WASHINGTON - As an epic showdown looms in Congress over whether to approve the deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, the American Jewish community faces enormous internal divisions.
"No policy has threatened to tear the American Jewish community apart as much as the Iran deal," said Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council in the US, which represents the Jewish community in the Democratic Party.
"We passed civil discussion and we’re now at almost a fratricide. I'm not sure that when this is all over we can fix it. We get phone calls basically calling us Nazis. Some said that this Iran deal will eradicate the Jewish people and that they hope we’re the first ones to go into the boxcars.
Rosenbaum is a member of AIPAC, the American pro-Israel lobby group, and is considered one of the Jewish leaders most closely affiliated with Democrats and President Obama. He was among the main fundraising sources in Obama's election campaign, and has now been tasked with selling the deal to the Jewish public. Rosenbaum, a banker and baseball team owner, was once the owner of the largest kosher chicken factory in the United States.
He is concerned about the affect the agreement with Iran will have on the Jewish community in the US, which is torn between support for President Obama and support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard line. Rosenbaum said that controversy over the deal has put him on a "collision course" with AIPAC.
"We fear that when we bring Jewish people together they will be at each others’ throats over Iran deal," said Rosenbaum. "Others don’t want to come to federation meetings because they are afraid of talking about the Iran deal."
Noah Pollak, founder and executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, is among the leading critics of the Iran deal in the US, agrees. He said many Jews see the agreement in apocalyptic terms. The organization headed by Pollak is waging a stubborn war against the agreement, disseminating ads in traditional media and on social networks.
"The debate over deal has been actually surprising substantive, most of discussion and debate has been stuck to the merits of the deal," said Pollak. He added that the Obama administration does not want a debate over the deal. "They say it’s this deal or war," he argued. "They used to say, no deal is better than a bad deal. They used to say, there are other means to deal with this than having a deal. Now they say, if you don’t like this deal you’re a warmonger.'
Pollak and Rosenbaum agree that the battle in Congress is not likely to go in Israel's favor. An intense battle between Republicans and Democrats will take place over the next six weeks. According to current assessments, Congress will reject the nuclear deal with Iran. However, President Obama is expected to use veto power, and the chances of attaining a two-thirds majority to overrule this are extremely slim.
Pollak believes that anyone running to be the Republican candidate for the next president will go after the Iran deal during the campaign. He also said the deal will not survive the Obama administration. Pollak also attacked the Obama administration for what he sees as attempts to delegitimize any criticism of the deal.
Rosenbaum, for his part, believes the responsibility for the US government's dealings with Israel falls on Netanyahu's shoulders.
As for what happens after the agreement – Rosenbaum is convinced that Obama will show generosity towards Israel and attempt to significantly upgrade defense aid. Pollak disagrees, saying it all depends on Iran's behavior.