Some of the most strident opponents of the nuclear accord with Iran are invoking memories of the Holocaust in an effort to defeat the agreement, arguing the deal could enhance Iran’s ability to build a bomb, leading to the destruction of Israel.
Those arguments, however, failed to sway two senators who grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust firsthand, despite fierce opposition to the deal from Israeli leaders and some Jewish groups.
“My parents told me at a young age what it was like to live in fear,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “For German Jews, the fear was always the knock on the door in the night.”
Wyden said his parents escaped Germany in the 1930s, but not before both of his grandfathers lost their livelihoods and his father was kicked out of school for being Jewish.
Sen. Michael Bennet’s grandparents smuggled his mother, who was still a baby, out of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland to escape the Nazis. They, too, had “everyone and everything they knew taken from them in the Holocaust,” said Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado.
Both senators said the Iran deal is a flawed agreement with an adversary that has threatened both the United States and Israel. But both said they strongly believe the agreement offers the best hope of keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
“Let me be clear: the survival of the state of Israel is essential to the security of the Jewish people, and, as far as I am concerned, Israel’s survival is essential to our humanity,” said Bennet. “For those reasons and for our own national security, we cannot allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and we must be crystal clear that we will use force to prevent it from doing so.”
The agreement struck by Iran, the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in July will provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on the country’s nuclear program.
Critics say Iran would use its newfound wealth to support international terrorists while also cheating on its nuclear obligations. When the rhetoric gets heated, the specter of another Holocaust sometimes creeps into the debate.
“The one threat that could kill 6 million Jews again is a nuclear Iran,” Sen. Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor Tuesday. Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is running for president.
In July, Mike Huckabee, another GOP presidential candidate, said the Iran nuclear deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism, denounced Huckabee’s language. But Huckabee refused to back down.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also compared the Iranians to the Nazis. In March, he denounced the deal with Iran in a speech before a joint meeting of Congress.
House and Senate Republicans are working to pass resolutions to reject the deal. But President Barack Obama has enough support from Senate Democrats to block the GOP effort.
Wyden and Bennet are among 42 Senate Democrats who have come out in support of the agreement. If they band together, they have enough votes to block a Republican resolution to reject the deal.
In making his decision, Wyden said he spoke with Jews who support the agreement and those who oppose it.
“There’s a pretty spirited debate going on in the Jewish community,” he said.
Wyden said he believes the Iranians will inevitably cheat on the agreement. And, he said, even small violations should be met with a harsh response.
“When people say they want to kill you,” he said, noting that Iran has threatened America and Israel, “it’s a safe bet that you ought to take them seriously and certainly my family knows about that.”