President Barack Obama says he has been hurt by accusations of anti-Semitism amid his push for a nuclear deal with Iran. “There’s not a smidgen of evidence for it, other than the fact that there have been times where I’ve disagreed with a particular Israeli government’s position on a particular issue," he said in an interview with the American Jewish newspaper and website the Forward published Monday.
In the interview, the Forward’s editor-in-chief Jane Eisner asked Obama about the Iran deal reached in July by the U.S., Iran and five other nations. The deal, if passed, would lift severe economic sanctions against Iran in return for the country’s agreement to curb its nuclear program. The deal is fiercely opposed by the Israeli government and has divided American Jews.
Obama said he was disturbed that Jewish members of his administration were being attacked over the deal. “These are hard issues, and worthy of serious debate. But you don’t win the debate by suggesting that the other person has bad motives,” Obama said, emphasizing that he remains “pro-Israel.”
Debates over the Iran deal have been fierce, with 200 retired generals and admirals urging Congress to reject the deal last week. Prominent Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York issued a statement on Aug. 6 opposing the Iran deal after studying the agreement for three weeks. As his major concerns, Schumer highlighted the question of what follows the first 10 years of nuclear restrictions on Iran.
“For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza,” Schumer wrote in the statement. “Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.”
Obama told the Forward that Iran would use the majority of the $50 billion that will be unfrozen from sanctions for “propping up their economy and getting it back on an even keel.”
The president underscored that Israel’s military capacity far exceeds Iran’s capabilities. He described America’s relationship with Israel as a familial one that will survive the Iran dispute. “The relationships between our peoples, the shared values, the shared commitment to democracy — those things are so deep that they have survived arguments in the past and they will survive this argument.”
The interview ended on a lighter note with Eisner asking Obama about his favorite bagel flavor. The president’s answer? Poppy seed with schmear.