Pro-Israel leaders on Monday expressed alarm over what they characterized as the Obama administration’s efforts to sow division among Jewish leaders in order to advance a policy that they say would permit Iran to cross the nuclear threshold.
Rifts emerged between the leaders of four top Jewish groups over the weekend following an "intense" meeting last week with National Security Adviser Susan Rice and other top officials at the White House, according to several insiders.
The Obama administration sought to enlist the pro-Israel leaders in their fight to delay Congress from passing a new round of Iran sanctions for at least two months as the West engages Tehran with nuclear talks.
Most of those present at the meeting quietly objected to such a delay. However, the administration’s allies soon began leaking information about a so-called "moratorium" on new sanctions efforts.
"Leaders of four major Jewish organizations have indicated to the Obama administration that they will have a 60-day moratorium during which they will refrain from conducting any public campaign urging Congress to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Iran," the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported late Friday.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman also confirmed reports of a communal "time out" on Saturday, prompting a pitched response from others present in the meeting.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said in a rare public statement on Saturday that it would not back down from its push for new sanctions.
"AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions, and there will absolutely be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts," AIPAC president Michael Kassen said in the statement.
"Until Iran suspends its enrichment program, additional sanctions are vital for diplomacy to succeed," said Kassen, who noted that "diplomatic talks have been made possible because of the strong sanctions passed by Congress and implemented by the administration."
The American Jewish Committee also denied reports that they had agreed to advocate a delay of new sanctions.
The public dispute between typically united pro-Israel groups led some insiders to criticize the White House for "trying to divide the Jewish community" in an attempt to "undermine congressional support for a new round of sanctions," according to one senior Senate aide involved in the sanctions debate.
"The message we heard from the White House is clear—we don't care if Israel lives or dies, we just want to cut a deal," a senior Jewish official involved in Iran sanctions efforts said on Monday. "Another way to read the AIPAC statement is: ‘Go F yourselves.’"
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) executive director David Brog said that the administration is "making a terrible mistake" by pushing to delay new sanctions.
"The Obama administration is making a terrible mistake in opposing increased sanctions on Iran," Brog said to the Free Beacon. "The pro-Israel community should know better than to be a party to this blunder."
"Now is not the time to give Iran a comfortable window within which to complete their nuclear work," Brog said. "Now is the time to make clear that we're watching what Iran does, not what some Iranians say."
Brog went on to ask, "How many times are we going to keep making the same mistake? We all know that Iran has used talks to obfuscate and delay while they proceed with their illegal nuclear program."
Other pro-Israel officials close to the debate criticized the ADL’s Foxman for publicly promoting a false narrative about the Jewish community’s thinking on Iran.
"The ADL is collaborating with a far left Israeli newspaper, one that in recent days compared Zionist films to Nazi propaganda, to minimize the deep concern that almost everyone in the Jewish community has over the White House’s push to delay sanctions," said one senior official at a Washington-based Jewish group that was not directly involved in the White House meeting.
The source was one of many to express anger over the White House’s attempts to stall new sanctions.
"There are only two other major groups carrying water for the Obama administration on this: The National Jewish Democratic Council [NJDC], which is a partisan organization and has to support the White House, and J Street, which has secretly worked with pro-Iran lobbies," the official said.
"I expect that Abe Foxman will be getting some very confused and angry phone calls from other Jewish leaders and from his supporters," the source said.
J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said that the Jewish community should rally around the president.
"Now that sanctions have had their desired effect and Iran has come to the negotiating table with a seriousness of purpose, American Jewish communal leaders and organizations should reflect this broader communal support for the Administration's efforts," Ben-Ami said in a statement.
"J Street hopes that if diplomacy does yield progress, traditional Jewish communal leadership will support potential interim steps including re-calibration of some economic pressure on Iran in return for that country's freezing and rolling back elements of its enrichment program," Ben-Ami added.
An ADL spokesman said Foxman’s comments to Haaretz "clarified our position," and declined to comment further.