By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Some community perspective was needed.
Recently, members of the Dallas Jewish community became nervous about the implications of the “nuclear deal” into which the United States and several other countries are entering with Iran.
This agreement is between Iran and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China plus Germany, and the European Union. It would set requirements for keeping Iran’s nuclear program from producing nuclear weapons while also establishing a timeline for lifting sanctions against the country.
The preliminary framework was announced July 14.
Around that time, officials of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas — with input from the Jewish Community Relations Council — were considering taking a public position on the Iran deal, otherwise is known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
Anita Zusman Eddy, executive director for the JCRC, explained that after much deliberate and thoughtful consideration by Federation and JCRC leadership, a statement was decided upon and issued opposing the Iran deal.
One of the other results of those conversations was the decision for the JCRC to sponsor and present a three-part series about the Iran agreement — primarily to promote peace of mind in the Jewish community.
Emotionally charged issue
A.J. Rosmarin, JCRC chair, said he couldn’t think of any other issue in recent memory that was so emotionally charged. The Affordable Care Act was also a flashpoint, but not on this level, he said.
The JCRC chair said the three meetings were very well-attended — with good questions and inquisitive people appreciating direct information.
“Our role wasn’t to sell them one way or another, but to make sure they had a better understanding,” Rosmarin said.
Cindy Sweet Moskowitz, immediate past chair of the Federation board, said she believes the meetings certainly helped.
“I would say everyone walked away learning something,” Moskowitz said. “We were in an environment where we all respected one another — no matter who had come down on what side of the deal. Everyone in the room showed respect for the fact we were all there as supporters of Israel and we all understood and cared deeply about the importance of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
The first meeting, Thursday, Sept. 24, attracted more than 70 people. It was titled “The Political Endgame of the Iran Nuclear Agreement: How to Move Forward.”
The program featured Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, Washington correspondent for the Times of Israel, and Dr. Gil Kahn, professor of political science at Kean University specializing in executive-legislative relations regarding Middle East foreign policy.
Their discussion centered on both U.S.-Israel relations and bridging the divide between bipartisan political positions.
Moskowitz said this meeting was basically about clearing up myths and misconceptions, and restating where the important issue truly lay.
At the second meeting, Friday, Nov. 20, the JCRC hosted over 40 people for “Shalom Bayit: Uniting our Community in the aftermath of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” featuring Martin Raffel, former senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Co-presented by Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, the meeting addressed how the American Jewish community can overcome divisions and move forward after the passage of the Iran nuclear agreement earlier this fall.
It also included an update on the ongoing situation in Israel. The program featured additional remarks from Moskowitz and JCRC Executive Committee Member Adam Segall.
Those in attendance included Andrea Weinstein, a former Federation chair, JCPA National executive committee member and JCRC advisor; JCPA National Executive Committee Member Marc Stanley; and Marlene Gorin, JCPA national executive committee, member and former JCRC Dallas executive director.
From the perspective of the second meeting, Caren Edelstein, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, said she appreciated how the JCRC was trying to reach people on such a divisive issue as the Iran nuclear agreement.
“I thought the speaker was very knowledgeable and very thoughtful in his remarks,” Edelstein said. “I could tell that people in the audience appreciated what he was saying. It was a balance kind of thing — his emphasis on how we should listen to one another. He gave some tips on how to do that, which was very good.”
Edelstein said the speaker tried hard to see everyone’s point of view on an issue that most perceive as very black-and-white.
“I appreciate the effort to bring the community together with points that people could think about,” she said.
On Tuesday, Dec. 15, over 90 people gathered at the Mankoff Center for Jewish Learning for the third meeting, “Shifting Sands: Israel and an Ever-Changing Middle East,” featuring Ambassador James Jeffrey of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Middle East developments
Ambassador Jeffrey is a former deputy national security advisor and former ambassador to Iraq, to Turkey, and to Albania.
Easily one of the nation’s most senior diplomats, the ambassador provided an insider’s perspective on ongoing developments in the Middle East, including violence in Israel, an increasingly powerful Iran and terrorism in the West.
Those in attendance included State Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas and Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.
The program also featured welcoming remarks from Moskowitz.
This final meeting, Moskowitz said, came from the perspective of a very experienced ambassador and explored what was happening about the issue with regard to the Obama administration, the think tank community, and the U.S. Congress.
This final installment was very, very popular with those in attendance, said Eddy.
“His analysis of the region was based on his personal relationships and he was present there when many historical events took place,” Eddy said. “His speech about it really resonated with the audience. When it was over, they grouped around him to continue the discussion. They didn’t want him to leave.”
Steven Davidoff, a member of the JCRC Leadership Council, described the ambassador as a phenomenal speaker.
“He was able to walk us through the complex geopolitical environments of those countries,” Davidoff said. “He was very engaging in his ability to talk. He had been involved with highly classified information and think tanks and as an ambassador knew all the players.”
Davidoff also said Ambassador Jeffrey presented a bipartisan, even moderate, viewpoint during his presentation.
The ambassador’s “middle-of-the-road” approach really helped calm down those who might have been worked up about the Iran deal, Davidoff said.
And ultimately? Moskowitz said the three meetings truly helped members of the Jewish community focus on the issue of the Iran deal more clearly.
“The sessions really did what they were intended to do,” Moskowitz said. “ … They got to hear each other’s perspectives and come together, accepting that the deal had been passed and learning what was on people’s minds now.”
“I think people appreciated the unbiased manner in which the pros and cons of the issue were presented,” the JCRC chair said.