As the world’s largest kosher food certification agency, we at the Orthodox Union know a few things about inspection programs. Our “OU” logo is on nearly one million food products made in more than 90 countries, and some age-old Jewish rules about kosher supervision are relevant to the current debate over the proposed Iran nuclear deal.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s take President Obama at his word and assume a negotiated deal with Iran along the lines of the framework announced last week is the best avenue to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. In advocating for the deal, Obama said it will provide “vigorous, unprecedented inspections and we [will] know at every point along their nuclear chain exactly what they’re doing … for 20 years … and … even if they wanted to cheat … we would have insights into their program we’ve never had before.”
Yet, when New York Times columnist Tom Friedman asked whether IAEA inspectors will be able to go anywhere in Iran anytime to ensure compliance, the president replied that “Iran could object” to an inspection and it would be left to “some sort of international mechanism” to determine whether Iran’s objection stands or the inspection goes ahead, and belatedly for certain.
Moreover, the president has said we should presume the Iranian regime might well cheat on the deal. Secretary of State Kerry characterized the operating principle behind the inspections regime as “distrust and verify.” If this is indeed the case, the deal’s inspection provisions must be toughened — and here’s where the lessons from kosher laws are instructive.
There are clear requirements for providing inspection and certification for a kosher food producer. In the case of a restaurant, where there’s concern that in the frenetic activity of a kitchen mistakes can, and will, happen, a certifying rabbi must be on site constantly; whenever the kitchen is operating the rabbi is there. In the case of a food production factory, where systems and ingredients are more fixed, a certifying rabbi must be able to come and inspect unannounced, whenever he wishes; and these modes are required even when the cooks and owners are trustworthy. In the case of a food producer owned by someone untrustworthy, the certifying rabbi must also have a set of keys to the restaurant or factory.
Only these modes of inspection and certification are sufficient to earn a kosher seal of approval. Critically, if a food producer — whether it’s a small corner café or huge Nabisco factory — refuses to accept such inspection rules or violates them, the OU will withhold or rescind its kosher certification and the producer will face the consequences in the marketplace. The OU will not water down its standards to assuage the food producer; he must meet our standards.
President Obama and other world leaders acknowledge the Iranian regime has a record of unscrupulousness. Thus, there is no question the inspection program in the pending deal must be upgraded — along the lines of the lessons from the laws of kosher food. An inspection program that does not place constant monitors at the known nuclear facilities and deploy inspectors more broadly in Iran with the ability to inspect other facilities in the country in real time is clearly insufficient.
If Iran’s leaders indeed intend full compliance with the agreement, and do not plan to pursue a nuclear weapon surreptitiously, they have nothing to hide and no reason to object to such pervasive inspections. If they cannot abide such an inspection regime, the Obama administration and its five negotiating partners should not conclude the agreement.
Without a truly robust regime of inspection, there’s no doubt the proposed deal with Iran is not kosher.
Nathan Diament is executive director for public policy Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.