Iran Leader Hassan Rowhani's Moderate Stance Poses Dilemma to Israel Backers

Maintaining Hard Line on Nuclear Program May Be Tricky

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The surprising victory of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rowhani may seem like a victory for those who would hope to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. It isn’t that simple.
getty images
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The surprising victory of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rowhani may seem like a victory for those who would hope to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. It isn’t that simple.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 21, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The cheers of joy heard in the streets of Tehran celebrating Hassan Rowhani’s victory in the Islamic Republic’s presidential elections died off by the time they reached Jerusalem. Israelis and pro-Israel activists in the United States watched with more than a grain of concern the election of a leader hailed by the West as moderate and as a reformer.

For Israel and many of its American supporters, highlighting the new president’s moderation and his willingness to engage with the United States could spell trouble for a hard-line approach toward Iran’s nuclear program.

At risk for the pro-Israel community is more than a renewed willingness in Washington and European capitals to give negotiations with Tehran — which have so far led to no results — yet another chance. Supporters of Israel also fear the loss of the strong sentiment opposing the Iran’s regime that was shared by many in the West, and was fueled, at least in part, by the cartoonish figure of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric spanned from Holocaust denial to gay bashing — with a fair amount of anti-Semitism in between.

Rowhani, a soft-spoken cleric who was educated in Scotland and is fluent in English, offers an opposite image, one that some in the pro-Israel community worry could deceive America and its allies.

“It is a problem for the pro-Israel community, because very soon we will be told, ‘We have to help the moderate,’ and that cannot be good for Israel,” said Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington think tank affiliated with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Bryen argued that Rowhani is by no account a moderate, adding, “It was easier with a guy like Ahmadinejad, who stood there, shouting, ‘There is no Holocaust.’”

These concerns became clear as diverging reactions to the surprise election of Rowhani began to emerge from Washington and from Jerusalem.

In a June 17 interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, President Obama praised the Iranian people’s choice, saying it shows they “want to move in a different direction.” Obama added that voters in Iran “rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything, anytime, anywhere.”

The reaction coming from the office of Israel’s prime minister, in Jerusalem, by contrast focused on Rowhani’s commitment to continue Iran’s nuclear program. “We cannot delude ourselves. Wishful thinking is not a substitute for policy,” Benjamin Netanyahu said during a June 18 meeting with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Netanyahu warned against viewing the new political winds in Tehran as cause for another lengthy negotiation process over the nuclear issue. “We cannot let Iran ride out the clock through endless talks,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.