Howard Kohr, CEO of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, addressed more than 1,600 people at Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s sanctuary on Tuesday, Sept. 1 to send a concise message: “Any deal is better than this deal.”
Congress will vote on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known colloquially as the Iran nuclear deal, later this month. The deal, which was struck on July 14, has remained a point of grave concern within the Jewish community. President Barack Obama has promised to veto any legislation that blocks the implementation of the deal.
The deal would require Iran to remove thousands of its uranium-enriching centrifuges and to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent. In exchange, economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted in 2016. The U.N. arms embargo and missile sanctions would remain in place for five to eight years, respectively. To ensure Iran doesn’t violate the agreement, they would be required to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would act as a U.N. watchdog, access to all of its nuclear facilities.
During his speech, Kohr was focused on how long it would take Iran to construct a nuclear weapon, otherwise known as a breakout time. Iran’s breakout time would be one year during the first ten years of the deal if they keep to their commitment.
Yehuda Neuberger, chair of AIPAC’s Baltimore executive council, offered opening comments as did Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg.
“Under normal circumstances I would thank you for coming, but these are not normal circumstances,” said Wohlberg. “And I don’t thank you for coming. Rather I wonder how it is possible for others not to come.”
Wohlberg then referenced the story of Joseph and his brothers, making the analogy that those who did not attend the evening were making a similar mistake, by turning a deaf ear.
“With the Iran deal, our brothers and sisters in Israel have been thrown into a pit [as Joseph was] … and we go about business as usual,” said Wohlberg. After reading an email he received from a J Street representative, an organization that supports the deal, he had a concise message for the audience, but foremost for J Street: “Keep J Street off of my street!”
Wohlberg was not the only rabbi in attendance.
“I’m here to support to Israel and support America; the Jewish community needs to make their voices heard,” said Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro from Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation. “We need a better deal; the consequences are tremendous.”
Michael Pregent, executive director of Veterans Against the Deal also spoke. Pregent noted that although 33 of the 34 necessary senators Obama needs to uphold a presidential veto have come out in favor of the deal, nothing is decided until the votes are counted.
“We’re military guys,” Pregent told the crowd, referring to Veterans Against the Deal. “And we don’t believe any vote is safe until it happens.” Wednesday morning, Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her support for the Iran deal.
As it turned out, many veterans were in the audience.
“As one who has served in the U.S army, as a veteran of the Vietnam era, this agreement smacks into the face of everything that every one of my fellow soldiers served for in terms of the security of our country,” said Moshe Sauer, a veteran. “This [deal] is absolutely embarrassing to our country for those served.”
Finally, David Cordish, chairman and CEO of the Cordish Companies and a member of the AIPAC national board, introduced Kohr.
“This regime in Tehran at its heart is anti-Semitic,” said Kohr. “The leadership voices its desire to destroy the Jewish state and the Jewish people.”
Kohr said the deal would allow Iran to get money, weapons and nuclear infrastructure “at a great price.”
“This is if [Iran doesn’t] cheat; this is if they actually maintain their commitments,” said Kohr, which elicited laughs from the crowd. “Between year 10 and 15 of this agreement they will have no restrictions left on their abilities to enrich uranium.”
Kohr concluded his remarks by urging the crowd that now is a “time for action” and gave precise instructions to make an impact. He asked the audience to take out their cell phones, then he read off the phone numbers people can call to contact the Senate and House of Representatives. He specifically requested people call Congress the following morning at 9 a.m. to tell the Maryland congressional delegation to reject the deal.
After finishing his speech, Kohr began chanting “Am Yisroel Chai,” during the applause.
Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents the 5th District, was in attendance and said she was moved, not only by Wohlberg’s remarks about those who did not attend, but specifically comments from Pregent because of his history as a veteran.
Said Spector, “How is this considered a deal? It’s not that it’s a good deal or a bad deal, it’s no deal.”