In the suburbs of Philly, it was nearly unanimous. They’re not in favor of the Iranian nuclear deal reached last week between the United States, Iran and five other countries.
At the Creekside Co-op in Elkins Park, just five minutes from the house Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called home 50 years ago, they don’t like it.
Twenty minutes away at Ben & Irv’s Deli in Huntingdon Valley, they don’t like it. And at the Dreshertown Shop ‘n Bag, they don’t like it, either.
During a variety of stops last Thursday, men and women, young and old, Jew and gentile — it was nearly unanimous. They’re not in favor of the Iranian nuclear deal reached last week between the United States, Iran and five other countries.
“How can we trust them?” was the frequent response regarding the fact that terms of the agreement would seem to make it possible for the Iranians to reduce their potential nuclear stockpiles in public view, but secretly build them back up. Why is President Barack Obama signing on to a deal that limits on-site inspection while lifting the economic sanctions that could restore billions to the Iranian economy? Money that could conceivably be used — directly or indirectly — in attacks against Israel.
“This is a compromise agreement,” said Tom Estilow, who was having lunch outside the co-op. “It’s less than perfect, and it seems to be — at the beginning stage — heavily favoring Iran. I believe the people with the highest risk are in Israel. It puts Israel in a tenuous position. You don’t have to be Jewish to believe that, either.”
“It’s important to me,” said 30-year-old Ray Porreca, a schoolteacher from the Feltonville area of the city. “I don’t want my son to grow up and fight a rich man’s war. I’m not saying Iran’s a great place, but it’s a little bit more forward, certainly, than Libya, Syria or Iraq, so hopefully another spring uprising might work. I know it didn’t work in Egypt or Syria, though.”
As a native Israeli, Oded Lendner is gravely concerned for his homeland.
“Now we’re giving [Iran] permission to sell arms,” said Lendner, who came here in 1994 from Jerusalem. “And on top of that, they’re going to get billions of dollars. This deal smells like the administration wanted to do the deal at any price. But for Israel, there’s going to be a huge threat from nuclear bombs. It’s not going to happen now, but in eight years there will a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Iran is going to use its proxies — Hezbollah and Hamas —to further attack Israel. So Iran is celebrating right now.”
Many other local Jews also fear the worst.
“I think it’s a nightmare,” said Jackie Paul, a former national editor of a music and entertainment publication who lives in Jenkintown.
“Israel’s our biggest ally — a country which has to survive seven days a week, 24 hours a day surrounded by enemies. Why would anybody in their right mind believe” the Iranian government, she asked. “They’ve shown themselves throughout history that they’re not honorable people. I don’t think it’s the Iranian people themselves. It’s the government. I think all human beings basically want the same thing — to live and let live. But their government has professed a profound disdain and hatred of the Jews. It’s sad.”
“When you make a deal with the Iranians, a deal’s never a solid deal,” said retired office supply owner Sheldon Margolis, whose wife’s parents both survived Auschwitz. “When you make a deal in our country and shake on it, a deal’s a deal. But when certain countries make a deal, then they want to do a better deal. It’s like buying a used car. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. And you can’t really verify with the inspections. The verification process is wide open. You have to wait two weeks, which means if somebody wants to hide the cookies from the cabinet they can do it.”
That doesn’t mean the deal should not be supported, according to Rabbi Adam Zeff of the Germantown Jewish Centre.
“From the beginning of nuclear negotiations between European nations, the U.S. and Iran, there has been much debate both here and in Israel about whether an agreement — or even entering into negotiations — was worthwhile,” Zeff wrote to his congregation in a Facebook post. “Now that an agreement has been announced, that debate has intensified. As we listen to and participate in this debate in the run-up to the High Holidays, we should keep in mind the obligation that Jewish tradition places on us with regard to war and peace.
“We have to face the uncertainty and risk inherent in negotiating with a hostile power,” he continued. “And we have to face our own very real fears of destruction, fears that are heightened for us as we prepare for Tish’a B’Av. We must not be content to simply accept peace if and when it comes to us. We are required to go out into a sometimes hostile world and chase after it.”
Rabbi Lance Sussman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park said that whether or not Iran is hiding nukes or other weapons of mass destruction, there’s more on its mind than destroying Israel.
“I understand the security concerns for Iran,” said Sussman, “but there may be more safeguards built in than what people are saying. We’re looking at doing something different from before. This is the first multilateral attempt at an agreement. Everything from Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton on was unilateral.
“There’s a big question can Iran be trusted? Iran is a big, complex country, where the radicals call the shots. But ISIS has changed the equation. They’re the enemy of every nation.”
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