JCRC 33rd Annual Congressional Breakfast Focuses on Iran, Domestic Economic Issues

Senator Charles E. Schumer addresses community leaders at the 33rd Annual JCRC-NY Congressional BreakfastHeld once each year, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s legislative breakfast is considered to be one of the premier political gatherings in New York and an important forum for members of the House and Senate, as well as prominent members of the Jewish community, and other local leaders. The 33rd annual gathering held on Sunday, January 22 was similar to years past in terms of attendance, but was quite different in its rhetoric.

This year’s event commemorated New York State Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver’s 36 years of service to the citizens of New York. Amidst the levity and the light “roasting” of Silver that took place, this year’s breakfast had a more somber and serious atmosphere. The major topics of discussion were the Middle East (the Iranian threat in particular) and the U.S. economy.

The event commenced with remarks and welcomes by Jonathan Greenspun, Board Member of JCRC-NY, Mimi Alperin, Vice-President, Alisa Robbins Doctoroff, Board Chairman and Esther Fuchs Board Member.  Greetings were then delivered by Shlomi Kofman, Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York followed by an introduction to the Congressional delegation by Michael S. Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO of JCRC-NY.

The 14 members of the New York Congressional delegation, most of whom made presentations, were present, plus U.S. Senator from New York Charles E. Schumer and various other State and City officials.

The international focus of the congressional presentations was a clear response to events currently unfolding in Iran, Syria, and throughout the Arab world. Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer, in his presentation, stated that second to the danger to Israel of a nuclear Iran is the danger of Syria, and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Schumer noted that, “When it comes to the Arab spring, many of us who love Israel are worried that the wrong people can take over and take advantage of democracy and snuff it out, but probably the place where there is less of that worry is Syria and Assad, because it is hard to be believe that it can get much worse.” He informed those gathered that Israel is in grave danger from the tens of thousands of missiles that Hezbollah possesses in Lebanon, and those of Hamas in Gaza. Sen. Schumer went on to claim that “the cooperation between Israel and the (Obama) administration is fabulous.” The anti-missile systems that have been co-developed by the two nations, he says, are making “a big difference” to Israel.

Concerning Iran, Schumer states that he has co-sponsored along with Senators Joe Lieberman and Bob Menendez and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers a bill for much tougher Iran sanctions. “A year and a half ago we discovered that economic sanctions really work. Iran is basically a secular country and the people there want economic advantages. They will tolerate a brutal regime if they can keep advancing economically. If you stop that economic advantage, you will cut the ability of Khomeini and Ahmadinejad.”  

The original economic sanctions from a number of years ago did not work well, says Schumer, because by effectively shutting off Iran’s banks, the United States merely increased Iran’s dependence on the government-owned Central Bank.   The goal now, is to shut down the Central Bank of Iran. “The military option should never be taken off the table,” say Schumer, but the military option is difficult and it is best to bring the regime down through economic sanctions. It is important to get China and Russia involved. It appears that they are slowly moving over and realizing that a nuclear Iran is a danger to them also. The Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have indicated that they would consider pumping additional oil to make up for the shortfall that would occur if Iran would turn off the oil. 

The most important thing now, argues Schumer, is to stand strong on tough economic sanctions on Iran.
Schumer concluded that concerning the Palestinians, he has not seen much progress on their side. They are utilizing the “settlement issue” as a smokescreen and “unfortunately, too many Palestinians do not believe in a two-state solution.” The basic Palestinian view after 63 years, explains the Senator, is that the Western world treated the Jewish people badly and they created the State of Israel and they gave them “our land.” It’s not the settlements and the borders that stand in the way of peace.

U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York’s 8th District, presented a sophisticated analysis concerning both the issues of Iran and also that of the challenges facing the U.S. economy. Nadler feels that there has been a shift in our political system. The Democratic Party has become considerably more conservative on economic issues than it was years ago.  On the economy, he maintains that the U.S. deficit is not currently the most urgent issue. “The deficit is unsustainable in the long run, but it is more important to lower unemployment and jumpstart the economy than lower the deficit at this time.” If we can get unemployment down to 5%, similar to what it was in 2007, that would greatly reduce the deficit. If we want to reduce the deficit and unemployment than we should take advantage of the low interest rates and borrow money to rebuild our infrastructure such as roads, bridges and tunnels.

On Israel, “the issue of the settlements is irrelevant right now. There are no productive negotiations going on now, and it’s not because of the settlements. It’s because the Palestinians who have used the settlements as an excuse, simply do not want to recognize Israel.” Nadler cites as evidence of this the fact that in 2000 and again in 2008 when they were offered East Jerusalem and land swaps as part of a peace agreement, they turned it down. The reason was that they would have to abandon a 60-plus year war and they could not do that. The main objective now, argues Nadler, should be to maintain Israel’s strength against potential aggressors by maintain Israel’s military ability and to stand by Israel in such forums as the U.N.

Nadler emphasized that “we cannot under any circumstances allow [the development of] an Iranian nuclear bomb. Some people think that because in the case of Russia we lived though the Cold War without a nuclear war we can do so with Iran.” Congressman Nadler reminded the audience that in three cases, we came to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with Russia, and that we were at least working with rational people who had as much to lose as us if a war every happened. He then pointed out that such is not the case with Iran. “When you are dealing with people who believe that the advent of the Messiah, the return of the fifth Imam and Olam Haba will come if there is a nuclear war and you wipe out Israel, you cannot allow them to have a nuclear weapon.”  Nadler feels that the Obama administration was right in engaging and talking with Iran so as to get  Russia, China, France and the European countries on board. “Now,” concludes Nadler, “we have to be very tough on the sanctions and also say very clearly that, ‘nothing is off the table.”

Additional presentations, reflecting similar sentiments were given by many of the JCRC breakfast’s distinguished guests, including Representatives Nita M. Lowey, Michael Grimm, Carolyn B. Maloney, Gary Ackerman, Robert Turner, Elliott Engel, Yvette Clarke, Joseph Crowley, Nan Hayworth, Edolphus Towns, Gregory Meeks and Charles Rangel.