In Chicago, Come for the Iran Nuke Deal. Stay for the Smoked Salmon.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is holding a special meeting today to discuss the Chicago Jewish community’s response to the Iran deal.

The Jewish Federation is the most important Jewish organization in Chicago and the meeting today will be attended by members of many Jewish organizations, including AIPAC.

Security is strict here: guards, x-ray screenings, even electronically secured double doors when going to or coming back from the toilet.

Bottom line: Only active members of Chicago Jewish organizations, pre-registered, are to attend this meeting.

I’m not a member of any Jewish organization and nobody can find my name on the registered list, even though I was invited to write about the event by one of the organization members.

Problem.

To solve this problem I present my driver’s license to the gatekeepers of this ultra-secured building.

They let me in.

I love it!

This is a Jewish meeting, which means that there’s some food around. And actually it’s not bad.

Excellent salmon, warm and fresh, is available. Tuna salad too, also pineapple, avocado, chopped onion, watermelon, coffee and Coke. No bagels — which reminds me that I’m not in a New York Jewish event, where lack of bagels is a major crime. No cheesecake either, or any cake for that matter.

What’s going on with these Jews? For all I know, it’s a crime against Judaism not to have sweets. But I don’t complain. I don’t need anyone here to ask me which organization I represent. If push comes to shove, I’ll of course claim that I represent the state of New York, the issuer of my driver’s license. That’s an official entity, and as far as I know Jews love officials.

One official, actually, is now speaking to them as they swallow the salmon. His name is Jon Wolfsthal, senior director for nonproliferation on the National Security Council, and he speaks via video from the White House.

“Can you hear me?” he asks. “I wish you could feed me too.”

Must be a Jew.

“This deal is an extremely good deal,” he says, moving on to talk business, referring to the Iran nuclear deal. It is an excellent deal, he argues, and it has no flaws in it. In addition, the U.S. and its allies will be able to immediately see any Iranian violation of the deal and will act on it at once. Period.

I’ve never tried this before but I must admit that salmon goes very well with talks about nuclear bombs. I can’t explain this, but it’s a reality.

In any case, Wolfsthal goes on, with a lot of blah, blah, blahing, telling us again and again how great this deal is.

What’s the deal exactly? Nobody eating salmon will bother to read 159 pages of the deal. Eating, as every child knows, doesn’t go well with reading. Especially fish.

What’s interesting to note here is that he speaks of this deal more positively than either President Obama or Secretary Kerry ever has. To them, the deal does have flaws, but is the best that could possibly have been achieved. To Wolfsthal the deal is excellent. No flaws, no issues. Period.

That said, Wolfsthal was of course assigned to speak to these Jews by the White House. And I wonder: Is the White House playing a game here? Who knows! In all likelihood the White House doesn’t even entertain the idea that journalists might be present at this meeting. If they thought that journalists would be here they would probably be more careful. I hope they are not going to confiscate my license.

Now that we’re almost done wth the salmon, Wolfsthal reveals to us that he has more arguments in his arsenal.

He tells us, in confidence, that members of the House and the Senate will have access to classified documents and other materials that will show and prove how effective, how good and how great the deal is. In other words, there’s more than meets the eye here and the 159-page document does not stand on its own.

But only lawmakers will get to see the whole package.

As a licensed driver, I do have a problem with this. What Wolfsthal is basically asking me here is to blindly follow American leaders to steer me the right way. Would I be willing to drive blindfolded and let Mayor Rahm Emanuel give me instructions from the passenger’s seat? No way. Besides: Is this blind trust compatible with the democratic principles that this country is so proud of?

I ask a person sitting next to me to explain to me what I’m seeing and hearing. His answer comes in one word: “Jew.”

Excuse me?

“Jon [Wolfsthal] is Jewish, and this is how Jews work.”

Is he right?

I look back up at Wolfsthal, and here’s what I see, a little message that he tweeted some time ago, speaking of the Jewish lobby, AIPAC:

“As a Jew and Survivor’s son, I’m tired of AIPAC trying 2 play me and push 4 conflict with Iran.”

This is interesting, and it raises some questions. Why would he be selected by the White House to speak to Chicago Jews? Couldn’t the administration put someone else to speak to Jews? Why a Jew, and why this Jew? Is the administration trying to send Jews the message “stand with us or else”?

I have no answer.

I get myself more salmon. It’s really delicious!

The meeting goes on.

Next to speak, via audio conference from Washington, D.C., is Ambassador Dennis Ross, currently with the Washington Institute and formerly a special assistant to President Obama, as well as a special advisor to former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Ross, being a diplomat, says that the deal is good but that it needs a few modifications.

Which is of course impractical because the Iranians won’t renegotiate.

In other words, this man is a diplomat and prefers not to take sides. You never know who the next president will be and so why should you commit to one side against the other?

The next, and last, speaker is Roey Gilad, consul general of Israel to the Midwest.

Here’s a Jew talking to Jews, an Israeli diplomat talking to American Jews.

Gilad is straight like an arrow with them, which is quite surprising to witness, since he, too, is a diplomat.

Only this diplomat is willing to take a stand. And he does. A very strong one.

Gilad does not speak via video, but is here in the flesh. He looks the audience straight in the eye and he asks them to make a stand against their government. It’s actually shocking to witness. And then he adds: “What we are asking you is to stand with us.”

This is a very touching moment: a Jewish diplomat imploring his brethren not to desert him and his fellow countrymen.

Israeli politicians and diplomats have spoken publicly against the Iran deal, and from this perspective there’s nothing new in what’s going on here — but this is not a public event, this is an intimate event, for Jews only. Here we have a Jew, a diplomat who represents the Jewish state, the only Jewish state there is, and he is practically begging these salmon-eating Chicago Jews to stand by him and by their Jewish brethren.

How do they react?

They look at him. They stare at him. And they don’t react.

His speech is followed by an announcement that another meeting will be called in a few weeks and that the decision will be taken after that meeting.

The Jews of Israel will have to wait before they get to know if Chicago Jews are supporting them or not.

A few weeks follow and the Jews of Chicago meet again. Their decision? They decide not to decide. The less you decide, I guess, the more chances there are that you will meet more times and have more salmon.

Of course, these Jews will claim that they simply disagree with the present Israeli government but that they will never, ever, ever, desert the Jews of Israel. But as far as I can tell as I travel this big land, many a Jew prefers a salmon to a brother.

Editors note: On August 14, The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago issued a statement opposing the Iran deal.

Tuvia Tenenbom is the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room” and “Catch the Jew!” He is currently in the U.S. working on his third book.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires 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 and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. 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 Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

In Chicago, Come for the Iran Nuke Deal. Stay for the Smoked Salmon.

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close