Unfriendly "Friends" Who Defend the Iran Deal
Unfriendly "Friends" Who Defend the Iran Deal

One of the leading voices in the effort to win American Jewish support for the Iran deal is an official of an organization that opposes U.S. aid to Israel and promotes BDS -- but he doesn't mention that when he makes his appeals to the Jewish community.

Bradley Harris last week coauthored an op-ed which was published in some Jewish weekly newspapers, explaining why Jews and Israel should support the Iran agreement. To demonstrate his Jewish credentials, Harris identified himself as "a member of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania." He also acknowledged he is an official of the "Friends Committee on National Legislation." But he didn't explain what that Committee is. He should have, because it is very relevant to the advice he is giving about Iran.

For example, his Committee's website bluntly declares: "FCNL opposes U.S. military aid to Israel and supports humanitarian and development aid to the region. We call on the Obama administration and Congress to urge Israel to immediately lift the blockade on Gaza…" Does that sound like an organization that cares about Israel's well-being?

According to Harris, the only alternative to this agreement is war with Iran, so therefore "Israel’s security is best served by the agreement" and rejection of the deal equals "threatening the lives of civilians in Israel." Can we rely on the judgement of Harris and his colleagues at the Friends Committee? Let's take a look at the Friends' record on Israel and see if they have shown good judgment in the past.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation is part of the American Friends Service Committee, which is the foreign policy arm of the Quakers. As a matter of religious principle, the Quakers are pacifists, but their pacifism took a peculiar turn in the 1960s.

I saw this transformation up close because in those days I was a student at a leading Quaker prep school in Philadelphia. In those heady times for teenage rebels and armchair revolutionaries, Third World national liberation movements were all the rage among the Quakers. 

The Friends even came up with a convoluted way of interpreting Western policies in the underdeveloped world as the equivalent of violence, therefore justifying terrorism against Western targets as a kind of self-defense

The Arab cause in general, and the Palestinian cause in particular, became especially popular among the Friends. As early as 1973, the Quakers urged a halt to U.S. aid to Israel. The following year, they established a "Community Information and Legal Aid Center" in Jerusalem, which provided legal assistance to PLO supporters. 

They also began bringing pro-PLO activists to the United States for speaking tours. One was Raymonda Tawil, who when asked if she condemned Palestinian terrorists who "machine-gunned women and children," replied, "The Israelis drive us to it. We have no alternative." Another Quaker speaker was Terre Fleener, who spent five years in an Israeli prison for photographing potential targets for Arab terrorists.

The Friends have sponsored a few Israeli speakers, too--but only a certain kind of Israeli, such as the extremist Gideon Spiro, who has compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis and asserted that "every settler is a legitimate target for Palestinian resistance fighters."

The Friends were among the first to divest from Israel. In 2012, the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation voted to divest from Hewlett-Packard, because it provided technology consulting to the Israeli Navy. Not to "settlers." Not to "the occupation." To the Israeli navy, whose purpose is to help safeguard Israel's very existence.

From there, it was a short leap for the Friends to the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The American Friends Service Committee even sponsored a “We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute," a kind of summer camp in upstate New York to incubate the BDS campus campaign.

If all of the above were not sufficient to call into question the soundness of Quaker judgement in such matters,  recall that the American Friends Service Committee sponsored a dinner with then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York City in September 2007. The New York Times reported that the event was a "friendly, even warm exchange" with the world's most prominent Jew-hater. 

The Friends' general secretary, Mary Ellen McNish, told the Times that the event would facilitate "the path of dialogue." Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, responded that the "very presence" of the Quakers and others at the dinner "gives [Ahmedinijad] respectability."

Hoenlein was right. What the Friends have been doing since the 1970s, and what their staff member Bradley Harris is doing now, is giving respectability to enemies of Israel. Whether promoting anti-Israel speakers, lobbying to choke off Israel's weapons and let Hamas import whatever military material it wants, or claiming that the Iranian regime can be trusted to give up its nuclear development, the Friends have demonstrated yet again that their judgement and advice on matters affecting Israel cannot be trusted. 

Mr. Korn, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.