The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta ended its silence on the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, Aug. 18, announcing its support for renegotiating the agreement rather than ratifying it as is.

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Federation Chairman Howard Feinsand

Congress is due to vote in early September on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany. The agreement, reached in July, would remove sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in exchange for a rollback but not elimination of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Federation is following the lead of dozens of other local federations and community relations councils in taking a position on the deal. According to a running compilation of those announcements by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, most of those local Jewish agencies either oppose or are uncertain about the deal, even though polls indicate that American Jews lean toward support for approval of the deal.

The Atlanta announcement borrows a phrase also used by the Charleston federation in urging “Congress to give this accord its utmost scrutiny.”

But while acknowledging that it “cannot be assumed to represent the views and opinions of the entire Atlanta Jewish Community,” Federation makes clear that it does not find the current agreement acceptable.

“While some commentary has suggested that the sole alternative to accepting this deal as presented is war, we believe that other options and possibilities are available to address the numerous legitimate concerns raised by so many and thus do not support the JCPOA as it is currently written,” the Federation announcement reads.

“Many thoughtful and well-meaning people have or will reach different conclusions,” Federation says. “But as longtime and strong supporters of the people of the State of Israel, the Executive Committee of Federation believes that it must express its concerns, doing so as a matter of policy and not political partisanship.”

Federation wants Congress to work with President Barack Obama to come up with a deal that is better for the United States, for Israel and for other U.S. allies in the Middle East. In that position, Federation echoes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has insisted that a better deal is possible.

Federation specifically rejects Obama’s argument that the only alternative to the current deal is war.JFGA Logo

Among the concerns Federation cites with the agreement:

  • Iran’s relentless anti-Semitism and violations of human rights and international law.
  • The $100 billion or more in frozen oil money that Iran would receive, possibly to spend on terrorist allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
  • The validation the agreement gives Iran as a nuclear threshold state even though it has been a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for more than 40 years.
  • The end of the embargo in eight years on Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, “whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads.”

“Any agreement is ultimately dependent on the goodwill and sincere intentions of the parties to that agreement,” Federation’s statement says. “The JCPOA is a complicated matrix that must be accompanied by mutual trust and respect. Iran has not ceased to threaten annihilation of Israel and the United States. Nor has Iran diminished its support of its terrorist proxies.”

Republican lawmakers have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to the Iran deal, making it largely a matter for Democrats whether to override or uphold Obama’s promised veto if Congress rejects the deal, as seems likely.

But Federation says the conflicting opinions on the deal have arisen from specific concerns and merits. “We believe that the disagreements spawned by these differences are disagreements of policy and not of political differences.”

The only Democrat in the Senate to declare opposition to the deal is Jewish New Yorker Chuck Schumer. Five Jewish senators — Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Al Franken of Minnesota — have come out in support of the agreement.