The 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA):

The 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA):

Transparency, Inspection and Verification

by

Howard Adelman

In Tehran, with the aim of “ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA,”  on 11 November 2013, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, and Iran’s Vice-President, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA). Those outstanding issues included disputes over IAEA verification activities, Iran supplying timely information about its nuclear facilities and the implementation of transparency measures. More specifically, the FCA laid out initial practical steps for Iran to take within three months, including allowing IAEA access to the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and the Gehine uranium mine in Bandar Abbas. Iran promised to provide IAEA with information on all new research reactors and nuclear power plants that Iran planned to build on sixteen sites. In addition, Iran agreed to provide information on Iran’s announced additional enrichment facilities and its laser enrichment technology. In return, IAEA agreed “to take into account Iran’s security concerns, including through the use of managed access and the protection of confidential information.” The latter qualification to the principle of transparency would offer an enormous target for critics of the IAEA agreement with Tehran.

The FCA is a short agreement that went to the heart of the IAEA role of inspection and verification as well as Iran’s responsibility to be transparent. The qualification: Iran demanded that this not give IAEA free reign to access Iran’s conventional military program. IAEA acknowledged that this would be accomplished through “managed access” and the non-disclosure of sensitive data. As Professor Toope pointed out, the transparency requirement and the inspection and verification procedures were necessarily intrusive because of IAEA’s decade long experience with Iran’s evasions, secrecy, misrepresentations and very low marks for demonstrating transparency. The record clearly shows why this deep distrust was warranted.

However, this absence of full transparency and the provision of misleading information were also characteristic of the data and analysis the U.S. Intelligence services provided to IAEA. The situation got so bad under the Bush administration that in February 2007, IAEA presumably leaked a report by some of the IAEA diplomats that most intelligence reports provided by U.S. intelligence to IAEA had proven to be inaccurate. The information did not lead to any discoveries that Iran had been surreptitiously conducting a military nuclear program.

This IAEA frustration with the U.S. even broke into the open. On 10 May 2007, IAEA, as well as Iran, denounced the report that Iran had blocked IAEA inspections of Iran’s enrichment facilities. Marc Vidricaire, the spokesman for IAEA, stated unequivocally, “We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks.” Thus, IAEA had to walk a fine diplomatic line between hyperbolic and false claims of the Americans under the Bush administration and efforts to sabotage the principle of transparency by the Ahmadinejad government in Iran. It seemed also clear that Iran was only really moved to demonstrate cooperation and transparency to try to head off further sanctions. This seemed certainly to be the case when Iran on 20 July 2007 gave IAEA access to the Arak complex over eight months.

There were even encouraging reports, such as the 30 August 2007 IAEA assessment, that Natanz was operating well below its capacity in enriching uranium; only 12 of the 18 centrifuge cascades were in operation. IAEA was also able to verify that there had been no diversion of the declared nuclear material. Even IAEA’s much repeated complaints about access to Iran’s plutonium experiments and the problem of contaminated spent fuel containers were resolved. Given IAEA’s stringent protocols for inspection and verification, these were impressive findings, especially since they took place midway in Ahmadinejad’s first term in office.

There was even a plan of action to resolve a number of remaining issues within a reasonable time frame. These measures proved to be insufficient even though they addressed the transparency, inspection and verification side of the puzzle. For Iran under Ahmadinejad was unwilling to curtail let alone cut back on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. However, under the work plan, IAEA would be enabled to inspect and verify a number of issues related to the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear program that it had not been unable to do heretofore. As a result, and seemingly undercutting the American push for more sanctions, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, in October 2007 told the International Herald Tribune that IAEA had no evidence of Iran developing nuclear weapons. However, IAEA still had a number of concerns about weaponization.

Subsequently, IAEA confirmed on 15 November 2007 that Iran’s claims and what was revealed through inspection and verification measures were consistent. The big issue remaining was Iran’s refusal to sign the Additional Protocol of the non-proliferation agreement to include plans as well as activities within its monitoring program. This was the key obstacle that was resolved in 2013. On the more substantive issues, Americans were pushing for complete cessation of all enrichment while Iran insisted on its right under international law to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This insistence persisted for a short period even when Ahmadinejad was replaced by a more progressive political leader in 2013. The logjam was only broken when Iran agreed to allow full transparency re both nuclear weapons production and planning, with the qualification that the secrecy of its conventional military not be breached.

At the end of 2007, after what appeared to be a sincere though very inadequate effort to satisfy IAEA and the P5+1, Ahmadinejad proposed a detour which was also interpreted as a feint. Enriching uranium for Iran would take place in a neutral third country, presumably one of the Gulf states. This was more than the P5+1 achieved in the end, but, as in 2004, a potential opening was closed because the P5+1 under U.S. pressure had adopted a very hard line – no enrichment whatsoever. Iran insisted that no self-respecting state could permit such a limitation on a peaceful nuclear enrichment program and refused to bend.

In spite of IAEA’s stellar performance of integrity as an international inspection and verification agency, the Israelis, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s then Minister of Strategic Affairs in particular, denounced IAEA-director AlBaradei as a lackey of the Iranians.

On 22 February 2008, IAEA issued a clean bill of health on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, including on all outstanding issues. This was confirmed three months later in the IAEA May Report, but Iran still refused access to its centrifuge manufacturing sites. Iran’s acceding to the Additional Protocol was important since, without that and the inspection and verification regime that went along with it, IAEA could only state that there was no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weaponization program. It could not verify the total absence of such a plan and program in undeclared nuclear facilities, for example, whether the claims by Iran’s critics that Iran had clandestinely received information on how to design a high explosive charge suitable for an implosion nuclear device.

What had been revealed? The list included such items as the fact that the number of operating centrifuges at the Iranian fuel enrichment plant in Isfahan had increased. All uranium hexafluoride was under IAEA safeguards, contrary to the multitude of rumours otherwise that uranium hexafluoride was missing. To summarize:

  • Even under the Ahmadinejad regime, and under pressure of increasing sanctions, the IAEA had gained access to all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities
  • The outstanding issue on the inspection regime was whether Iran would accede to all the contents of the its nuclear program to enable the AIEA to investigate Iran’s past plans and its potential future ones
  • Beyond the transparency, inspection and verification issues, the S. kept insisting on complete cessation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The IAEA and Tehran were at a standstill. In its 19 February 2009 Report, IAEA noted that Iran continued to enrich uranium and had produced over a ton of low enriched uranium, contrary to the requirements of the UN Security Council, but at levels consistent with similar enrichment plants elsewhere. The Report also confirmed that no ongoing reprocessing had been taking place at Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility. However, Iran still refused to provide design information or access to verify design information for its IR-40 heavy water research reactor in accordance with the Additional Protocol and in spite of Iran’s February 2003 agreement to do so.

The Agency insisted on its right to verify design information independent of the stage of construction or the presence of nuclear material. Hence IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. So the disagreement over Iran’s repeated refusal to implement the Additional Protocol continued, though the IAEA confirmed that, thus far, the agency had not been able to find any evidence that Tehran was seeking to make a nuclear weapon and that no nuclear material could be removed for further enrichment to make nuclear weapons without the agency’s knowledge though in September 2009 the IAEA reprimanded Iran for not disclosing that it had built another enrichment facility at Qom. IAEA demanded that Iran freeze its construction and any uranium enrichment.

By February 2010, IAEA had become thoroughly exasperated on learning that Iran had purchased additional sensitive technology, had conducted secret tests of high-precision detonators and modified designs of missile cones to accommodate larger payloads, all steps associated with the development of nuclear warheads. Since by May 2010 Iran produced over 2.5 tons of low-enriched uranium, enough when further enriched to make two nuclear weapons. The breakout period was now estimated to be about a year.

The IAEA-Iran dispute escalated. In July 2010, Iran banned two IAEA inspectors. In August, IAEA accused Iran of initiating a new cascade with 164 centrifuges at Natanz capable of enriching uranium to 19.5%. Fifteen months later, IAEA reported that it had credible evidence that Iran was designing a nuclear weapon and, through satellite imagery had identified a large explosive containment vessel inside Parchin. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Parchin.

By the Spring of 2012, IAEA and Iran were engaged in a loud war of words, of accusations and counter-accusations. It was clear that Iran was operating more cascades, was enriching uranium to 19.5% but had not yet been able to get its advanced design centrifuges to work. Even more frightening, in May 2012, IAEA reported detecting uranium enriched to 27% at Fordow, an enrichment level that clearly pointed to the aim of producing a nuclear weapon. By August, Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at Fordow and was now in possession of 190 kg of 19.5% enriched uranium, creeping very close to Israel’s red line of 250 kg, especially since in September 2012 AIAE reported that Iran had completed advanced work on its computer modeling pointing to advanced nuclear weapons research.

The situation continued to worsen. At Fordow, 16 cascades of 174 IR-1 centrifuges each had been installed with half in production mode, though only half of that half were actually operating. By November 2012, the total of highly enriched uranium had reached 233 kg, perilously close to Netanyahu’s red line. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Fordow. Arak was expected to be operational in early 2014.

By February 2013, Netanyahu’s red line had been crossed. Iran had 280kg of near 20% enriched uranium. The rate of increase was 15 kg per month. The air was filled with rumours of an imminent Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the aftermath of Israel’s 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility at Rif Dimahq. (See the 28 September 2012 Report of the Congressional Research Service analyzing the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities –   https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf) The signals to Iran and the rest of the world were unmistakable. Even Saudi Arabia let it be known that it favoured such an attack. Netanyahu warned that Iranian nuclear weapons would unleash the possibility of nuclear terrorism, provide Iranian sponsored terrorists with a nuclear cover and would threaten the world’s oil supply as well as instigating Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join the nuclear arms race in the Middle East. However, Israel still lacked the support of the U.S. for such an initiative as the Americans favoured further diplomacy, especially in light of the imminent elections in Iran. Israel had been supplied with bunker buster bombs, the U.S. continued to refuse to supply Israel with deep penetration ones. Even though Israel had only two planes known to be equipped to carry such bombs, Israel let it be known that it had plans to “go it alone.”

2013 was the tipping point. Israel’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz in April 2013 said that Israel was still willing to give sanctions a chance, but warned that Iran could achieve “nuclear capability before the end of the year.” The doomsday clock had only eight months at most left.

Everything changed with the change in government in Iran, especially in the aftermath of Barack Obama becoming president. A Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) was signed by IAEA.

Tomorrow: The 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action

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The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

by

Howard Adelman

Instead of waiting until the end, let me sum up the main conclusions I arrived at from studying the history of the Iran and P5+1 negotiations leading up to the 2013 Framework and Joint Plan of Action deals. That way the reader can keep them in mind as he or she reads this potted history and sees if they would draw the same conclusions, most of which are not controversial. Or else they may also not want to bother reading the rest at all.

  1. A deal between parties needs willing parties on both sides. Between 2000-2008, the allied side lacked a committed U.S. partner. Between 2005-2012, Iran was an unwilling partner. The deal came together (and rather quickly) in 2013 because both sides were ready to make a deal.
  2. The allies could have obtained better terms that included non-nuclear items, such as ending Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, if they had negotiated in 2003.
  3. Once Iran went full speed ahead on its nuclear program and invested so much in it, the only deal available was a restriction on Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons.
  4. The total elimination of Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear enrichment program was never on the table.
  5. Netanyahu was opposed to making a deal with Iran no matter what the terms of the deal were.

Professor Toope in his discussion of the Iran nuclear deal on Yom Kippur did not have time to spell out the background to the deal; he concentrated on the analysis of the terms. In my last blog, I referred only to one item in that background, the 11 November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) with IAEA and the 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JPAA) with the P5+1 that put in place the foundations for the detailed negotiations.

The deeper foundation was that Iran under the Shah had signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 making any Iranian nuclear program subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. In 1987, Iran began to use the black market to acquire the capacity to enrich uranium by purchasing the technical details on how to build a P-1 centrifuge from the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the atomic bomb in Pakistan and the greatest scourge ever in the business of nuclear proliferation.

Back in December 1975, after three years on the job, Khan left his position with the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) in The Netherlands, a subcontractor in the uranium enrichment consortium, with copied blueprints for centrifuges and the list of suppliers needed to build one for Pakistan, a goal achieved by 1978. However, because of the USSR’s war in Afghanistan, no sanctions were imposed on Pakistan lest Pakistan be pushed into the Soviet embrace. By the 1980s, Pakistan was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Soon after, Khan began supplying the Iranian Ruhollah Khomeini regime. (Khomeini was the founder of the Iranian revolution who ruled from 1979-1989 as distinct from the current Ali Khamenei Supreme Leader who succeeded him.) Iran received both blueprints and a list of suppliers. Khan’s clandestine activities spread to North Korea, Syria and Libya through the nineties. The Pakistan authorities, if not aware of his nefarious activities before the turn of the millennium, a highly dubious proposition, finally forced Khan into retirement in 2001 and put him under arrest in 2004. He was convicted but pardoned the very next day by President Pervez Musharraf and only held under “house arrest” until 2009.

The whole surreptitious trade in nuclear materials, centrifuges and centrifuge components came into the open when Libya renounced production of nuclear weapons in 2003 and Colonel Qaddafi turned all of this valuable intelligence over to the CIA, ending once and for all any credible claim that Iran, and of course Pakistan, were not involved in illegal transfers of nuclear technology. George W. Bush had gone after the one country, Iraq, that for one reason or another had declined Khan’s offers to provide nuclear technology to it. The result of the huge American mistake: the effective destruction of Iraq and eventual turning of most parts, except for the Kurdish area, either into a satrap of Iran or control by ISIS.

The 2003-2004 revelations set off an international effort to rein Iran in, possibly less from the fear of Iran as a nuclear power than the fear that Israel, with U.S. backing given Bush’s record, would bomb Iran and expand the sphere of instability in the Middle East beyond Iraq. (Arab Spring was not yet on the horizon.) The effort was accelerated with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the wild man of Iranian politics, as President in 2005 with 62% of ballots cast. In his previous position as mayor of Tehran and as President, he was both a hardliner and irrational. It was under his watch that the UN became increasingly aggressive with a sanctions regime put in place until the election of a “reformer,” Hassan Rouhani, on 15 June 2013. Within the next six months, on 11 November 2013, the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and, on 24 November 2013, the Joint Plan of Action, were both signed. The two will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

This set of blogs is intended to sum up the foundation of the Iran nuclear deal, depict and evaluate its terms and the role and motives of various agents for the part played leading to the agreement on the terms. For example, did Netanyahu really believe the deal was a bad one and, if so, why? Was he justified? Or was he whipping up fear for domestic purposes to ensure he would remain in power? Or was he using Iran’s nuclear enrichment program as a wedge issue to keep Iran, a real conventional threat to Israel, ostracized and isolated? What effect did Netanyahu’s opposition have on the terms of the deal, on Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and on the security of Israel itself?

Before Ahmadinejad assumed office, Iran was the last signatory to the non-proliferation treaty to accept the obligation of providing the IAEA will all plans related to nuclear activities. The then President of Iran, using high level officials in President Mohammad Khatami’s government of Iran (1997-2005), set up a back diplomatic channel that promised not only full transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, but cessation of support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The proposal was purportedly endorsed by Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration ignored the offer.

Key European governments – France, Germany and the UK – did not. Together with the Iranian government, they along with Iran jointly issued the Tehran Declaration that would be recycled as the foundation for the FCA in 2013, but stripped of its non-nuclear provisions. Iran had agreed to the following:

  • Pledged full cooperation with the IAEA
  • Promised to sign and implement the Additional Protocol on disclosure of any plans as a voluntary, confidence-building measure
  • Agreed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations.

In return, the EU-3 agreed to:

  • recognize Iran’s rights to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes
  • discuss ways Iran could provide “satisfactory assurances” with respect to its nuclear power program
  • provide Iran with easier access to modern nuclear technology as long as Iran was in compliance with its signed obligations.

As a result, Iran signed the Additional Protocol on 18 December 2003 and set out to file the required reports with the IAEA as well as allow access to IAEA inspectors. The backlash within Iran, in part based on wild distortions of the Tehran Declaration, is viewed as one of the catalysts for Ahmadinejad’s resounding victory in the 2005 elections and the subsequent suspension of Iran’s agreement to abide by the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran also reneged on the promise to allow unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, though, given Iran’s pattern of deceit as revealed in the IAEA Report of 15 November 2004, many contend this began even before Ahmadinejad took power. But, as will be seen in the next blog, the real acceleration started in the latter half of 2008.

Iran tried to blame its resorting to surreptitious activities on the American obstreperous barricades to Iran developing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The IAEA 2004 Report was agnostic on whether Iran was developing its technology for the military use of nuclear weapons, for the IAEA found no evidence that the previous undeclared activities were geared to developing a nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, neither could the IAEA vouch for the exclusively peaceful nature of the program.

In 2004, Iran voluntarily suspended its uranium enrichment program, but refused to agree to a permanent termination. Under pressure from the U.S., the EU could not agree to a partial limitation with the only condition, the enrichment could not be diverted for military purposes. It is not clear whether the failure of the EU to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes helped elect Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005 in an election largely fought on domestic issues – corruption and renewal. During the first few months of Ahmadinejad assuming the presidency, there was a flurry of events:

  • In August 2005, Iran removed the seals on its uranium enrichment facilities at Isfahan
  • Germany responded and refused to either export any more nuclear equipment to Iran or even refund monies already on deposit
  • The IAEA reported that bomb-grade uranium found on inspected materials in Iran came from imported parts from Pakistan
  • In September 2005, the EU rejected Ahmadinejad’s offer at the UN that Iran’s enrichment program be managed by an international consortium and the Paris Agreement was dead
  • In February 2006, the IAEA in a 27-3 vote reported Iran’s non-compliance to the Security Council
  • In 2006, the Bush administration in Washington insisted that Iran could have no enrichment program whatsoever;
  • After that there were no substantive further negotiations until Ahmadinejad left office.

Even though U.S. intelligence at the end of 2006 declared that there was no evidence that Iran had a military nuclear program, that year was a turning point. It began with the reference of Iran to the Security Council to require Iran to suspend its enrichment program, cease construction of the Arak heavy water reactor (necessary for the production of plutonium) and fully cooperate with the IAEA. Iran signalled a willingness to cooperate but, at the same time, announced its initial success in enriching uranium to 3.5% at Natanz. In June, the first iteration of what would become the 2013 Framework agreement was proposed by some permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

On 31 July, the UNSC adopted Res. 1696 demanding Iran suspend its enrichment program altogether. Though rejected, Iran responded with an offer to negotiate. At the same time, a new tunnel entrance was constructed at the Estfahan uranium enrichment facility and construction resumed at the Natanz conversion facility. By the end of the year, the UNSC passed Res. 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran for the first time even though American intelligence had concluded there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Countries were prohibited from transferring sensitive and nuclear-related technology to Iran. The assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals were frozen.

These resolutions were passed under the authority of Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter permitting the exercise of UNSC authority even though a peace threat had not been determined. However, unlike article 42, which does require a peace threat determination, there was no binding enforcement obligation under article 41. The sanctions only became effective because of the power and positions of the P5+1 and their willingness to impose sanctions. The failure to establish an actual threat to the peace sewed a fatal flaw in the long term effectiveness of the sanctions, especially if the P5+1 lost their united front. In that case, even if the U.S. had the power alone to make the sanctions quite effective, without a solid legal and even moral authority, the sanctions regime was being built on straw.

While emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes, three months later in March 2007, Res. 1747 was passed under Article 41 of the Charter. The resolution elaborated on the implementation of the sanctions Res. 1737 and introduced broader sanctions and targets in paragraphs 5 and 7:

Para 5: Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.

Para 7: Calls upon all States and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

Under this pressure, Iran agreed on a “work plan” in late August,but there was no substantive progress in the ongoing negotiations. In December, the U.S. publicly declassified and released a summary of the National Intelligence Estimate Report on Iran’s nuclear program, concluding that the intelligence community judged “with high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and, further, declared that the program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Breakout time was then considered to be three years.

In March 2008, UNSC Res. 1803 was passed broadening the sanctions and the targets even further, but also offering to freeze further sanctions in return for Iran halting its enrichment program. In February 2009, Iran announced that it had successfully carried out its first satellite launch. Barack Obama was then President of the U.S. and he agreed that henceforth the U.S. would participate fully in the P5+1 talks with Iran without Iran agreeing to meet demands first. However, this seemed to have no influence on the Iranian election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, even though there was some evidence and many claims that the election had been rigged.  In the period of unrest and protests, diplomatic efforts were suspended. The suspension of back channel talks was reinforced when France, the U.K. and the U.S. jointly revealed that Iran had been constructing a secret, second uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow near the holy city of Qom.

New proposals nevertheless followed – a fuel swap with respect to the enriched uranium. In the interim, in 2010 Iran began enriching uranium to almost 20% instead of trading its 3.5% enriched uranium for 19.5% enriched uranium for Iran’s research program.  However, in May Iran agreed to a specific version of the fuel swap agreement, but that was vetoed by France, Russia and the U.S. Instead, the UNSC adopted UNSC Res. 1929 on 9 June 2010 again expanding the sanctions that now placed an arms embargo on Iran and prohibited ballistic missile testing. Seizure of shipments to Iran was authorized. On 24 June 2010, the U.S. Congress adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISAD) aimed at firms investing in Iran’s energy sector and companies which sell refined petroleum to Iran. The sanctions were not set to expire until 2016. Two days later, the EU imposed even broader sanctions aimed not only at energy and trade, but at financial services and more extensive asset freezes.

During this period, Israel had not been sitting still. In 2005, the Jewish state defined the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. Israel was widely believed to be behind the Stuxnet computer virus that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Nantaz in September 2010.  Israeli decision-makers began to consider whether and when to order a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. As rumours grew that such an attack might be imminent, the P5+1, fearing enormous economic, political regional and global security repercussions, upped the pace and efforts at reaching a deal with Iran. However, between 2010 and 2012 the negotiations with Iran produced no substantive results. In the interim in 2011, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant began operating and achieved a sustained nuclear reaction. Further, Iran announced its intention to increase the amount of 19.5% enriched uranium it produced. This was all documented in the IAEA 8 November 2011 Report. That document also included further information on Iran’s deceptive practices even before 2004.

Then the final turn of the screw. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation allowing the U.S. to sanction foreign banks if they process transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The EU slapped a ban on the import of Iranian oil and prevented insurance companies from indemnifying tankers carrying Iranian oil. Negotiations, though protracted, began in earnest and at a deeper level through 2012 with more substantive exchanges of proposals and, on another level, crucial technical meetings. However, there was still no substantive movement on key issues.

At the United Nations on 27 September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a red-line: if Iran amassed enough (250 kilos) uranium enriched to 20 percent. Without saying so, the red line implied that Israel would then launch an air attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See the U.S. Government analysis of that threat: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf.) Initially this did not seem to deter Iran as, according to the IAEA November report, more centrifuges were installed at Natanz and Iran completed installation of the 2,800 centrifuges for Fordow. However, Iran kept constant the number of cascades producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The P5+1 talks with Iran still went nowhere until Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was elected president of Iran on 14 June 2013.

With that, especially after Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the UN in September 2013 presented a new proposal to the Americans and President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, talks then moved very rapidly towards the conclusion of the November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and the Joint Plan of Action in response to the demonstrably new candor from Iran.

Next: The Terms of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA)

Yom Kippur and the Iran Deal

Yom Kippur and the Iran Deal

by

Howard Adelman

After my last two blogs, some readers may have come to the conclusion that I have lost my critical faculties. I have not. This blog is not written to demonstrate that, but it is written to encourage Rabbi Yael Splansky either to stick to religion, for she is truly a rabbi of faith, or to use directly accessible expert advisers like David Dewitt and Stephen Toope when she strays into international relations strewn with landmines.

On Yom Kippur, after the three hour morning service in synagogue, there is a break. Before the afternoon, evening and remembrance services between 3:30 and 7:30, the after-morning break is followed by an assortment of events which congregants can attend if they do not wish to go home and get a nap. The events vary from participating in Yiddish singing to listening to learned talks on theology and politics.

I attended the most popular event of all, one that almost filled the Eisendrath auditorium. Stephen Toope, the new director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, spoke about the Iran nuclear deal. Stephen is a noted international scholar with a very impressive academic record. He received his PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge (1987) after obtaining degrees in common law (LL.B.) and civil law (B.C.L.) with honours from McGill University (1983), and an undergraduate degree in History and Literature from Harvard University (1979) where he graduated magna cum laude. He served as Law Clerk to the Rt. Hon. Chief Justice Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada in the late eighties and was dean of the McGill Law School in the nineties. He came to the Munk School after a very successful four year role as President of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a nine year stint as the President of the University of British Columbia. In addition to his very weighty scholarly output on issues of continuity and change in international law and the origins of international obligation in international society (with Jutta Brunnée, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account), he has been involved in the practice of diplomacy, such as representing Western Europe and North America on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances from 2002-2007.

In his talk, he also made clear that he had attended Yom Kippur services. I assume that is because his wife is Paula Rosen and they have three children who, I believe, are being raised as Jews. I do not know if this son of an Anglican minister ever converted, but I suspect not. He gave no indication that he knew of Rabbi Yael Splansky’s talk on the subject of the nuclear arms deal on 25 July 2015, Tish B’Av.

That Jewish holiday is akin to Yom Kippur in many ways (fasting not wearing leather shoes, abstaining from sex), though, unlike Yom Kippur, it is not observed by the majority of Jews. Perhaps that is because it has some extra obligations – refraining from laughing or even smiling, for it is a day when Jews lament and pray as they remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem and other historical calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, including the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492.

In July, Rabbi Splansky offered a lament, but could not help but add a number of hopeful possibilities given her sunny disposition. On Yom Kippur, Toope offered the opposite, a very reserved and very qualified celebration of the deal. Though the two evaluations were clearly at odds, neither had taken an extreme position. Toope’s presentation was both very informed and yet very clear and precise, both comprehensive without losing the audience in a thicket of detail. Splansky’s analysis on that day of mourning was even more terse and concentrated, but not on any of the details of the agreement – for she admitted she was neither an expert on international affairs nor a scholar of science who understood the difference between uranium and plutonium. She focused on the intent of the agreement.

She began with two starting points. The first was a reference to the novelist, Jonathan Safer Foer. Splansky offered a summary or a quote on the theme that Jews have a sixth sense. In Everything Is Illuminated, Foer wrote: “Jews have six senses – touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing…memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins…when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it…when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain – that the Jew is able to know why it hurts. When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?”

She could have quoted from his book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to the effect that a Jew’s sense of hope and belief in the future countered the propensity to read the contemporary world in terms of the past. Depending on your outlook, maintaining hope and keeping despair at bay may be a delusion. “Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.” On the other hand, Splamsky could have quoted another passage from Everything Is Illuminated that suggested that living with an acute sense of memory, as if the past were integral to experiencing the present, reduced one to extreme loneliness and melancholy.

He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad.

For Splansky, through remembering a Jew knows why it hurts. She could also have written that, through memory, “I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”  If a Jew through remembering knows why it hurts, it may also mean that through memory, the Jew is unable to see how one can escape that pain. Living so deeply in that memory of pain may not yield knowledge – even of pain – but results in what Foer called “ignorance bliss,”  “the cancer of never letting go.” The pain comes from too much thinking about the past, not so much from sensibility, as an immersion in the ignorant bliss of sorrow. “I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”

Splansky’s second introductory springboard was to refer Lamentations, a requisite on Tish B’Av. How solitary sits the city that has become like a widow. Bitterly does she weep at night. “Among all her lovers, she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.” The pain, the lamentation about the possibility of the past repeating itself, may not arise from a sixth acute sensibility, but an overload of thinking which ends up reading the past into the present

Splansky claimed that in the Iranian negotiations, things had gone, not from bad to worse, but from “good to bad.” The result for Splansky: the deal was really a terrible one. Toope argued that in the case of Iran, with the deal things had gone from worse to bad and, therefore, the deal was better for us. Was it better to look at the Iran deal through a lens of Jewish memory, as Splansky had done, or through a lens of empirical and detailed knowledge and analysis? One of the questions asked after Toope gave his talk was from a friend sitting next to me who informed me that his gut, not his knowledge, told him that it was a bad deal. He quoted selectively from the service that morning where it referred to the evil of appeasement and asked Toope whether the Iran deal was such a case.

Toope replied that there were virtually no similarities between Munich in 1938 and the Iran deal. The 1938 Munich deal advertised itself as “Peace in our Time.” The Iran deal, on the other hand, was based on continuing distrust and a tough regimen of inspections. There were neither monitoring or inspection measures set forth in the Munich agreement. Further, the Munich deal gave away part of another country. The Iran deal covered only the issue of the capability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons. The deal itself provides for the most extensive and intrusive inspection and monitoring regime ever in international diplomatic history. The two examples could not seem to be further apart. So the question is why anyone would conflate them.

One explanation attributes the error to poor and illogical thought. It is one thing to make the error of inferring from some similarities between two situations to a basis for deducing a further similarity. It is quite another to presume two things are even similar when they are clearly and distinctly different. A second explanation attributes the mistake, not to illogical reasoning, but to a misguided effort to score points, but as we know from any study of spin, if you can associate one characteristic often enough with a particular event or person, no matter how inappropriate, there is a stick factor having nothing to do with any justification for the characterization. I myself think that although both of these kinds of exercises in illogic were probably at work, the deeper explanation belongs to what Rabbi Splansky referred to as a Jewish sixth sense. The problem is that such a sense, if it exists at all, can be, and often is, misleading. It may yield illusions, and frightening ones, because the result is often mindblindness, an unwillingness, even inability, to countenance another explanation and account of what is being characterized.

Thus, when Rabbi Splansky, even though she admittedly was not an expert on the deal or on international diplomacy, said that the result was based on poor negotiations and was full of dangerous loopholes, one can see where reliance on a sensibility that often produces illusions and delusions is not a reliable source. Most – though admittedly not all – scholars who study and have worked on international diplomacy, do not consider that the deal was a result of poor negotiations. So why would someone who is not familiar with the intricacies of international diplomacy as she confessed, venture to characterize the deal as a result of poor negotiations? How could she conclude that the agreement was full of dangerous loopholes. I cannot test her conclusions because Rabbi Splansky offered no examples of either poor diplomacy in this case or of dangerous loopholes.

Anyone familiar with the deal can tell you that Iran can abuse the intentions and terms. Given Iran’s past record, there is a strong suspicion by many that Iran may try. But that is not a loophole. That is the premise of the deal. That is why all the provisions have been made for monitoring and making sure the IAEA has enough funds to undertake the job of inspections. The presumption is made that Iran may try to cheat and the whole regime created by the treaty is designed to detect precisely that and to prepare allies which are part of this agreement for an appropriate response. There is no guarantee that states will respond to their commitments about any deal. One can only provide as good conditions as possible for ensuring such a response and proving the best conditions for reacting responsibly.

Viewing the deal through Jewish memory is not only dangerous, leading to misleading conclusions about the Iran nuclear deal, but can and has lead to dangerous behaviour. It need not. In the case of Rabbi Splansky’s talk, that danger was mitigated somewhat by her admonition to focus on how to use leverage to minimize the damage. However, when the portrait painted of the situation is very poorly done and the deal is characterized as resulting in “a very bad, grave situation,” there is a clear risk that some of the steps proposed will be poorly thought out.

First, Splansky was correct that the scope of the negotiations was narrow. They focused only on considerably reducing Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons, which, as I will argue in subsequent blogs, the agreement did achieve. The “Framework for Cooperation Agreement” (FCA) commits all parties to cooperation “aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA.” The negotiations were not intended nor did they cover the issues of Iran’s extensive and horrible record of human rights violations, of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, of Iran’s refusal to recognize Israel. This was the list Rabbi Splansky offered. It could have been longer and included characterizing Israel as the little Satan as a satrap to the U.S., the big Satan, by expressing a determination to eliminate Israel from the map of the Middle East and by predicting that in the not too distant future, Israel would exist no more.

Rabbi Splansky asked the question: “Will the proposed deal protect the security of Israel and her allies?” She answered “No.” What she left out was that the deal was not designed to do any such thing. The deal was designed to significantly reduce the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear threat. That it did. Rabbi Splansky not only misrepresented the goals of the deal but the permitted outcome. She said there was relatively little relief from the danger since the deal “entitled Iran to have nuclear arms in 15 years.” This, as I will show, is categorically false. As Professor Toome noted, the deal does buy 15 years of intense monitoring and inspections, but nowhere indicates that Iran is permitted to acquire nuclear arms after that date. As I will show, the opposite is the case.

Rabbi Splansky indicated that the worst part of the deal was an “acceptance of Iran’s evil ways.” Nonsense! That is not part of the deal at all. In fact a small aspect of Iran’s bad behaviour, though far from its worst, is the secrecy, deceit and trickery practiced for almost a decade as Iran developed its nuclear program. The nuclear deal no more indicates an acceptance of Iran’s support of terrorism and determination to wipe out Israel than the recognition that the U.S. gave to China in the ping pong diplomacy and Nixon’s trip suggested any support for China’s wicked ways, or the international nuclear treaty with the U.S.S.R. mitigated at all the cruelty of the Soviet dictatorship. In each case, it could be argued that those deals helped to contribute to the moderation of those two enemies, but in the case of Iran, I personally would not count on it.

And the deal does not. After all, immediately after the deal was signed, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, published a 416 page book, Palestine. “The book carries one central message: the urge to annihilate the state of Israel and establish the state of Palestine in its stead” using three key words: “nabudi” (annihilation),” “imha” (wiping), and “zaval” (effacement). Abraham Joshua Heschel is certainly correct that, “We are tired of expulsions and of extermination threats.” But the object is to ensure they cannot be carried out. Reducing Iran’s capacity to make military nuclear weapons does just that. It does not eliminate or even reduce Iran’s hegemonic ambitions. In fact, just over two weeks ago on 9 September, Khamenei explicitly disabused anyone’s expectations that the nuclear talks could be a first step towards a broader peace agenda. Khamenei asserted, “We agreed to hold talks with the Americans only on the nuclear issue.” In other areas, “I have not authorized negotiations and [we] will not hold talks with them.”

As for the $50-150 billion dollars Splansky alleged would be released to Iran by the deal

  • The amount of total assets held in foreign banks by Iran is estimated to be $150 billion, but only $50 billion was impounded through the sanctions regime
  • Of Iranian assets abroad, most are owed to creditors, like China, to pay debts that were delayed by the sanctions
  • The money belongs to Iran from Iranian sales of oil and other goods and is not a signing bonus
  • The money was impounded until such time as Iran complied with the requirement of proving the nuclear development was and remains peaceful
  • The latter is important because if there is any evidence of Iran straying from that commitment, the impounding of Iranian dollars in foreign banks kicks in automatically
  • Any release of the money will take time
  • The condition for release comes only after Iran has demonstrated compliance with the terms of the deal
  • It is true that Iran could use the money to foster even more terrorism, but there is a huge pent-up demand for infrastructure and other domestic uses that suggests that only a small part will be diverted in that direction, especially since the party currently in power under President Hassan Rouhani ran on a platform of improving the dismal state of the Iranian economy

Splansky was much stronger when she shifted from the deal itself and its implications to the issue of how to exert leverage through the wise use of the next fifteen years, through the access gained and through the necessity to develop increasing solidarity among the parties that signed the deal with Iran.

So how valid is Splansky’s or a Jewish sixth sense? Any analysis suggests that you not rely on your kishkas or some imagined sixth sense. In the case of Rabbi Yael Splansky, it is a serious distraction of her power as a truly religious figure who leads with her heart, with her head and her soul.

How do we answer the question she asked of what can we do and what must we do? First, we must get the context and our facts right – see the remainder of this week’s blogs. We ought not to support CIJA’s plea to sign their petition to put pressure on Iran and enhance support for Netanyahu. He is the biggest example of using hyperbole, to missing any opportunity he had to get things right, and using the most inopportune times to sabotage Israel’s crucial alliance with the U.S. Urging Canada to keep sanctions is a joke. U.S. sanctions alone would not work without the cooperation of its partners in the deal. Splansky suggested we use leverage. Canada has absolutely no leverage – and that is another story.

Share solidarity with Israelis. Certainly! But not by helping enhance their fears and pricking their bad memories – they have more than sufficient resources to do that on their own. Do NOT share fear. Do not use Tish Ba’av to go in absolutely the wrong direction. Share analyses. Share hope. Share support. There is so much we can really share that will be invaluable. Solidarity is not a unity of views, as Rabbi Splansky herself indicated in her erev Yom Kippur sermon.

Tomorrow I will begin to demonstrate that by writing about the historical context.

A Rabbi Who Believes in God

Introduction to a Rabbi Who Believes in God

by

Howard Adelman

Last week, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Yael Splansky spoke at Holy Blossom Temple. I was there. Because of the courtesy of the internet, you too can be partially there. You can hear her words, but you cannot and will not be able to experience the spirituality of the congregation as they rose to their feet at the end to applaud. I have never before heard applause during a religious service in a synagogue – or in any other sacred temple for that matter. But you can at least hear her.

http://www.holyblossom.org/2015/09/sermon-rabbi-yael-splansky-second-day-rosh-hashanah-5776/

Rabbis, like ministers and priests, like Imams and Sikh or Hindu clergy, offer sermons on the holy days of their faith. I have attended many, and from many religions. In my second year of university, every Sunday I went to a different church service of the many different branches and expressions of Christianity in order to try to understand various versions of that faith. In all my time in sacred services, I have never heard a sermon like the one I heard on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5776 at Holy Blossom Temple as delivered by Rabbi Splansky.

I was going to write about it the next day. But I did not. Not because I did not have time. Not because I did not know what to say. I often start writing without being very clear what I would be writing about. I do not know why. It was not because what Yael said was so upsetting. Though emotional, her talk was not disturbing at all in the ordinary sense. She did not rattle the congregation like the stereotype of a Torah or Old Testament prophet. But the address was certainly moving.

Yael Splansky did not deliver a fiery or even a terribly memorable oration (terrible in both opposite meanings of the word), where you walked away with a sentence that you could not get out of your head. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” For her talk was not really an oration. It was not even a lesson. It was just a talk. And it was not a talk based on a passage from the Torah or one theme discussed in the Torah. She weaved together many themes, contrary to the advice Rabbi Gunther Plaut once gave me as a critique of my lectures; he said they were too crowded with ideas. Splansky’s talk was crowded with a myriad of experiences and responses. For she gave a talk based, not on a biblical text, but on the text of her own life, particularly over the last year as she went through treatment for her cancer.

One quip I heard about the overwhelming positive response to her talk was: “Isn’t it strange and unusual that the only time Jewish congregants love their rabbi is when they are sick.” But the solidarity of the congregation on that day, the applause at the end, was not for her courage and strength in facing cancer, not for her suffering and pain that she endured, but for the spiritual, for the religious message she offered. It was not a message about the interpretation of text or about the source and meaning of a Talmudic law. It was not even about being a moral person in a specific way. It certainly was not about theology. But it was about faith.

After the service, I offered my own quip as I struggled with the overwhelming effect of her talk. [My wife knew it was overwhelming because, in my own trivial bow to its power, and the specific message that we have a duty to care for our bodies so that we can serve others, I started on a strict diet right after I came home.] I told my wife that was the first time I had heard a talk by a religious leader, by a rabbi, where I was absolutely convinced that the individual on the bima believed in God.

I think I did not write about my reaction right away because I could not yet sort out my thoughts. Further, it could have been a One Trick Pony. So I waited. On erev Yom Kippur, Rabbi Splansky again delivered a talk. This time, her text was not on herself as Torah, nor on a specific passage of Torah – she cited many prayers based on various passages and many other thinkers. It was a talk on religion in general. No, not exactly. More on being religious in general. Once again it was a five star sermon, though not with the power to arouse a congregation to its feet and applaud. On Yom Kippur, that would have not just been surprising. It would have been shocking.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Splanky set aside the Yiddish proverb, “If God lived on this earth, we would shatter His windows,” and instead began with another:  “If things are not as you wish, wish them as they are.” Was she being a fatalist? Stoics were fatalists. Pythagoras had written: “Whatever sorrow the fate of the Gods may here send us, bear, whatever may strike you with patience unmurmuring. To relive it, so far as you can, is permitted, but reflect that not much misfortune has fate given to the good.”

This was not Splansky’s perspective. She is not a fatalist. For one, she did not depict her experience over the last year as simply accepting what happened with “patience unmurmuring.”  Instead, after she had experienced the exhilaration of carrying through the transition of the congregation to a new stage the previous year, an effort she had previously considered the hardest thing she had ever done, after she gave last year’s address in the afterglow of that experience, she learned she had cancer. Fighting that cancer became the hardest thing she had ever done. Instead of remaining unmurmuring about that experience, in spite of her being a very private person, she shared that experience with us.

It could have been a maudlin performance, full of sentiment, even if genuine. But it was not. Not at all! Further, she was not a fatalist because her message was not that we have to surrender quietly to the cards delivered to us. The issue was how you play with the cards God gives you. Not only was her talk not “unmurmuring,” but she never claimed that her condition even ranked high in the world of comparative suffering. She knew too many of her congregants whose life of hard knocks was far more arduous than her own. They had suffered much more and for a much longer time.

Nor had she suffered in patience. Shocked but not surprised at her diagnosis, she greeted the verdict, not as fated, but as both lucky for what she might and could learn from it, and unlucky for no one wants their body ravaged in that way. As a rabbi who had ministered to the unwell, she was prepared. But she was also unprepared for what she faced and had to go through. She felt both unlucky to have been stricken and lucky to have the prayers of her congregants to uplift her. She sustained her hope that all would go well, but felt extremely vulnerable. She hated the machines that examined her and the needles they stuck into her, but, in and through her hatred, she was totally grateful they were there. But most of all, she was not a patient stoic who greeted such a disaster with equanimity even if entirely alone. For though she ended each day fully aware that she alone inhabited her particular skin, nevertheless, she had a husband, her boys, and she was surrounded by her congregation. So when she felt crushed under the weight of her illness, she had a source of strength to reinforce her resolve to emerge triumphant.

Like a fatalist, she recognized that you do not get to choose what happens to you. But unlike a stoic, she could choose how to respond, whether with patience unmurmuring or with impatience that both shouted at the disease and heard the echo of her family and friends. Nor did she buy into the Stoic belief that, “not much misfortune has fate given to the good.” For misfortune struck both the good and the bad with NO sense of proportion to the behaviour. Instead, Rabbi Splansky focused on the importance of a sacred community, and this was the message she followed up with in her erev Yom Kippur talk about the nature and character of a sacred community. In its daily acts of goodness, that community becomes a holy order.

But most of all, the talk was about the power of prayer. In the end, she advised people that when they met someone who was suffering from an illness or a loss, do not ask how they are feeling let alone what they are thinking and experiencing. Simply say, “We are praying for you.” For Rabbi Splansky believes not only in prayers, but in the power of prayers. In my head, I responded: how could I ever say such a thing when I share no such conviction about the power of prayer?

Her message did not mean she is or ever was either a mystic or a Jewish version of a Holy Roller. Because faith for her was not about belief that was and is indubitable. Rather, faith occupies the no-man’s land between what is known and what is mysterious. For God is the knower of secrets. In this narrow piece of terra firma, Rabbi Splansky not only experienced God through her body, through its white cells and the tendrils of her nervous system. She not only experienced the wonder and mystery of God’s world. She conveyed that experience to us. She communicated that this had been an authentic and real experience. She – broken shard that she is, a piece of withering grass, a wilted flower – was attached at the hip nevertheless to God, determined to offer herself in a life of meaning and purpose.

As such, she was determined to do all she could to protect herself so she could continue to be of service to her family and community, determined to move on but also upward like a bird on a mission. For the first time, I had heard a rabbi who believed, and I believed that she believed, a rabbi full of trust in God’s spirit convinced that God’s love would never leave her, a God who gave strength to her body as well as her soul, but more than that, a rabbi who convinced me that she truly believed.

I write this, not because I share Yael’s experience or her conception of God. For I participate in worship full of criticism and scepticism. My God does not sustain me. I spend my time arguing with God. Not just arguing, but determined to set Him straight.  God follows us. God shadows us. Contrary to the very text I read in synagogue, I am convinced we do not live in God’s shadow.

This is not the time and place to write about the God of my experience, only to say that I was not convinced by Rabbi Splansky’s performance because she confirmed my experience of God. I sat in awe of Rabbi Splansky’s talk because it was nothing I had ever experienced in myself or in any other. I not only had never trusted a person of faith because they believed. I just never ceased to doubt whether they were really believers. This is not, of course, to say that they were not believers, men and women who expressed a life of faith. But I had never glimpsed that faith. In people like Sister Mary Jo Leddy, I was convinced that it was there. But I had never touched it, never really sensed that faith. It is probably my obtuseness, my stubborn conviction that God exists only to have a partner in one’s struggle and fight for meaning. But that meaning comes to me, not as a gift, but as a residue of the battle.

On Rosh Hashanah, I met a woman who not only had faith, but could communicate that faith to me even as I lacked it.

Tomorrow: Yom Kippur.

The Harper Government as Poor Economic Managers

The Harper Government as Poor Economic Managers

by

Howard Adelman

In Part II of this morning’s blog I want to continue the focus on Harper’s economic policies, but less from the perspective of macro-economics and more with a focus on specific economic policies. A reputation for good economic management is Harper’s strongest suit. That reputation is undeserved. This morning I will make my case by reference to his specific economic policies.

I already mentioned the issue of pensions. Harper has been a vocal critic of the Ontario government’s new pension plan, one that imitates in many ways the Quebec plan. He calls it a new tax, as if a tax were a disease. Yet in any economic measure, pension contributions are not a tax. They are forced savings, savings which can be invested in stocks and in bonds. Instead, Harper has proposed or delivered a series of induced savings.

One example was the increase in the tax free saving allowance (TFSA) to $10,000 from $5,500, even though there is a majority consensus among economists that this will only benefit the upper income group because the members of that group will be the only ones with enough discretionary income to put into savings accounts of this type. At the same time, the Canada Revenue Agency has demonstrated that one-fifth of Canadian taxpayers have already maxed out their TFSA. Upping the limit may have been justified; the increase in the annual contribution was not. The cost to the treasury will be enormous, but only the rich few will benefit. Increasing the annual amount of tax free savings not only benefits a small percentage of Canadians who are rich, but in the long run, according to the parliamentary budget office, the doubling of the TFSA will cut out $40 billion in revenue for both federal and provincial governments by the year 2080. Talk about taking benefits for the present generation and imposing a burden on future generations!

There is another whopper of an error – the introduction of income splitting. The Conservative Party allowed couples with minor children to split incomes up to $50,000 of income. Income splitting does both benefit and encourage spouses (overwhelmingly women) to stay home rather than go out to work while raising a family. So those who espouse traditional family values with the female member of the household staying home, benefit. Only 15% of the population, all upper income earners, show a gain. Two-earner families end up paying relatively more tax than one-earner families. Permitting income splitting encourages an increase in one-income families – certainly the better off where only one parent with a significant income will benefit. In fact, as the conservative think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute has shown, “The gains would be highly concentrated among high-income one-earner couples: 40 percent of total benefits would go to families with incomes above $125,000.” Since gains could reach $6,500 in federal tax savings and almost $6,000 in provincial tax revenues, the cost to the Treasury is huge, $2.7 billion in lost revenue at the federal level and $1.7 billion at the provincial level. The marginal effective tax rate for most lower-earning spouses would be raised significantly. In effect, the measure is a tax subsidy to those who leave the labour market, largely an educated and trained group that are needed in the economy.

Along the same line, the Conservatives have increased what used to be called the baby bonus and is now called the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) just in time for the election instead of increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB). This, along with income splitting meant a $3 billion cost to the Canadian budget. Yet the CCTB has proven to be the better route to assist families with children.

What about the reduction of business taxes for small businesses from 11% to 9% gradually over the next four years in response to the lobbying of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB)? Harper had already reduced those taxes to 11% in 2008.  Canada has already one of the lowest business tax rates in the world with a large business tax of 15%. The incentive to decrease corporate taxes arose with globalization and the race to keep large businesses in one’s own country. Harper has provided $60 billion dollars in tax relief to corporate Canada. Yet there is little evidence that job creation increased in proportion to tax decreases. In fact, the rate of job creation has slowed. What was needed was tax incentives for companies that created new jobs.

Admittedly, most economic challenges – the drastic drop in oil prices in particular – have not been in control of the government. But the glut in oil was foreseeable as shale techniques expanded and the USA became self-sufficient in oil production, and as new sources of fossil fuels were discovered. Betting on the oil patch at this time was clearly a mistake.

Job growth has been the weakest under Harper compared to previous governments. Harper fumbled the negotiations for Canada to enter the Pacific free trade agreement. One way to increase jobs is to increase exports, particularly exports of professional services which constitute 70% of the economy and the source of 80% of the new jobs. Where are the incentives to encourage our architects and engineers, our accountants and statisticians, our graphic artists and our medical specialists to export their skills? Instead, the government crippled Statistics Canada which did sell its services abroad and used to be recognized as the best set of statistical services in the world.

The biggest effort the Harper made was to lower the sales tax from 15% to 13%, a very popular measure which the Liberals and NDP have promised not to touch even though shifting taxes from income to consumption is generally seen as beneficial provided lower income groups are protected so that their proportion in paying taxes is not harmed.  No one likes to raise such a visible tax, but since it was reduced, this can be viewed as the major reason the country has been in deficit since 2008.

The largest problem, however, has not been the relative harm versus good of all these individual measures. It is the absence of an economic vision and plan for Canada. If the accumulation of policies to tweak the economy, but really attract more votes, has failed to:

  • increase the rate of new job creation
  • benefit the underemployed young who no longer have the prospect of earning a middle class income and purchasing their own home
  • help the largest section of our growing youth population consisting of aboriginal youth but, instead, increases their disadvantages
  • even invest, or encourage investment, in the environment, one of the fastest sectors for growing the economy, if only for the economic benefits and in spite of the government’s continuing mindblindness to the issue of climate change;

then where are the hopes and dreams of young Canadians?

There are alternatives, admittedly none of them terribly inspiring. The Green Party’s is the weakest. Their advocacy of free higher education runs against the studies that show that the best investment in education is at the pre-school level and not the upper end. The NDP does have some interesting and less discriminatory programs to boost the safety social net and particularly child care programs. The Liberals are the only ones planning to increase taxes – on the rich – and its plan to build new infrastructure with a low deficit/GDP ratio is attractive. All the Tories offer is slow growth and poor prospects for creating new jobs.

The Harper Conservatives as good stewards of the economy! It is a joke.

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote

by

Howard Adelman

According to exit polls, a plurality of Canadian Jews – 52% – voted Conservative in the 2011 federal election. Will Jewish Canadians continue to support Harper in the 2015 elections in even increased numbers, even when polls indicate that his national support has been hovering around 30%?

In post-Word War Two Canada, Jews were very divided in their political loyalties. Gradually, voting patterns coalesced mostly behind the Liberals. Joe Clark’s stumbling initiative to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem in 1979 and Brian Mulroney’s strong support for Israel never affected voting patterns significantly.

In October 2000, cracks in the Jewish community’s traditional support for the Liberals appeared after Canada voted for UN Human Right Council Resolution 1322, which condemned Israel’s “excessive use of force” against the Palestinians. This was but one of ten resolutions that Canada supported critical of Israel. Irwin Cotler openly chastised members of his own government.

If Liberal stands left the door ajar for losing Jewish votes, politicians on the right began to push it wide open. Stockwell Day, as head of the Canadian Alliance Party, began to make inroads among Jewish voters. Stephen Harper continued the trend. Just before the Alliance and Conservative parties merged in 2004, Harper gave a speech to Civitas, an organization dedicated to promoting individualism and social order; Harper emphasized family, crime, self-defence and a principled stand in foreign policy to attract support from ethnic groups and religious denominations. He has been unstinting in his appeal to Jews and in his support of Israel.

Ahead of the 2006 federal election, the Harper government adopted a number of very prominent positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that favoured the Israeli government. Canada became the first Western country to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority. Harper unequivocally defended Israel’s reprisals in Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, even though Israel’s massive 34-day attack killed more than a thousand Lebanese and displaced a million more. Canada evacuated 50,000 of its citizens in Lebanon at the time. When eight members of a Montreal Canadian-Lebanese family were among the casualties, Harper defended Israeli military actions as “measured.”

After that, prominent Jewish Liberals began to join the Conservatives, including Robert Lantos, Heather Reisman, Gerald Schwartz, and other Jewish Liberal plutocrats. While Michael Ignatieff, then leader of the Liberal Party, accused Israel of war crimes, under Harper, Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II in January of 2008. At the beginning of 2009, Harper’s government was the lone dissenter on the UN Human Rights Committee’s criticisms of Israel. As a result, Canada lost its bid for a seat on the Security Council.

In June of this year, I had dinner with Irwin Cotler. He had originally been elected in Mount Royal with 92% of the vote. In the 2011 election, he told me that a majority of Jews in the riding voted for his Tory opponent. He only managed to be re-elected with overwhelming support from the non-Jewish community. He was not running again. If he had chosen to do so, he predicted he would have been defeated. However, he strongly believed that the Liberal candidate, Anthony Housefather, would win. Current polls seem to support that belief.

In 2015, Mount Royal is awash in Robert Libman-Stephen Harper signs. Libman may possibly be on the verge of overturning 75 years of support for the Liberal Party in that riding but that now seems unlikely since Anthony Housefather is such a popular candidate running for the Liberals. .Jews in Canada live in a country much more dedicated to hyphenated integration than melting pot assimilation. Seventy-four percent of Jewish Canadians have visited Israel — twice the ratio of Americans. For most Jews in Canada, Israel is the wedge issue, far more important than it is for Jews in the U.S. The strong and sincere rhetorical support for Israel by Stephen Harper, even when there are no deliverables, has resulted in a tectonic shift in Jewish Canadian voting patterns likely to increase in 2015 even as much of the rest of the Canadian population is moving in the opposite direction.

Are Canadian Jews Lemmings?

by

Howard Adelman

Though most responses to my last screed against Harper were positive, one of my favourite readers replied simply, “I am not a lemming!”

Below, is my answer.

You are not small. You are not thick-tailed and you certainly are not a rodent. There is, however, the possibility that you are a lemming who joins a movement unthinkingly, but that choice would not result in a headlong rush to destruction without a proper consideration of the consequences.  There is also the possibility that you may claim the choice is a result of careful thought and deliberation. Again, as a further alternative, you may believe that your conclusion results, not because of ignoring the evidence or from faulty logic, but from using a different moral scale.

The Jewish shift to Harper may have had some rationale before he achieved a majority because of the performances and commitment of the opposition with respect to Israel. When combined with the absence of sufficient evidence of the consequences when Harper led a minority government, his tremendous rhetorical support for Israel may have so tipped the moral scales of evaluation, especially when the world generally appeared to have isolated Israel. But after the last four years?

As I see it, there are actually six logical possibilities to account for the continuing shift in Jewish support for Harper even after the evidence for forsaking any other alternative to Harper is taken into consideration.

Process of Decision Positive Consequences Negative Consequences
Careful thought Not a rush to destruction

A

A headlong rush to destruction

D

Moral imbalance Not a rush to destruction

B

A headlong rush to destruction

E

Unthinking Not a rush to destruction

C

A headlong rush to destruction

F

Support for Harper may be a result of deliberative thought in the belief that, whatever the evidence urging non-support, the consequences will not be destruction and those consequences are not as bad as the consequences of supporting any alternative, especially when the matter of Israel is given disproportionate weight. This is alternative A above. Alternative D is an empty category because careful thought and a headlong rush to destruction are incompatible.

A second and third possibility: a different scale is being used to weigh various alternatives. In this option, enormous weight is given to support for Israel. (Options B&E) On this issue, there is a real debate over whether unstinting support for the current government in Israel contributes or subtracts from the possibility of Israel’s destruction. My own view is that it contributes to the possibility of that destruction, but the weighting is difficult and inconclusive at this time. However, the host of measures leading to the diminishing of Canadian future prospects is so overwhelming. On any reasonable moral scale, it is very difficult to see how Harper’s unqualified support for Israel, especially when there are absolutely no deliverables, could possibly outweigh the array of other negative considerations.

The fourth and fifth possibilities are that the choice could be unthinking, but the path may or may not lead to destruction. Here there is a point. The path may lead to further diminution of Canada’s future; characterizing the outcome as destruction may be hyperbolic. Even though using the reference to lemmings suggests a mass parade over a cliff ending in drowning, blind and unthinking following a Pied Piper may not have that catastrophic result. But the individual is still a lemming in either case.

So let us take the two alternatives of utilizing a different moral scale that gives a disproportionate weight to the effects on Israel. Set aside my argument that, in spite of and, possibly, because of Harper’s cheerleading for Israel, this has been bad not good for Israel. If that disproportionate weighting is so great that virtually all consequences for Canada are diminished, does that not risk a backlash against Jews in Canada for making Israel so important that most Canadian Jews are willing to risk Canada’s future? Does it not risk the possibility that an alternative government to Harper’s conservatives will diminish its support for Israel in response to that Jewish voting pattern?

The only other alternative is the possibility that the Jewish vote has shifted so significantly towards Harper because it is the result of deliberative thought, in spite of the myriad of Harper’s bad policies and practices, just because, rhetorically, he is the most passionate defender of Israel. I prefer to be generous and think it is the result of unthinking, both because I know that all my Jewish friends who are voting Tory are, to a person, very intelligent and considerate human beings, and, secondly, as I have argued, any reasoned consideration of the evidence and logic could not result in a vote for the Harper government. So my only conclusion must be that their behaviour is unthinking because I refuse to insult the intelligence of my closest friends. Better unthinking than stupid thinking I say. Otherwise, if you support Harper because you have thought the matter through, then I have to attribute that support to an inability to reason adequately, to bad reasoning, rather than any lack of thought altogether.

Hence, my conclusion that many of my closest friends may be behaving like lemmings.

Playing with Numbers

Playing with Numbers

by

Howard Adelman

Last night I came home and listened to the late night news. The big news: the Harper government had posted a surplus, the first in Harper’s eight years running the government. I had become used to the government playing games with refugee figures – announcing in 2013 that the government would take in 1,300 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months and then taking 20 months to do so. Further, most were privately sponsored refugees. When Canada announced it would take 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years, this really meant that Canada would take in 1,300 government-assisted refugees per year and private sponsors would be allowed to bring in just over 2,000 per year. After the election campaign started, Harper announced that Canada would take an additional 10,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees and take them in over four years. That meant a total intake of 2,500 additional refugees per year, or 1,250 additional Syrian refugees. Of these, the number of government-assisted Syrian refugees would be about 500. Clearly a pittance. The spin is how to make 500 sound like 10,000 and almost 2,000 sound like 20,000. The basic figures are accurate; the spin given to those figures is misleading.

Was the government doing the same with the budget? According to figures released by the finance department yesterday, after seven years of running deficits, the federal government had a $1.9 billion surplus in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Canada had produced a surplus one year ahead of Jim Flaherty’s prediction. The original prediction for 2014-2015 had been a $2 billion deficit rather than a $1.9 billion surplus. Further, the April, June and July figures reinforced the picture of the trend towards surpluses.

There is an old saying: figures don’t lie; politicians do. I think this is a misrepresentation. Spin is not lying. But to understand spin you have to unpack the figures. There are a number of ways to produce a surplus. First, you can budget less than the previous year; in effect, cut a department’s budget. Second, you can download expenditures onto the provinces. Third, you can spend less than you even projected in your budget. The options are many.

Let me offer an example. In the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the projected expenditures for 2014-2015 on primary and secondary education for aboriginal youth was $1,445 billion. In 2015-2016, the projected expenditures were set at $1,431 billion. How could the expenditures possibly go down when the rate of increase of the aboriginal population was much higher than that of the rest of Canada?

When you read the hundreds of pages of documents just in that one department, one policy stands out. There is the noble intention begun in 2014 of bringing success rates of aboriginal children up to those of the rest of the population. How is this to be done? You get bands to vote to join regional school boards so that now the province bears the burden of the costs, not the federal government, and the expenditure on aboriginal children’s education is immediately boosted by about a quarter. This “push” in this direction is helped when you recognize not only that aboriginal children receive at least 20% less support than the equivalent cohort in the provincial school system, but that over the last eight years, the educational support deficit has grown so that the differential is moving towards 30%.

The message to band leaders: you want better education for your children, vote to become part of the provincial educational system, thereby relieving the federal government from the obligation to pay for the education of aboriginal children and teens.

Look at a number of departments where the Harper government was determined to cut. In northern economic development, the main estimates were $53,442,608 in 2013-14; in 2014-15, they were $30,945,766, an enormous cut. In 2012-2013, expenditures for the chief electoral office were 119,580,193. In the 2014-15 estimates, they had dropped to $97,110,432. It is any wonder that we have increased our democratic deficit. In the department that I know best, Citizenship and Immigration, budgeted expenditures dropped from $1,655,418,818 in 2013-2014 to $1,385,441,063 in 2014-15, a 17% cut. No wonder Canada lacks the visa officers on the ground to process Syrian refugee applications to come to Canada.

Monies for the Library and Archives of Canada were reduced from $118,923,232 2013-14 to $95,864,788 in 2014-15. In the arts and research field, the National Film Board, National Museum of Science and Technology and the Natural Sciences and Research Council suffered cuts. Statistics Canada, once upon a time the pride and joy of Canada for the rest of the world – we provided a paradigm for other nations to imitate – expenditures dropped from $519,891,309 in 2012-13 to $379,555,524 in 2014-15. The cuts were so drastic, not only effecting the long form census that was made voluntary, and, therefore, useless for research, but the whole basis for economic and social research in Canada was decimated.

This is a government that is not interested in the knowledge base on which prudent planning depends. The library in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was packed up and sent to a warehouse in Quebec. The policy unit was eliminated. Harper reduces expenditures through micro-management, requiring the smallest expenditures be approved by his office – except when it comes to his Senate appointees. This government has saved money by running the civil service into the ground in many areas.

I am not saying that some areas should not have been cut or that all expenditures have been sacrosanct. However, the Tories cannot even bring in more refugees if they wanted to; they are unwilling to spend the money even though, in the long run, such expenditures are a tremendous investment in human resources, especially when the population intake consists of skilled tradesmen and professionals who can contribute to economic growth.

When you add to these policies the practice of not even spending the money allocated, it is not that hard to produce a surplus. In 2014-15, actual expenditures were $800 million lower than projected. Some of the costs have little to do with Canadian policy, however important prudent fiscal policies are. Carrying charges on debt are at record lows so that actual expenditures on debt were $100 million lower than projected. But there are other ways to produce a surplus. Focus on the revenue side.

In June, for example, the government brought in $1.1 billion more than it spent following the May/June surplus of $3.9 billion. And this was when we were officially in a recession. One way to increase revenues is to sell off assets. So the Canadian government sold its last block of 73 million shares in General Motors in April, increasing the government coffers by $2.7 billion. So if we sell off assets to increase revenues, and since surpluses are seasonal and the surplus in June dropped from $1.6 billion in the previous year to $1.1 billion, the optimism for this year has to be muted somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fiscal conservative. I believe, in normal circumstances, we should stay within our budget. But I also believe that some savings, such as cutting our repairs to infrastructure, is indeed penny wise and pound foolish. Cutting programs that provide valuable service is an imprudent way to balance the budget. Further, there are times, as David Dodge has said, when interest rates are low that it is imprudent not to borrow and invest in infrastructure – roads, sewers, public transit. Spending $125 billion in this area over ten years may be the height of prudence.

Pensions are a case in which taxes and investments get confused. Harper decried the Ontario pension plan for increasing taxes. But these were not tax increases. These were increases in forced savings that in turn could be invested in economic growth. Whereas the Conservatives began their term of office by cutting the sales tax by two points, the government has not reduced the taxes for the employment insurance fund. The employment insurance fund is now in surplus and normally premiums should be reduced. They have not been, providing an important source for ensuring that income exceeds expenditures. An employment insurance cut would benefit both individual workers and businesses, especially small businesses.

So has the Harper government been a prudent manager of our economy? In some ways it has. Some cuts were warranted. But so were increased expenditures in other areas – aboriginal education for example. By cutting two points from the sales tax, government funds for needed areas, such as infrastructure or aboriginal education, were unavailable.  The cuts were imprudent.  So were many of the cuts in various department budgets.

There is another area where the Harper government has been prudent. Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 40.4 per cent, including the debts of local, provincial and territorial governments, the lowest among G7 nations where the average is 86.8%. This is commendable. However, flying higher and taking a longer overview, Canada really escaped going into recession in the economic shock of 2008 because the Harper government inherited a government with financial surpluses, $13.6 billion in 2006 and $9.6 billion in 2007. It took on an enormous deficit in 2009 of $61.27 billion. Simply cutting expenditures and micro-managing the government is a way to save money, but also to cripple services that Canadians need – especially veterans.  Areas requiring investment also suffer.

I do not know why the Harper government has a reputation as a prudent manager of the economy. It has not been. It has operated the government as if tax revenues were like money dropped in a piggy bank and your job was to ensure that you not spend anymore than had been dropped through the slot. The real economic job of a government is to spend and invest money wisely and prudently and allow future generations to inherit a better and better Canada.

The Harper government has been more imprudent than prudent on this scale of measurement.