My 30 years as a hedge fund manager have taught me to spot someone attempting to hedge his bet. As I look around the American Jewish landscape, I see much of our leadership doing just that — crafting cleverly noncommittal “statements of concern” about the Iran deal, expressing neither approval nor disapproval.
Many openly despair at the thought of the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism with as much as $150 billion extra dollars in its pocket. They acknowledge that the idea of Iran in possession of long range ballistic missiles or a nuclear weapon 10 years hence is a frightening one. They admit that one cannot trust the mullahs not to successfully cheat on the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In other words, they know the deal is bad — and they know it is worst for Israel. And yet most of our Jewish communal leaders won’t come out to oppose it. Why?
Perhaps more surprising is the stunning silence of many of our leaders whose organizational websites would leave you thinking that no deal had been struck. They issue no statements and their logos are absent from “Stop Iran” rallies in our cities. Has our people ever known its leaders to be so uncharacteristically quiet or without opinion? One must again wonder: why?
The answer, I believe, lies in our leaders. They are too often constrained by concern for their constituents’ political interests and their own funding needs. Rather than act, they react, trying to navigate the field of risk, careful not to take one. They are reluctant to create “division” among their memberships and fear the pushback that will result from a public position. We may lose one way or the other, as President Obama sadly has narrowed our options, they rationalize.
Yet to them I say this: leadership requires courage, and leaders are called upon in moments such as these to light the way.
If you are one such Jewish leader, I acknowledge that the attempt to frame this discussion in partisan political terms has surely added to your challenge. But it is your job to reject that assertion and reframe the debate for the longer term, in terms of national security, solidarity with our allies, and upholding our values.
Israel from Right to Left has banded together to declare with one voice that existential issues of life or death are neither Left nor Right. Left-leaning Zionist Union leader, Isaac Herzog, and right-wing Likud head, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, agree on almost nothing. But on their opposition to this deal they are publicly unified. Why cannot American Jews similarly rise above partisan concerns and act with comparable courage and clarity?
Humility may dictate that we cannot predict the future. Whether Iran will indeed become a nuclear power or become more responsive to the West over time remains to be seen. But at present, what we do know is that the terms of this deal jeopardize the safety and security of the State of Israel and the entire Middle East and create the possibility of a nuclear arms race.
We can do better. This is no time to hedge. Decisive, principled action must be taken, which is why I called upon Senators Schumer, Gillibrand, Booker and Menendez to oppose the deal in a full-page ad in the New York Times just a few weeks ago. I now call upon you, our Jewish leadership, to do the same.
We Jews have an historical obligation not to remain silent. Will you rise to the occasion? Will you boldly stand up to false and insulting accusations of dual-loyalty, refusing to be silenced by that age-old canard?
Some urge us to accept the deal as a reality and acquiesce. Will you settle for that? Or will you rise above business as usual and show your constituencies a bolder kind of leadership guided by strength rather than fear?
If you do, your courage will be recognized and rewarded by a reinvigorated, inspired community of American Jews, particularly our next generation, who thirst for just this kind of bold, self-respecting Jewish leadership. You will be judged kindly by history as those who led.
I and other philanthropists have spent millions of dollars trying to attract the next generation to Jewish life and its system of values and ideals. They are watching us now. It is my belief that they will follow the leaders who demonstrate leadership. Will you be one of them?