Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

March 6, 2022

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • This newsletter is dedicated to the memory of my daughter, Orli Sheffey z''l, who took her life on February 11.
  • The most compelling argument for a return to the Iran Nuclear Deal is that measured by the yardstick of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the JCPOA is better than any realistic alternative and better than the status quo.
  • The pro-Israel community in particular should support reentry into the JCPOA because a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to Israel.
  • Republican support for Ukraine rings hollow in light of their past actions.
  • It does not matter how lovingly a candidate speaks about Israel if that candidate supports Donald Trump or was one of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election.
  • Read to the end for upcoming events and fun stuff.

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My youngest daughter, Orli Sheffey z''l, took her life on February 11. We will never understand exactly why. She was a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis. She was suffering the aftereffects of a concussion more severe than we knew, along with tremendous pressure and stress from her school and extracurriculars. I hope you never have to--literally--bury a child, but I know some of you have. I will never be whole again, but I have a loving family and a caring community, and for that I am grateful.

More than anything, as angry, sad, and broken as I am, I am grateful for the 19 and half years Orli was here with us. I am proud of all she accomplished and the light she brought to us and to this world. I will always love her. We knew how wonderful she was, but in the past three weeks we have heard from her friends about how she helped so many, even toward the end of her life, stories that we never knew about.

Orli loved Judaism, and she had just been accepted into a summer program in Israel. She cared passionately about making the world a better place, but she cared just as passionately about helping people and making their individual lives better. It seems that she had an I-Thou relationship with everyone she encountered.

I do not blame Orli, her friends, our family, or myself, as hard as it is to avoid playing "what if." She had an illness that no one saw or fully understood, not even Orli, despite having completed her first training on suicide counseling the week before she took her life.

When we were asked what causes she would want us to support in her memory, after talking among ourselves and with her friends, we chose two that she had recently spent significant amounts of time on. JDCA CEO Halie Soifer set up special pages for contributions in her memory with ACLU of Missouri and Planned Parenthood of St. Louis.

Albert Camus said that "there is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." Camus was wrong. Suicide is not a philosophical problem. It is a medical problem. We need to treat it that way and prioritize its treatment, on college campuses and beyond.

On Tuesday, President Biden announced his strategy to address our national mental health crisis. Please urge your members of Congress to support all of it, including his plan to expand access to mental health support in schools, colleges, and universities.

Part of my motivation in resuming this newsletter, in addition to the newsletter being good therapy for me, is that Orli enjoyed it. She used to edit it. We'd argue about her changes, I'd reject them, and then we'd joke about how, inevitably, several hours later I'd tell her she was right and I'd accept her suggestions. At shiva, one of her friends told me that he once said to her, "your Dad's newsletter was really good last Sunday," and without missing a beat, Orli replied, "you should have seen it on Friday before I edited it."

Orli would have changed the world. Let's carry on, for her. Let's remember our common humanity and let's take care of each other and ourselves, even as we reject, always, the unfairness in this world and fight for what is right.

The U.S. may soon reenter the Iran Nuclear Deal. Well-intentioned people will be on both sides of this debate, but to the extent we are concerned about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the best alternative.

However, we must be clear-eyed about what the JCPOA will and will not do. The question is not whether the JCPOA is better than a hypothetical perfect deal that would strip Iran of all nuclear capabilities, end all of its deleterious activities in the region, change its government, beat its swords into plowshares, and give every child in the world a pony. It isn't. The question is whether the JCPOA is better than any realistic alternative and better than the status quo. It is.

That does not mean we ignore Iran's other activities in the region, many of which--especially in Syria and Lebanon--pose a grave threat to Israel. We might hear differing estimates of how much sanctions relief Iran will receive and how much of that money will be used to fund anti-Israel activities, but some of the money will be used for that purpose. To the extent reentry into the deal does not address Iran's other threats to Israel, and it will be to a large extent, it is essential that the administration develop plans to help Israel counter those threats. Taking the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table for the foreseeable future will remove a key threat, and we are better off with an Iran engaged in deleterious activities without nuclear weapons than an Iran engaged in deleterious activities with nuclear weapons, but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to work with Israel to address those other activities outside the JCPOA.

Critics of the deal will rerun their 2015 playbook as if nothing has happened in the intervening seven years. But we have seen the world with the JCPOA and without the JCPOA, and what were hypotheticals in 2015 are history in 2022. With the JCPOA, Iran's nuclear weapons program was effectively put on ice. Without the JCPOA, Iran has surged ahead, cutting its breakout time from one year to, at most, a few weeks, despite the tough, really tough, "maximum pressure" sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

We can debate the effect Trump's sanctions had on Iran's economy (according to the World Bank, Iran's economy grew 2.4% in 2020-21 and is forecasted to grow between 2-3% in 2021-22), but sanctions did not stop Iran from moving toward nuclear weapons capability. More sanctions are not the answer. In theory, at some point, sanctions might bring down Iran, but only if the rest of the world cooperates, and they will not cooperate if they perceive that the U.S.--having first withdrawn from the deal while Iran was in compliance--is now rejecting a reasonable return to the deal. Moreover, sanctions take time to work, and Iran is racing toward a bomb. Time is a luxury we don't have.

Military action can set back Iran's program, but only for a few years at most, and the result will all but ensure that Iran races toward a bomb for its own protection. If your concern is that the JCPOA will not last forever, why would you support military action, which will delay Iran's program for fewer years than the JCPOA?

If your concern is that some provisions of the JCPOA sunset too soon (a false assumption), why would you prefer losing all of the protections of the JCPOA right now instead of in the future? Israel may have no choice but military action if it perceives that Iran is moving too close too fast--even a temporary setback is better than nothing--but a verifiable deal could obviate the need for such action and provide greater security to us and to Israel.

I get it. We crave certainty. We'd love to bring Iran to its knees with sanctions or drop so many bombs that they'd have no ability to ever acquire nuclear weapons. But that's not reality. John Wolfsthal, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (yeah, I know, science) explains that "there is no outcome negotiated or imposed that can prevent Iran from being a latent nuclear state. Even military invasion and occupation could not achieve that at this stage" but, says Wolfsthal, by any measure, returning to the JCPOA is better than the status quo even though Trump undermined some elements of the JCPOA's safeguards.

The JCPOA imposes the toughest verification and inspections regime of any arms control agreement in history, including 24/7 access to all known sites and the right to inspect any site within 24 days, which is not enough time for Iran to hide any substantial violations (see Claim #10).

Cheating cannot be ruled out, but the chances of it going undetected are slim. Enforcing the JCPOA will require constant vigilance on our part, and that's how it is designed. We are not talking trust but verify. We are talking distrust and verify.

The JCPOA is not magic, but it is our best chance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to ensure Israel's safety and security, which is why the head of Israeli military intelligence said during a Security Cabinet meeting in January that Israel will be better off if the Iran nuclear talks lead to a deal rather than collapsing without one, a view shared by Israeli Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

Still not convinced? Read this from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and this from me.

A few thoughts on Ukraine. Opponents of reentering the JCPOA will try to link revival of the JCPOA to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, but those arguments don't hold water. What we do know is that Trump--with GOP support--repeatedly sided with Putin against Zelensky and Ukraine. In 2016, the GOP weakened its platform position on Ukraine.

In 2020, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) demanded Trump's removal from office for violating the law by holding up critical security assistance for Ukraine, and Trump was impeached for withholding aid to Ukraine in an unsuccessful attempt to extort Zelensky into providing damaging information on Biden. But every House Republican voted against impeaching Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In the Senate, every Republican voted against convicting Trump of obstruction of Congress and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was the only Republican who voted for convicting Trump of abuse of power. These impeachment votes prove more than empty words where the GOP stands on Ukraine. Imagine a world where Trump won or stole reelection. It almost happened. Don't let anyone tell you that party affiliation does not matter.

Reminder: On January 9, I wrote that "it does not matter how lovingly a candidate speaks about Israel if that candidate supports Donald Trump or was one of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election. Any organization that supports those candidates is not an organization that deserves our support."

Imagine how we'd feel if an organization or person supported a candidate who was antisemitic but justified it on the grounds that the candidate was great on their issue, whatever their issue was (gun control, environment, abortion, etc.). How can we justify supporting candidates who voted, hours after an insurrection, to undermine our democracy? Undermining American democracy is not pro-Israel and not good for Jews.

Tweets of the Week. Nicholas Miller and Dan Ewen.

Video Clip of the Week. Volodymyr Zelensky.

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The Fine Print: This newsletter usually runs on Sunday mornings. If you receive it as an ICYMI on Wednesday it's because you didn't open the one sent on Sunday. Unless stated otherwise, my views do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations that I support or am associated with. I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more. I am willing to sacrifice intellectual consistency for intellectual honesty. I might be wrong: Read opposing views and decide for yourself. A link to an article doesn't mean that I agree with everything its author has ever said or that I even agree with everything in the article; it means that the article supports or elaborates on the point I was making. I take pride in accurately reporting the facts on which I base my opinions. Tell me if you spot inaccuracies, typos, or other mistakes so that I can correct them in the next newsletter (and give you credit if you want it). Advertisements reflect the views of the advertisers, not necessarily of me, and advertisers are solely responsible for the content of their advertisements. I read, value, and encourage replies to my newsletters, but I don't always have time to acknowledge replies or to engage in one-on-one discussion. I'm happy to read anything, but please don't expect me to watch videos of any length--send me a transcript if the content is that important. Don't expect a reply if your message is uncivil or if it's clear from your message that you haven't read the newsletter or clicked on the relevant links. Dedicated to Ariel Sheffey, Ayelet Sheffey, and Orli Sheffey z''l. ©2022 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.