How Did New START Become a Jewish Issue?


On the surface, the New START treaty doesn't have much to do with the work of Jewish advocacy groups. But ever since Iran became part of the pro-ratification rhetoric, Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) have weighed in, as Iran has become inextricably tied to Israel's security.

On Nov. 19, the ADL released a statement calling on Congress to ratify the treaty. The statement, which came from Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, echoed the words of the Obama administration:

The severe damage that could be inflicted on that relationship by failing to ratify the treaty would inevitably hamper effective American international leadership to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

The Iranian nuclear threat is the most serious national security issue facing the United States, Israel, and other allies in the Middle East.  While some Senators may have legitimate reservations about the New START treaty or its protocol, we believe the interest of our greater and common goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons must take precedence.

On Monday, JINSA blasted its policy letter through email, siding against the treaty.

"This treaty would restrain the development and deployment of new nuclear weapons, missile defense systems, and missile delivery systems,"  wrote David Ganz, the president of JINSA, and Tom Neumann, the executive director. "Many in our community have been pressured to join this public effort. We will not join this effort. "

While the White House has reportedly urged Jewish groups to speak out in favor of New START, JINSA rejected the Iran argument in its letter:

The particular complaints about New START, of which there are many, are waved aside. Instead, we are told that the real purpose of New START is to create a stronger U.S.-Russia bond in a broader international effort to restrain Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Such a justification is wrong. Iran's nuclear ambitions are no secret; neither is Russia's past efforts in aiding that program. We seriously question whether Russia is serious about stopping Iran, with or without New START. There is no reason why the United States should be required to sacrifice its own defense capabilities to inspire Russia to a greater degree of diplomatic fortitude. If Russia is indeed concerned with a nuclear-armed Iran to its immediate south, it should need no extra incentive to take the action necessary to stop it.

Today, the State Department responded to one of JINSA's central complaints, that the treaty would hamper American nuclear weapons development.

The Administration has repeatedly communicated to the Russian Government at the highest levels that the United States will not agree to any limitations or constraints on U.S. ballistic missile defenses, and that the United States intends to continue improving and deploying BMD systems to defend the U.S. against limited missile launches, and to defend our deployed forces, allies, and partners against regional threats. 

This morning, all 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter agreeing to block all legislation not related to the Bush tax cuts, or government spending. But the block doesn't include the New START treaty: The debate rules to ratify a treaty are different than those to pass legislation.

"The START treaty will be done by Christmas," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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