WASHINGTON (AP) — Two senators who grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust say the memories of their relatives provided strong lessons about why they should support the nuclear accord with Iran.
Some of the most strident opponents of the agreement have invoked the Holocaust in an effort to defeat the agreement, arguing the deal could enhance Iran’s ability to build a bomb, leading to the destruction of Israel.
But those arguments failed to sway Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michael Bennet of Colorado, both Democrats. Wyden and Bennet both grew up hearing the horror stories firsthand.
“My parents told me at a young age what it was like to live in fear,” said Wyden, D-Ore. “For German Jews, the fear was always the knock on the door in the night.”
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Wyden said his parents escaped Germany in the 1930s, but not before both of his grandfathers lost their livelihoods and his father was kicked out of school for being Jewish.
Bennet’s grandparents smuggled his mother, who was still a baby, out of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland to escape the Nazis. They, too, had “everyone and everything they knew taken from them in the Holocaust,” Bennet said.
Both senators said the Iran deal is a flawed agreement with an adversary that has threatened both the United States and Israel. But both said they strongly believe the agreement offers the best hope of keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
“We live in dangerous times, and whether you support the agreement or not, we must develop a cohesive strategy for U.S, policy in the Middle East that addresses the grave security concerns in the region,” Bennet said. “We cannot allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and we must be crystal clear that we will use force to prevent it from doing so.”
The agreement struck by Iran, the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in July will provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on the country’s nuclear program.
Critics say Iran would use its newfound wealth to support international terrorists while also cheating on its nuclear obligations. When the rhetoric gets heated, the specter of another Holocaust sometimes creeps into the debate.
“The one threat that could kill 6 million Jews again is a nuclear Iran,” Sen. Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor Tuesday. Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is running for president.
In July, Mike Huckabee, another GOP presidential candidate, said the Iran nuclear deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism, denounced Huckabee’s language. But Huckabee refused to back down.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also compared the Iranians to the Nazis. In March, he denounced the deal with Iran in a speech before a joint meeting of Congress.
House and Senate Republicans tried to pass resolutions to reject the deal, but Obama had enough support from Senate Democrats to block the GOP effort.
Wyden and Bennet were among the 40 Senate Democrats who came out in support of the agreement. Along with two independent senators, they had enough votes Thursday to block a Republican resolution to reject the deal.
In making his decision, Wyden said he spoke with Jews who support the agreement and those who oppose it.
“There’s a pretty spirited debate going on in the Jewish community,” he said.
Wyden said he believes the Iranians will inevitably cheat on the agreement. And, he said, even small violations should be met with a harsh response.
“When people say they want to kill you,” he said, noting that Iran has threatened America and Israel, “it’s a safe bet that you ought to take them seriously and certainly my family knows about that.”
But both Wyden and Bennet reasoned that even if the U.S. rejected the deal, other countries would still lift their sanctions, providing billions of dollars to Iran, without the oversight provided for in the agreement.
“The Iranians are going to get the money under any circumstances,” Wyden said.
When making his decision, Wyden said he focused on the merits of the agreement.
“You keep coming back to the merits, but you cannot divorce your family history, and this was something that was discussed in our family often.”
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