Washington — As Jewish groups push Congress to increase sanctions on Iran — and President Obama pushes back hard in the opposite direction — one lawmaker standing at the crossroads of this clash exemplifies the challenge the Jewish groups face.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is a member of the House of Representatives; not the Senate, where most of the lobbying action is now taking place. But Wasserman Schultz, who has refused to take a public stand on increased sanctions now against Iran, is attracting more pressure from Jewish activists than many Jewish senators who are in outright public opposition to a bill that would do so.
There’s a reason for this: Wasserman Schultz, whose South Florida congressional district is heavily Jewish, has long been an unwavering supporter of the pro-Israel agenda defined by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large, mainstream pro-Israel lobby. But Wasserman Schultz also heads the Democratic National Committee and was put there by President Obama, one of her crucial patrons.
Right now, she is reportedly engaged in an intense but low-profile push against the Iran sanctions measure. And the combination of her DNC position and her undisputed record in support of Israel is seen as having an impact on wavering Democrats in both houses.
“It’s never comfortable to have differences with good friends,” said former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler of Wasserman Schultz’s dispute with AIPAC. “But just as Debbie respects AIPAC’s point of view, AIPAC should respect her point of view, because both of them are equally pro-Israel.”
Spokespersons for AIPAC and for Wasserman Schultz declined to comment on the current relations between the lobby and the congresswoman. But Michael Adler, who is both a major Democratic Party donor close to Schultz and an AIPAC activist, warned that the pressure on her reflected a desire to make the Iran sanctions bill a “litmus test on if you are pro-Israel” — a move he warned against.