Trump, Iran, and The Holocaust

From the Exodus to the Holocaust to the present day, the particular lessons of the Jewish people have carried universal truths. The Holocaust illustrates humankind's capacity for evil, but we must never forget that the Holocaust happened to a particular people --Jews -- at a particular time -- the 1930s and 1940s -- in a particular place -- Europe -- perpetrated by a particular people -- Nazis, aided and abetted by many others in Europe and ignored by most of the world.

Never again means that we can never again allow this to happen to the Jews, and never forget means that we must remember that Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust. When Arab nations vow to drive the Jews into the sea, or when Iran vows to wipe Israel off the map, we must take these threats seriously: The Holocaust happened to Jews during the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. That's why Trump's omission of Jews and anti-Semitism from his January Holocaust statement was so obscene. Deborah Lipstadt called Trump's January speech "softcore Holocaust denial."

But just as Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be?" he also said, "If I am only for myself, what am I?" Hillel knew that while we cannot forget the particular, we cannot ignore the universal. "Never again" must mean "never again" attempted genocide against anyone. More than that, it must mean that recognition that we are our brother's keeper and that mass murder anywhere, even if not technically "genocide," is our responsibility to stop. We must look out for ourselves, but we cannot look out only for ourselves, and when others are in danger we must remember Hillel's third question: "If not now, when?"

We need to admit more Syrian refugees. Trump continues to rail against refugees, and that's why his words last week, however well-chosen, ring so hollow. The situation in Syria is dire. Some of us want military action, yet no one has explained exactly what type of military action would stop the murders instead of making matters worse. Some of us want to believe that we could have stopped the Holocaust through military action, but as noted Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer explains, that was unlikely. 

Military action probably cannot stop the killing in Syria either. But if the world had opened its borders to Jewish refugees, and if the British had allowed Jewish refugees to enter Palestine, the number murdered could have been significantly reduced. That's an actionable lesson, yet today, we are closing our doors to Syrian refugees. We can save lives. If not now, when?

Support the Defend Israel Act of 2017. Introduced by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), this bipartisan legislation would accelerate appropriations funding for Israel's anti-missile defense systems.

All 100 Senators signed a letter demanding equal treatment for Israel at the U.N. The letter acknowledged the good work that the U.N. does, but said that the U.N. must improve its treatment of Israel and eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms.

Congress must be careful about Iran sanctions. In his must-read article about applying the lessons of North Korea to Iran, Jon Wolfstahl explains that

By undermining implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA -- a viable, verified, and sound agreement that blocks Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- President Trump risks removing the shackles from Tehran's nuclear efforts. We've been down that road before; instead of preserving and strengthening the Agreed Framework with North Korea, [George W.] Bush freed Pyongyang to keep working on nuclear weapons that could eventually reach American territory...

Trump seems willing to allow Congress to pass sanctions legislation inconsistent with America's commitments under the JCPOA. This could lead Iran's leaders to scale back their own compliance with the deal.

Indeed, as Richard Nephew and Newell Highsmith explain, "the shortcomings of the Agreed Framework highlight the strengths of the JCPOA."

The JCPOA does not prohibit the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear activities (provided such sanctions are not subterfuges to enact otherwise prohibited sanctions). But we must be careful that any sanctions we impose comply with the JCPOA; otherwise, we risk going down the same failed path that led to North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Two bills are under consideration in Congress that would impose sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile and other activities.

Every member of the House should support H.R. 1698, which imposes wholly appropriate sanctions on Iran that do not violate the JCPOA.

But the Arms Control Association notes that two sections of S. 722 could put us in noncompliance with the JCPOA.

Kelsey Davenport, the ACA's director for nonproliferation policy, told me that the defects in S. 722 can be remedied. The sanctions required by Section 4 could be made conditional rather than mandatory, and the arguably vague terminology in Section 4 could be clarified by regulation or bulletin, or better yet, by amending the bill itself. Section 8 could be amended to exempt individuals and entities required to be delisted under the JCPOA or by removing the certification requirement.

Davenport emphasized that the Senate needs to look at the big picture and think about what is trying to accomplish with sanctions and what the negative consequences of inappropriate or overly broad sanctions could be. We can't afford to get this wrong, for our sake and Israel's. We should insist that no senator support S. 722 until these concerns are addressed. Even if there are arguments that the language of S. 722 is JCPOA-compliant as written, why take the risk when the language could be clarified, thus minimizing the risk of noncompliance while still achieving the bill's objectives?

When it comes to Israel, Trump's first 100 days were a failure. Aaron Keyak demonstrates that if we judge Trump "by his promises to his supporters in the pro-Israel community, his first 100 days have been a failure." 

But where is the outrage from those who put everything else aside and "supported a supported an erratic, unethical and dishonest candidate for the highest office of the most powerful country on Earth, just because they believed Trump's hawkish foreign policy promises"?

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