Progress toward new Iran nuclear deal frightens the Israel lobby — and its enablers at the ‘NY Times’

EU and Iranian negotiators in Vienna (Reuters)

James North

Mondoweiss  /  February 21, 2022

As global powers make progress toward a renewed Iran deal, the New York Times has published a biased article raising objections to the agreement without giving supporters much space to defend it.

Over at the U.S. Israel lobby, the alarms are squawking loudly. There are dangerous signs that negotiators in Vienna are nearing agreement on a new Iran nuclear deal. 

The counterattack against these rumblings of peace is already underway. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the front for Israel that masquerades as an independent Washington, D.C., think tank, is already calling a new agreement “a surrender pact.” Over the weekend, Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that “Israel won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

And The New York Times, characteristically, has already published one biased article, which raises objections to the proposed deal without giving its supporters much space to defend it.

Meanwhile, though, the most respected newspaper in Israel, Haaretz, has just editorialized in favor of a new Iran agreement. The Haaretz headline reads, “The Iran nuclear deal isn’t a threat, and Israel must find a new approach.” 

Reuters reported today that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Vienna talks have made “significant progress.” Anti-deal advocates are now losing their hope that the hard-line Iranian government elected last June would be intransigent enough to prevent any new agreement. FDD trotted out a “senior fellow,” a former Israeli general named Jacob Nagel, who charged chief U.S. negotiator Rob Malley with making “concessions to the Iranians’ demands” which will result in “an exceedingly problematic deal that will pave a certain path for Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb in the coming years.”

The New York Times report last week was slanted in favor of the deal’s critics. The paper first quoted 2 opponents, including giving four paragraphs to Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who voted against the original 2015 agreement that Donald Trump tore up 3 years later. You had to wait until paragraph 17 to find Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut endorse a new deal. Buried at the end of The Times report was an all-too-brief but still persuasive pro-deal argument by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, which to its credit supports a new agreement. 

Leave it to the editorial writers at Haaretz to add some sanity to the debate. The Israeli paper noted that Israel had pushed the U.S. to withdraw from the original agreement — but that Iran waited an entire year before starting to violate it. Haaretz recognizes that a new deal “won’t allay all of Israel’s fears.” But it is worth noting that the paper’s staff actually live in Israel, instead of being armchair warriors elsewhere — which gives their editorial conclusion added weight:

Israel’s government must view the agreement with suspicion, participate in the international supervisory effort to ensure that all its provisions are indeed upheld and work to thwart any Iranian threat against Israelis. But when the government views the agreement itself as a threat, it is undermining its aspiration to neutralize the existential threat Iran poses to Israel’s citizens.

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large