People should feel safe,” she said.