Hundreds of rabbis to hand-deliver letter to Capitol against Iran deal

Hundreds of rabbis to hand-deliver letter to Capitol against Iran deal
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Hundreds of American rabbis from around the country are planning to travel to Washington when Congress reconvenes next month to hand-deliver to lawmakers a letter arguing against the Iran nuclear deal.

"Together, we are deeply troubled by the proposed deal, and believe this agreement will harm the short-term and long-term interests of both the United States and our allies, particularly Israel," the letter signed by about 1,000 American rabbis says. "Collectively, we feel we must do better."

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Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, who wrote the letter with friend Rabbi Kalman Topp, said rabbis "in the hundreds" will come to Washington beginning Sept. 8, the day that Congress reconvenes, to meet with lawmakers and deliver the letter. 

As far as which lawmakers they will meet with, the list is "in flux," Bookstein said. A lot will depend on who announces their decision on the Iran deal by then, and who is still on the fence. 

The letter, which was posted on care2.com three weeks ago, now has more than 1,100 signatories. 

Bookstein said he was vetting the signatories to make sure all are American rabbis. He predicts some may not be, but that by Monday, when the letter closes for signatures, more than 1,000 of those left will be valid. 

"We are verifying every name...because we don't want to accused of ballot stuffing," said Bookstein, who said a lot of rabbis from other countries wanted to sign it. 

The letter comes after a group of 340 American rabbis sent a letter to Congress in support of the deal earlier this month, whose signatories included "many" rabbis from the liberal reform movement, but also at least 50 from the traditional conservative movement and at least one orthodox rabbi, its organizer told the Huffington Post. 

Bookstein said the signatories of the current letter were rabbis from every major denomination and political review. 

"You've got the rabbis who have very, very conservative orthodox congregations, and you have rabbis who are doing very far out, kind of cutting-edge, progressive rabbinic work," he said. 

Among its signatories are the president of Rabbinical Council of America, which is orthodox, and the president of Rabbinical Assembly, which is conservative, but also the former president of Central Conference of Reform Rabbis. 

Bookstein described the letter as a grassroots effort, separate from those being organized by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is also planning to bring anti-deal activists to the Capitol as lawmakers return. 

"We decided that we wanted the voice of rabbinic leadership around the country to be heard. We had no idea how it would take off," he said. 

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the Iran deal after they return. A resolution of disapproval would prevent the deal from being implemented. 

Fourteen Democratic senators are still undecided, according to The Hill's whip list.

There are 30 Senate Democrats in favor of the deal, and two opposed. If Republicans vote in a bloc, four more Democrats would need to defect to overcome a filibuster and pass a resolution of disapproval.  

The president is planning on vetoing the resolution if it passes, requiring a two-thirds majority to override him — which both sides say is unlikely to be met. 

For now, deal opponents are focusing on reaching the first hurdle of 60 senators. 

"I think 60 votes is very doable. I do," Bookstein said.  

One heavily targeted senator is Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), with whom Bookstein said he attended the University of Oxford and who has been a strong supporter of the Jewish people, but also of President Obama. 

“My heart is there for him, because I know he’s really being tested. He’s got on one side his real camaraderie with the Jewish community ... and yet he’s the only African-American senator with close ties to the president,” he said.  

”He’s somebody whose struggle is, I think, very poignant,” Bookstein said. “I hope he’s able to vote against it, and not feel that he’s betraying the president.”