Why Is J Street Backing Rep. Berman’s Iran Sanctions Bill?

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Monday, December 07, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Earlier today, progressive groups (and some conservatives) were surprised to see the pro-peace/pro-Israel/pro-Palestine American Jewish organization J Street come out in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) granting the Obama administration additional powers to place gasoline sanctions on Iran in response to Iran’s intransigence on nuclear diplomacy. At its most optimistic, the bill, expected to come up for a vote in the House as early as next week, would continue a tradition of unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran that for decades have failed to dislodge the Iranian regime. Yet with the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts left unrequited and the Iranian regime growing more boastful on the nuclear issue, the bill is especially totemic among many American Jewish organizations. And those groups have spent practically J Street’s entire brief existence questioning its authenticity as a Jewish enterprise. Is J Street’s support for the Berman bill about Iran or is it about intra-community politics?

To find out, I spoke with J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

The Washington Independent: Why in the world is J Street supporting the Berman bill? Hasn’t the experience of the last three decades shown that unilateral sanctions only benefit the Iranian regime?

Jeremy Ben-Ami: The reluctance and the unwillingness of the Iranian regime to engage in any diplomacy and to accept — or at least begin negotiations on the basis of the offer that has been made — can’t go unanswered. We’ve said all along that our position on the Berman bill was simply a question of timing. This need to follow, first, the diplomatic engagement. And even then the president said, that we can’t go on with [the outreach] indefinitely. So this gives the president this tool, this additional tool, to work with in trying to convince the Iranians that there’s no time.

TWI: Aren’t unilateral sanctions inferior to multilateral sanctions?

Ben-Ami: Absolutely. And this bill doesn’t rule out [multilateral sanctions]. As Berman himself has said, the hierarchy of preference is first, resolve thiss diplomatically; second, resolve this multilaterally through the UN; third, resolve this multilaterally through a non-UN regime by putting a coalition together, and last, calls for the unilateral route. But this doesn’t rule out [multilateral sanctions]. Our preference is still, absolutely, to make this as broad an international coalition as possible.

TWI: What do you say to groups like Americans for Peace Now who’ve come out against the Berman bill because of the harm sanctions can do to the Iranian people without damaging the regime, or to some in the Green revolution in Iran who’ve warned that a new sanctions regime — unilateral or multilateral for that matter — is going to basically preempt any space they’re trying to open up to dislodge the regime or drastically change the character of the Iranian regime?

Ben-Ami: There might be a better bill that one could construct, but this is the one that’s there. And this is the tool that we’re giving to the president. There are very few other routes that are open and lots of the things that prompted the deliberations have been put in place. This is in conjunction with all of the diplomacy that the United States is going to pursue and it’s in conjunction with all of the outreach from the international community. It’s not a standalone policy. It fits into the broader approach that the Obama administration has taken.

TWI: What about its possible impact on the Iranian people?

Ben-Ami: Well, there’s no question that the sanctions ultimately does hurt people. This is also important in putting a real squeeze on the government. The petroleum sector is vital to the economy of the country as a whole. And so this is going to put pressure on the government and its going to put constraints on their economic growth generally. And it’s maybe one more incentive to them hopefully, to abandon this [nuclear] course and to come back to the table and accept what, in our opinion, is a very fair offer related to the fair enrichment.

TWI: What do you say to those who think that this is a capitulation by J Street to those — particularly on some of the American Jewish right — that have been attacking your credibility and your authenticity as a Jewish organization and your bona fides as a pro-Israel organization?

Ben-Ami: They haven’t been listening to us. We have said from the very first day that J Street was created that we’re very seriously concerned about the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. That we really believe that diplomacy is the right approach, but that diplomacy can’t be open-ended. Every one of our statements says we are not opposed to sanctions per se. Back in June, when Berman introduced this particular bill we said that we supported the bill, but we agreed with him that the time wasn’t right to move it. So this is completely consistent with everything we’ve ever said. We are ardently opposed to military action. We are deeply supportive of the diplomatic route. But if the diplomatic route is completely disregarded and the offer [rejected] — after probably ten or 20 warnings, they’re practically beyond saying no. They’re sticking a finger in the eye of the world. The U.S. has really tried to find a way to offer them a path to full engagement. There have to be consequences. We can’t just allow that kind of disregard of the international community.

TWI: Is it too wily to think that you’re doing this in order to basically signal your stand with the rest of the pro-Israel community in this country while saving the harder battles for things like Jerusalem, the two-state solution and so forth?

Ben-Ami: Well look, those are issues where we are definitely not in line with most of the other organizations. For us, we’ve always said that is the issue. The real existential threat to a Jewish democratic Israel is the failure to reach a two-state solution. There is a threat from a nuclear-armed Iran. But the real existential threat that we’re focused on is that we have got to reach a two-state solution now or else we’re going to lose Israel.

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17 Comments

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George
Comment posted December 7, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

Mr. Ben-Ami states that J Street supports unilateral sanctions against Iran because “The reluctance and the unwillingness of the Iranian regime to engage in any diplomacy and to accept — or at least begin negotiations on the basis of the offer that has been made — can’t go unanswered.” This statement shows either complete ignorance of the situation OR is a deliberate lie that follows the usual line in Washington and Tel Aviv. The Iranian regime has not shown any reluctance to negotiate with the west. It is the West that has refused to negotiate with Iran. Iran accepted the proposal for swapping its low-enriched uranium (LEU) with the 20% enrich uranium that it needs for its research facility (the end use is for the treatment of cancer patients in about 200 hospitals). However, it offered to negotiate where and where the exchange would occur. The West insisted that no negotiation is possible and Iran must send the LEU immediately to Russia (later to France). The acceptance of this proposal would indicate total stupidity on the part of Iranians since surely everyone knows that they will never see anything in return for at least 10 years. At least, the West would insist on the stoppage of all enrichment activity which is Iran's right as a member of NPT.

In review, it is still a mystery why the US under Obama is continuing the aggressive and unreasonable policies of George Bush. There is still no concrete evidence that Iran is developing any nuclear weapons. It is all based the contradictory and groundless statements by El Baradei (when no formal IAEA report has shown any concrete evidence) or by pure speculation of John Bolton and retired Israeli generals who seem to have access to special Iran crystal balls. For those who think otherwise, where is the evidence? Please provide references.


Matthew Yglesias » Endgame
Pingback posted December 7, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

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Pingback posted December 7, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

[...] Comments Spencer Ackerman interviews J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami on that group’s announcement that it will now back sanctions to [...]


Esther Haman
Comment posted December 7, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

WHAT, WHAT?! Iran's “intransigence”?! This is the most ridiculous thing on this whole shraide of Iran being a “threat” to the US. The only threat to our democracy and independent is the “J” street and the Zionists that come out of it. This whole propaganda and lies about Iran was cooked up in the “J” street and by the Zionists that are members.

Iran is as much of a threat to US as is Canada. Iran is a signatory to the NPT and that should mean something? They have not threatening us. We and the Zionists are the one who is threatening them with regime change, bombing and invasion. Does it worth it?! I say NO.


simon2010
Comment posted December 7, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

OK. I have something important to say.

World will end the day after Iran gets the Bomb. On this day everyone in the world that has a N-Bomb will fire on the bordering countries.

Iranian Bomb is scarier than the Russian Bomb. After all Stalin was crazy but he was not a Mullah. He killed more than 30 million Soviets but he is less scary than the Mullahs. And don’t worry about the North Koreans. They maybe fire a real Bomb at us but no the Iranians are more crazy than the North Koreans.

They are coming to take me now. Wear your head gear so they won't be able to tap into your mind. The Iranians are coming, the Iranians are coming.


simon2010
Comment posted December 7, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

Dear George.

I must say your good writing is out of step. It spews facts and logic. The Iranian situation has nothing to do with the N-Bomb, fact or logic. There is only one group that is concerned. A possible Iranian Bomb would end the Nuclear monopoly in the middle east.

The whole idea behind the Iranian Bomb and the end of the world is stuff of fiction.

It’s the old rule, those that have and those that have not. And those that have want to keep it that way.

I wish I knew who came up with this forecast that if Iran gets the bomb world will end.


LobeLog.com » Blog Archive » The (Many) Problems with the Iran Sanctions Bill
Pingback posted December 8, 2009 @ 2:24 am

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Pingback posted December 8, 2009 @ 4:02 am

[...] in the Standard writes.. Spencer Ackerman interviews J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami on that group’s announcement that it will now back sanctions to [...]


hass
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 11:03 am

The claim that the IRanians are refusing to enter into negotiations is patently FALSE. The Iranians have been making compromise offers for many years — including offers that far exceed their legal obligations, such as the offer to open their entire nuclear program to US participation, making it impossible to use the program to secretly make nukes. Regarding the uranium exchange deal, they said they can't just trust the US to one day give them back reactor fuel, and instead offered a simultaneous exchange. This makes perfect sense and had all the benefits to the US of the original offer — but the US refused to negotiate on it and instead said essentially “my way or the highway”. The Iranians have every right to enrich uranium and the sanctions are a violation of the NOn Proliferation Treaty.


Alan in SF
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 11:38 am

J Street is a kinder, gentler, AIPAC — a way to keep progressives funneling their money to the Democratic Party so they can continue sending your money to Netanyahu to build settlements. Open your eyes, fellow tribe members — it's just more of the same, and the beat goes on.


antifascist18
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

Alan in SF is still goosestepping even though his uncle Adolf is long gone. Typical Leftard anti-Jew rhetoric.

Why does Spencer Ackerman still continue to grant relevancy to an organization that is Soros and Saudi funded, whose leadership are non-relevant slime who make the Judenrat Councils of the Ghettos look like saints compared to them. The Judenrat had no choice but to collaborate with the Nazis. Ben-Ami, Lurie, Alterman, and the rest do – but hey, so easy to equate Israel with the civilian killing, innocent animal slaughtering Palestinians.

J Street has no problems with 900 million of US taxpayer dollars going to Hamas, but like Jeremiah Wright's little boy, they do have a problem with 900 Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Therefore, they are not pro-peace, not pro-Israel but irrelevant and self-loathing, YES.


hass
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

The claim that the IRanians are refusing to enter into negotiations is patently FALSE. The Iranians have been making compromise offers for many years — including offers that far exceed their legal obligations, such as the offer to open their entire nuclear program to US participation, making it impossible to use the program to secretly make nukes. Regarding the uranium exchange deal, they said they can't just trust the US to one day give them back reactor fuel, and instead offered a simultaneous exchange. This makes perfect sense and had all the benefits to the US of the original offer — but the US refused to negotiate on it and instead said essentially “my way or the highway”. The Iranians have every right to enrich uranium and the sanctions are a violation of the NOn Proliferation Treaty.


Alan in SF
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

J Street is a kinder, gentler, AIPAC — a way to keep progressives funneling their money to the Democratic Party so they can continue sending your money to Netanyahu to build settlements. Open your eyes, fellow tribe members — it's just more of the same, and the beat goes on.


antifascist18
Comment posted December 8, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

Alan in SF is still goosestepping even though his uncle Adolf is long gone. Typical Leftard anti-Jew rhetoric.

Why does Spencer Ackerman still continue to grant relevancy to an organization that is Soros and Saudi funded, whose leadership are non-relevant slime who make the Judenrat Councils of the Ghettos look like saints compared to them. The Judenrat had no choice but to collaborate with the Nazis. Ben-Ami, Lurie, Alterman, and the rest do – but hey, so easy to equate Israel with the civilian killing, innocent animal slaughtering Palestinians.

J Street has no problems with 900 million of US taxpayer dollars going to Hamas, but like Jeremiah Wright's little boy, they do have a problem with 900 Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Therefore, they are not pro-peace, not pro-Israel but irrelevant and self-loathing, YES.


Which countries must have consequences for disregarding the international community and which don’t?
Pingback posted December 10, 2009 @ 10:47 am

[...] Who do you think J Street Director Jeremy Ben-Ami was talking about when he said this to the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman: [...]


380828
Comment posted September 7, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

380828 beers on the wall. sck was here


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