Iran not just a Jewish problem: We must galvanize everyone
By Martin J. Raffel
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Why is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs making a nuclear-armed Iran its principal concern in the year to come?
Keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a goal that unites people of diverse races, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities and religions. Not only in the United States, but also in Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia and Japan, 82 percent to 97 percent of people polled expressed opposition to allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons, according to a June 2006 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
Moderate Arab states, too, are extremely worried about the destabilizing influence of Iran's determination to develop nuclear weapons capability.
But for American Jews, it is the profound threat to Israel posed by a nuclear-armed Iran that is galvanizing a growing activism. Iran's support of terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, its role in supplying improvised explosive devises to insurgents in Iraq and the outrageous statements of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- including the assertion that Israel should be "wiped off the map" -- make the prospect of a nuclear Iran terrifying and intolerable.
Our heightened apprehension on behalf of the Jewish state, however, does not make this a Jewish issue or an Israel issue. It is a world issue. The Jewish community must be part of, even leaders of, efforts to apply the strongest possible pressure on Iran -- but we must not stand alone.
The Jewish community relations field is uniquely positioned to educate and engage a broad array of organizations and community leaders -- religious, ethnic and civic -- in calling for diplomatic, political and economic measures to halt Iran's progress on nuclear weapons development. Many of these leaders already see the importance of stopping Iran, but may not feel the urgency that resonates in the Jewish community.
Some may not yet recognize the critical stage Iran has reached in producing enriched uranium. It is vital that leaders in the Jewish community relations field reach out now to our allies, and even to our adversaries on some issues, in order to build the broad coalition essential to taking effective action.
This is not new for us. For more than half a century, JCPA and local Jewish community relations councils have forged relationships with counterparts in other religious, racial and ethnic communities in order to build support for Jewish community issues, gain insight into the concerns of other groups and present a united front in areas of common cause.
From civil rights to immigration to Darfur, the Jewish community has stood with others in demanding social justice, civil liberties and humanitarian aid. Now we must encourage our colleagues and friends to stand with us, to educate their constituencies, and to encourage America's political leaders and nations around the globe to take strong, unambiguous actions to end Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
The JCPA, whose capacity has been greatly augmented by the United Jewish Communities/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative, is developing educational programs, convening regular conference calls, identifying speakers, conducting media briefings, preparing talking points and model Op-Ed pieces, and offering guidance on divesting pension funds and other assets from companies doing business in or with Iran.
JCPA's Web site, www.jcpa.org, includes a separate section on Iran with suggestions for action, news stories and other resources, among them JCPA's new online publication, the Iran Monitor. All of these activities are intended to support the work of our national and local member agencies.
At the local level, JCRCs have begun reaching out to non-Jewish coalition partners to build advocacy campaigns reflective of the widespread concern about Iran's actions. The Boston and Chicago JCRCs have produced comprehensive strategic plans that include enlisting the active involvement of elected officials, along with civic, ethnic and religious leaders and other non-Jewish influentials; a media strategy that encourages Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders to write Op-Ed pieces and letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows and monitor news coverage of Iran; support for sanctions, divestment and other economic measures; and outreach to key foreign governments through visits or communications with consuls general.
Momentum is building in the United Nations and governments around the world to find a way to alter Iran's course. On March 24, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution imposing increased economic sanctions on Iran. The sanctions are having enough impact on the Iranian economy that some factions within the country are beginning to criticize Ahmadinejad's policies.
But it is not enough. The American government must keep the pressure on the United Nations, and the American people must keep the pressure on our government.
This is a crucial moment in a critical fight. To win, the voice of the Jewish community must be loud and clear, but only one among many. Jewish community relations agencies can play the vital role of forging the coalitions that bring together a wide range of voices singing one song that Iran will be sure to hear.
(Martin J. Raffel is the senior associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.)