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JCRC’s Iran Advocacy Project

Legislators and experts give update on Iran as part of JCRC conference call series

Lang Lieberman Schoenberg image
Senator Jeff Schoenberg (left) and Asst. House Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang (right), co-sponsors of a bill that requires $68 billion in Illinois' state pension funds to divest their holdings in foreign companies doing business with Iran's energy sector, are joined by Leonard Lieberman, director of JUF’s Government Affairs office in Springfield, shortly after the bill passed the State House.

The second in a series of special communal leadership conference calls regarding Iran organized by JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Monday, featured discussion by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Jacobson, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute on Near East Affairs and an expert on sanctions and financial measures to combat national security threats and State Rep. Lou Lang and State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, co-sponsors of Illinois’ Iran divestment bill.

The fight against a nuclear-armed Iran is of great concern to the Jewish community since the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denies the Holocaust, has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and his regime continues the long-standing Iranian policies of supporting Hezbollah and Hamas and aiding terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets around the world. A nuclear-armed Iran would create a security concern not only for Israel, but for the U.S., other Arab states, Europe and the entire civilized world. Iranian leaders continue to progress with their nuclear development despite both national and international attempts to slow them down economically.

Schakowsky, who represents Illinois’ 9th Congressional district, said the two United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing mandatory sanctions on Iran have been effective, but to keep up with the pace of Iran’s nuclear development there should be a third, stricter resolution in the near future.

“The U.S. position right now is that we have not yet exhausted the diplomatic options, and (we’re) pushing for a stronger set of sanctions,” she said.

In Congress, hearings should begin shortly for both the House and Senate versions of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act (S.B. 970 and H.R. 1400). U. S. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (Ill.) and Sen. Gordon Smith (OR) in the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (CA) and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) in the House are the lead sponsors of the bill that sets out a plan to impose additional economic sanctions against Iran. The House resolution already has 273 bipartisan votes, giving it a “slam dunk chance of passage,” Schakowsky said.

She also referred to two other resolutions that had recently passed in the U.S. House—H.R. 21, a non-binding resolution initiated by Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Steve Rothman (N.J.) which urged the U.N. Security Council to charge Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under genocide conventions, for allegedly calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" on Oct. 27, and H.R. 430, which calls for Iran to immediately release the five Iranian-Americas being detained.

In response to a question from one of the JCRC constituent group leaders, Schakowsky asserted that while “I think there is an appetite (in Congress) to focus on Iran, because everyone understands the role they’re playing in Iraq…and with Hezbollah and Hamas, when we’re talking about military action (against Iran), there certainly at this time is no appetite for that.”

Imposing economic sanctions against Iran is not a new concept for the U.S. government. Jacobson, who formerly served in the Treasury Department, and was senior advisor in the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. In fact, he said, the first of these sanctions was implemented in 1979, and they have evolved throughout the decades due to changing circumstances. A year and a half ago, the Treasury and State departments created a new, comprehensive financial strategy for dealing with Iran, which “focused on illicit conduct” and had two components, “targeted financial measures” and “outreach to non-U.S. financial institutions” Jacobson said.

“(The economic sanctions) are having a psychological impact on Iran,” Jacobson said. “The face that these sanctions have been graduated and building—there’s a real pessimism.”

But, he said, there is still a long way to go, because Iran has not yet altered its behavior.

“I think it’s still too early to know whether this approach will ultimately work,” he said, noting that there will need to be tougher sanctions. “It is important to remember that sanctions alone cannot do the trick. I think it has to be part of the overall toolkit—one important part—but (not the only tool).”

In Illinois, State Rep. Lou Lang (Skokie), and State Senator Jeff Schoenberg (Evanston) worked together to co-sponsor the Iran divestment bill which requires $68 billion in five state pension funds to divest their holdings in foreign companies doing business with Iran's energy industry, the key financing source of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

After passing in both the state House and Senate, SB 1621 is now in the hands of Governor Rod Blagojevich for final approval.

In addition to divesting from state pensions, the bill requires that any entity that wants to do business with the state of Illinois has to disclose whether they do business with Iran, an extra specification that Lang described as a “speed bump” not present thus far in other states’ divestment bills.

“We may become a model for other states in this area,” Lang said.

The two legislators also ensured that Illinois’ divestment bill is “constitutional” and not merely “symbolic.”

“We have taken particular precautions to ensure that this bill would hold up in the federal courts,” Schoenberg said. “This is far more than just symbolism. It is indeed airtight.”

Both Lang and Schoenberg are confident that the governor will soon sign the bill into law.

“We think moving forward other states should be looking to what we’ve done in Illinois to make a real difference,” Lang said.

JCRC of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago has actively supported this measure as part of its new Iran Advocacy Action Plan.

JCRC Chairman Alan Solow said, “educating our entire community about the threat posed by a nuclear Iran is a priority, signature JCRC activity, and there are few more effective ways of doing that than by bringing together the network of our 46 constituent groups for a high-level, interactive briefing with leading federal and state legislators and think tank analysts who help shape government policy.  The salient information and calls to action from these teleconferences are intended to then be disseminated to every member of a Chicago area synagogue and membership-based Jewish organization. In that way our community is both educated and mobilized for action as well as prepared to discuss these issues with the 98% of Chicagoland which isn’t Jewish…the very essence of good community relations work.”

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