Washington - Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has built a reputation for strictly adhering to the pro-Israel line, but she now appears, for the first time, to be supporting legislation that is opposed by pro-Israel lobbyists.
Clinton announced last week that she would co-sponsor an amendment, proposed by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, that would require the president to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iran.
“Congressional oversight and debate can help avoid the mistakes and blunders that have afflicted U.S. policy in Iraq,” Senator Clinton said in a statement explaining her decision to co-sponsor the amendment. “We cannot allow recent history to repeat itself.”
When similar legislation was presented in the House of Representatives earlier this year as part of the Defense Authorization Bill, the Washington press reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was calling on House members to vote against the amendment.
When it came time to vote, two separate proposals on this issue were shot down by a majority of members, with Republicans voting overwhelmingly against it and Democrats split.
Clinton is known for her strong record on issues relating to Israel and for her close ties with Jewish and pro-Israel activists. She has appeared several times at Aipac events and has established a reputation for leading the Democratic Party’s hawkish wing on Iran.
Recently, Clinton voted in favor of an amendment that urges the administration to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terror group. Clinton also signed on to a letter demanding that all Arab countries seeking to participate in an upcoming peace conference recognize Israel and pressure Hamas to do so, as well. Last month, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Clinton campaign circulated a paper detailing the candidate’s support for Israel, both as a First Lady and as a senator.
Webb first introduced his Iran legislation in March of this year. At the time, it did not receive much attention and was pushed to a backburner. It is being revived, largely as a result of Clinton’s decision to add her name as a co-sponsor of the amendment, making her the only member of the Senate to join Webb’s initiative.
Both Clinton and Webb stressed that the resolution does not tie the president’s hands in taking action against Iran if needed, but rather ensures that congressional approval is obtained prior to any decision.
At present, pro-Israel activists are not taking any aggressive position on the Webb amendment in the Senate, mainly because it is still not clear if and when the legislation will be presented.
Congressional sources said that this week, the legislation might now be reintroduced either as an amendment or as a standalone bill, if the Democratic leadership approves it.
An official with a major Jewish group said this week that “it is clear that many in the pro-Israel community would like to see this legislation go away” but that the uncertainty over the fate of the amendment allows time for consideration before taking action against the legislation.
A congressional staffer characterized the pro-Israel lobby stand on the Webb amendment as being “remarkably silent.”
A source close to the pro-Israel lobby said that no action is being taken and that the lobby has yet to see what comes out of the amendment.
The source said the lobby is concentrating its efforts on toughening financial sanctions against Iran, though “we do not think any option should be taken off the table.” Referring to Clinton’s co-sponsorship of the bill, the source said that “it is ironic” that a person who might be president supports legislation that could limit presidential authority.
Jessica Smith, a spokeswoman for Webb, said the renewed interest in the legislation stems from the “increase in aggressive rhetoric on behalf of the Bush administration” regarding Iran. She stressed, however, that the legislation was “very carefully crafted” and that it does not hamstring the president.
The legislation prohibits the president from using funds approved for the war against Iraq for military action against Iran without first obtaining approval from Congress. It also details certain scenarios in which the president would not need such approval, among them an Iranian attack against the United States or its allies.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.