Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be no one's idea of an anti-Israel legislator. Yet according to a report from Foreign Policy, Wasserman Schultz has nevertheless found herself on the receiving end of a serious pressure campaign from the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
At issue is Wasserman Schultz's lack of support for a bill that would levy new sanctions against Iran if its current negotiations with the P5+1 break down. AIPAC and its ideological fellow travelers have lobbied heavily for the bill, but the White House is dead set against it and argues its passage would cause Iran to abandon further talks.
This puts Wasserman Schultz in an awkward position: On the one hand, voters in her district care deeply about the politics of Israel-Palestine and are likely to be influenced by AIPAC's advocacy. On the other hand, Wasserman Schultz is the head of the Democratic National Committee — a position bestowed upon her by President Obama — and cannot be reasonably expected to go against a Democratic White House.
Adding further tension to an already tense situation, the email AIPAC sent to its supporters, asking them to demand Wasserman Schultz pick a side, based its entire argument around an article from the Washington Free Beacon, an unashamedly conservative and partisan web site that is strenuously opposed to negotiating with the Iranian regime. AIPAC has a longstanding and strategically valuable reputation for bipartisanship, and the endorsement of an article from such a right-wing source has some people within the AIPAC community — including those who agree with AIPAC on the bill in question — criticizing the organization.
AIPAC's former chief lobbyist, Doug Bloomfield, even went so far as to tell Foreign Policy that after 40 years working with AIPAC, the campaign against Wasserman Schultz and the endorsement of the Washington Free Beacon article is "the first time [he's] seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship." "Debbie can not poke a stick in the eye of the president," he continued. "She's the head of the DNC for God's sake."
AIPAC's campaign [against Wasserman Schultz] has also triggered rare anger towards the group on Capitol Hill, where some feel it has gone way too far.
"AIPAC has really over-reached on this one and alienated key allies on the Hill over what really boils down to a small tactical difference over sanctions timing," said a congressional aide who has worked closely with AIPAC. "It's hard to come to any other conclusion that they aren't deliberately flaming the partisan flames for their own political benefit."
Whatever the case, it's unlikely that Wasserman Schultz will be able to keep her silence on new sanctions given the passion of her constituents. As it stands, her spokesperson would not deny reports that she had brought other Democrats to the White House to lobby against the new sanctions bill. Statements she provided to The Cable, and other media outlets, cleverly dodge the issue of new sanctions legislation. "Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a strong supporter of sanctions against Iran and will continue to be," said spokeswoman Mara Sloan. With no vote pending in the House, she's under no obligation to declare a position. But whether that will pass muster with her South Florida constituents remains to be seen.