Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Monday was named chairman of an advocacy group opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. The move came after it became known that United Against Nuclear Iran’s president, former White House adviser Gary Samore, is a supporter of the agreement.
Samore was replaced as president by David Ibsen. The leadership shakeup came the same day as the group announced that it will finance and run television and digital ads as part of a national advertising campaign against the deal.
“UANI has led the effort to economically isolate the Iranian regime, and its bipartisan and international expertise makes it a highly respected voice on the merits of the Iran agreement,” said Lieberman. “I am honored to assume this new leadership role at this important time.”
Lieberman, who has been a regular on television and radio criticizing the deal, also sits on the advisory board of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
That effort was bolstered last week when Senate leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his opposition.
“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Schumer said in a statement on Aug. 6. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor and, after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”
Supporters and detractors of the deal had lobbied Schumer hard. Liberal groups, such as MoveOn, furious with Schumer’s dissent, promised backlash in the form of halting donations.
With Republican lawmakers nearly unanimous in their opposition to the agreement, the question is: Do the Democrats have enough supporters to sustain a presidential veto if Congress votes to reject the deal?
On Monday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) became the 10th of 27 Jewish Democrats in Congress to back the deal.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week she would support the deal, which she described as “imperfect.”
“Our goal has been, and remains, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We have far more ability to achieve that outcome if we approve this deal,” she said in a statement.
Maryland’s Jewish Democratic senator remains undecided. Sen. Ben Cardin was instrumental in brokering the legislation that allows for the current 60-day congressional review of the nuclear agreement.
“Sen. Cardin considers this a tough decision and very consequential,” Sue Walitsky, Cardin’s spokeswoman, said in an email. “He believes that each senator and member of Congress has to make his or her own decision based on what is right for our country — not [what is right for the] president, but the national security of the United States.”
Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which opposes the agreement, took a group of 25 members to lobby Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) last week. In a meeting with the senator’s staffers, the group outlined their main reasons for opposing the deal, namely, a lack of “anytime, anywhere” inspections and Iran’s financing of terrorist organizations.
“We feel that this is the test of our generation. If this deal goes through, it can affect the whole order of the world and the safety of our children and grandchildren for generations to come,” said Stern.
Lobbyists aren’t the only ones increasing pressure on undecided politicians. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama made direct appeals to the American public.
Obama, in a speech at American University on Aug. 5, said Israel’s government was the only one that stood openly opposed to the nuclear agreement.
“This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated, and because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support,” he said.
Obama met with American Jewish communal leaders from AIPAC, J Street, the American Jewish Committee and others at the White House the day before, spending two hours poring over the deal. According to JTA, the president acknowledged the concerns that pro-Israel opponents of the deal were unfairly cast as warmongers.
However, that did not stop Obama from excoriating opponents as “ignorant” and likened Republicans in Congress to Iranian hard-liners.
“It’s those hard-liners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” said Obama, referring to extremists in Iran. “It’s those hard-liners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus.”
The day before Obama’s speech, Netanyahu appealed directly to the American Jewish community to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The deal gives Iran two paths to a bomb, Netanyahu told the more than 10,000 people who tuned into the Web address put together by the Jewish Federations of North America and member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal, or Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.”
He spent much of his talk pushing back on criticisms levied against him by supporters of the deal. He specifically attacked the allegations made that war is the alternative to the deal reached by the P5+1 nations and Iran on July 14.
“Don’t let the world’s foremost terrorist regime get its hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Netanyahu concluded. “Oppose this bad deal.”
The White House countered the Israeli prime minister’s points, sending off infographics from the new @TheIranDeal Twitter account using the #JFedTalk hashtag during the talk. Marie Harf, senior adviser for strategic communications at the State Department, jumped into the online conversation tweeting out from her own account: “Fact: If we walk away from @TheIranDeal, we walk away alone. #JFedTalk.”
Congress will decide in September whether to reject the deal.
JTA contributed to this report.
Melissa Apter writes for Washington Jewish Week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.