Sam Corey: Who are the Iran nuclear deal haters?

Sunday, September 13, 2015 - 5:18pm

For the past half year, the Iran nuclear deal has been discussed to the point of nausea. The agreement has been brought to a TV near you because topics like “nuclear weapons” and “Middle East policy” always make noise. So when they collide, the American public wants to know. But what is it about the particulars of the Iran deal that render it so controversial?

Negotiators from six world powers laid out a deal to cut off almost every pathway for Iran to construct a nuclear bomb. First, Iran must give up almost 97 percent of its enriched uranium and can only enrich their remaining stockpile to a measly 3.67 percent. (To build a nuclear bomb, uranium must be at least 90 percent enriched.)

Furthermore, Iran’s centrifuges (the machines that can be used to mechanically construct a bomb) have been cut from 20,000 to 6,104, and Iran is inhibited from building new models. Finally, the original core reactor manufacturing weapons-grade plutonium (another element crucial to nuclear bomb construction) will be inoperable and its plutonium exported.

In return, economic sanctions crippling Iran will be lifted, opening their market to the world economy. The International Atomic Energy Agency will keep a close watch over Iranian nuclear development, and if they suspect, for any reason, Iran is building a bomb, the sanctions will “snap back,” or be reinstated. The deal will likely delay a nuclear bomb for 25 years. Without a deal, some analysis indicates Iran could construct a bomb within months.

The deal appears agreeably straightforward: There is little possibility of a nuclear Iran and relief from economic sanctions will improve conditions for Iranian citizens in the long term. Seems like a win-win, right?

The deal’s haters don’t think so, and the most outspoken among them happen to be right-wing Israelis and American Jews. Many who fall within this demographic feel that the Iranian nuclear deal will empower Iran economically and militarily, thereby jeopardizing Israel’s existence, as the nation is so often threatened by Middle Eastern leaders. But let me assure you, their fears are unwarranted.

Before I continue, I must quickly note here that I’m a Jewish American. I’ve had a Bar Mitzvah, graduated from my temple’s Hebrew school and volunteered in Israel. Additionally, I proudly call myself a Zionist — a supporter of Jews living in Israel. However, I, unlike too many supporters of Israel, do not believe the country will be extinguished and am critical of the country’s political elite.

Those least critical of Israel are those most afraid of losing it. Their insecurities case them to instinctively block deals like the one with Iran because any deal with the Middle East appears threatening. Ultimately, their fears cause them to prioritize security and inhibit them from fully evaluating their own leaders.

Part of the reason for this is because Iran nuclear deal haters feel they are in a world more similar to 1963, when Israel was consistently attacked by sovereign nations, its infrastructure underdeveloped and its military not one of the world’s best.

However, today’s Israel isn’t like that. In its current state, Israel is a fully developed country with a per-capita GDP of over $35,000. Israel’s citizens are college-educated at a rate second only to Canada, its technology and science sectors are among the world’s elite, and Israel has one of the world’s strongest militaries.

But, strategically, this is not how the Israeli right portrays itself. Constantly mentioning the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in his speeches, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instills fear in the public in order to increase support for policies sometimes criticized for prejudice and racism. Citizens buy into his plan because the more fearful Israelis become, the more security they desire. The more security they desire, the less sympathetic they are to issues regarding non-Israelis — particularly peace talks with Palestinians and other Arab (or Iranian) leaders. The mindset with the Iran nuclear deal is no different.

Fears of Israel’s extinction have even spread to leftist American politicians. Jewish Representatives like Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D–N.Y.), Steve Israel (D–N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (D–Fla.) are among those who have followed the Israeli right’s lead in opposing the Iran deal because of their panicked constituents. They believe any deal with Iran is bad because it will lead to Israel’s destruction.  

Unfortunately, when people support policy decisions based on the fear of their own (or someone else’s) existential threat, it has serious consequences. First, it severely prioritizes the nation’s own rights over all others for fear of being wiped from the planet. Their chief concern becomes survival, thereby diminishing the importance of all other “unthreatened” lives. Second, because citizens are overly concerned with their own safety, it allows representatives to harvest more unchecked power. These supporters strive for personal security by any means necessary.

Consequently, this mindset overlooks two critical points of the way modern day nationalism operates: the nature of globalization, in which continuously more people are demanding basic human rights, and the functioning of democracy, in which leaders must be held accountable for their actions.

But many Iran nuclear deal haters don’t uphold these standards. They prioritize security over peace, and safety over democracy. But when policy leaders don’t prioritize peace, they create more enemies and jeopardize security; and when one fails to pursue a democratic lifestyle, one sacrifices civil liberties and potentially infringes upon the rights of others.

These opponents of the Iran nuclear deal are concerned about the safety of Israel and become unwilling to accept agreements even when it’s in their best interest. They act this way because they are afraid. Their fear is my concern.

Sam Corey can be reached at samcorey@umich.edu.