A meeting in a South Jersey synagogue featured elected officials talking about their stances on the proposed Iran deal.
Cherry Hill — Despite the region being deep into the dog days of August and prime vacation season, a crowd of close to 500 people packed Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill on Aug. 18, for a community meeting about the Iran nuclear deal. Among the speakers debating the merits of the proposed agreement were Hillel Zaremba, director of community relations and new media in the office of the Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region and Congressman Donald Norcross. Congress votes on the deal Sept. 17.
Norcross, who is serving in his first term as congressman of the state’s first district, was greeted with a standing ovation as he declared he was against the deal.
“What we’re asking about in the agreement doesn’t come from a blue or red state,” Norcross said to the audience. “Partisanship has no part in this; this is an American issue. You don’t get another shot at this — we have to get it right.”
While he is a congressional neophyte, Norcross knows business. In 1980, he served as an apprentice in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, eventually becoming assistant business manager of the IBEW Local 351 in Hammonton, N.J. His brother is the South Jersey power broker George Norcross, who is the executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, a national insurance brokerage and employee benefits consulting firm based in Marlton.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect deal,” he said. But, he added, “I’m disappointed with the deal — it falls way short of where it needs to be.”
After 20 months of negotiations, the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia reached an agreement July 14 with Iran on its nuclear program. According to the deal, Iran will reduce by two-thirds — from 19,000 to 6,104 — the number of centrifuges it operates for at least 10 years and impose new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites. Iran will also receive more than $100 billion in assets frozen overseas, and see an end to both the European embargo on its oil exports and various financial restrictions on Iranian banks. It places bans on enrichment at key facilities, and limits uranium research and development to the Natanz facility.
The meeting drew Jews from across the South Jersey denominational spectrum, including representatives from Chabad and Congregation Beth El in Voorhees and from Cherry Hill, Congregation M’kor Shalom, Congregation Sons of Israel, Foxman Torah Institute, Young Israel of Cherry Hill and Temple Emanu El. Other supporters were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Bnai Akiva, Cherry Hill Political Action Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Politz Day School of Cherry Hill and the National Conference Synagogue Youth.
Sons of Israel member Marc Hess, who organized the event, said it took time to get all of the shuls together, by way of explanation for why the meeting was taking place almost a month after the deal was first announced. Hess said he was impressed with not only the large turnout, but that Norcross chose his synagogue to voice his opinion about the deal.
“We’re tremendously pleased and honored that he chose this to be the venue to make the announcement,” he said referring to Norcross.
Zaremba said he is not an expert on centrifuges, weapons or uranium, but he knows Iran is a threat to America and Israel.
He disagrees with President Obama’s belief that those who don’t support the deal want war. After losing 6 million Jews during the Holocaust and thousands in pogroms, Israel does not want to see a nuclear Iran, he said.
“Israel is united in opposition of this deal,” Zaremba said in a speech to those gathered. “Israel has never and will never ask the United States or any nation to send its people into harm’s way.”
Representatives for Congressman Thomas MacArthur (R-3) and Senator Corey Booker (D-N.J.) joined Norcross at the event. Like Norcross, it was their first time speaking about the issue publically.
“A nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable threat to American security, to the safety of our allies, and to Middle East stability,” said Booker’s representative, William Moen, Jr., reading from a prepared statement from the freshman senator. “That’s why the most important question that needs to be asked and answered when evaluating the proposed Iran agreement is whether it will credibly prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“I want to hear all angles on the deal and deeply weigh its short and long-term implications before making a decision,” Booker’s letter continued. So, over the past several weeks, I’ve engaged in conversations with New Jerseyans, met with experts in both classified and unclassified settings, and extensively studied the nuances of the proposed agreement.
“I am holding this deal to a very high standard and in reaching any conclusion am participating in the rigorous congressional scrutiny a deal of this magnitude warrants.”
Robert Smythe, who spoke on behalf of MacArthur, was greeted with applause as he declared the congressman is against the deal and will attempt to persuade his colleagues to side with him.
“I am steadfastly opposed to this agreement, which gives Iran the opportunity to continue pushing a violent agenda that promotes instability in their region and threatens the safety of Israel, America and the allies in their region,” he said.
Attendees were impressed by what they heard from elected officials and Jewish leaders. Cherry Hill resident Stuart Katz, a member of Sons of Israel, has been following the Iran deal since its inception, but wanted to see where Norcross stood with it.
“I was pleased to hear that he was going to vote against the deal,” Katz said.
While he did not learn anything new, he questioned President Obama’s assertion that the deal will prevent Iran from creating an atomic bomb.
“What makes him so sure that this agreement will be an effective deterrent for Iran?” he asked. “Why is he so right and all the opponents are so wrong?”
Patricia Bourke of Cherry Hill, who is a member of Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, was in favor of the deal at first, but, as she learned more about it, found herself changing her mind. She was pleased Norcross spoke out against it, and hoped other congressmen would follow suit.
“I can’t buy into the agreement that a bad deal is better than no deal,” she said.
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