DC Branch of Knesset

The U.S. Congress sounds increasing like the Washington branch of the Knesset.  I'm just waiting for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to show up on the Senate floor wearing yarmulkes.

Senators debating the Iran bill this week have been busy trying to out-Israel each other.

Among the most ardent are Presidential hopefuls and senators facing tough reelection campaigns.  A number of them were in Las Vegas last weekend kissing the ring of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who they hope will dip into his billions to fund their campaigns.

If you listen to the debate it's easy to get the impression it's all about Israel. That may be because they've been getting a lot of encouragement from Jewish Republican activists, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his ambassador and longtime GOP operative, Ron Dermer.

Not so long ago Netanyahu was  — correctly — making the case that the Iranian nuclear threat was not just an Israel issue but a global one that everyone should be concerned about.  The Obama administration and its French, British and German allies took that approach in their successful drive to impose sanctions that would push Iran to the negotiating table.

They were soon drowned out, however, by Netanyahu himself, who loudly, forcefully and often irritatingly transformed it into an Israel issue despite his own admonition not to.  Making matters worse, he turned it into a feud between himself and President Barack Obama.  Dermer arranged with Congressional Republican leadership for Netanyahu to speak to the Congress in opposition to the administration's policies.

The next act is playing out on the Senate floor this week as lawmakers debate legislation requiring the president to submit any Iran nuclear agreement to the Congress for a vote, and it sounds at times like it's all about Israel.

Obama said he'd sign the bipartisan compromise was worked out by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and his Democratic counterpart, Ben Cardin (Maryland) if it isn't weighted down with excess baggage, which is exactly what some senators are trying to do this week.

Some may simply be trying to impress Jewish contributors like Adelson and constituents with their abiding affection for the Jewish state while others are trying to inject poison pills they hope will kill the bill and any eventual Iran pact.

Rubio wants an amendment that says no nuke agreement unless Iran recognizes Israel's right to exist.  That comes from a demand by Netanyahu that there must be part of any deal with Tehran.  Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who faces a tough reelection campaign next year, is enthusiastically backing the Rubio amendment as is Sen. Tom Cotton, the freshman Republican from Arkansas who is trying to establish himself as a leading foreign policy on the right.,

Cardin, who is Jewish and a pro-Israel shtarker, praised the Rubio-Netanyahu amendment as "well intended" but warned it could "derail the bill."

Actually it was not "well intended" and really was designed to "derail the bill" because Rubio, who opposes any agreement with Iran, knows that his amendment is a poison pill that Iran will reject and prompt it to walk out of the talks.

Democrats, who know a central theme of the GOP is "we love Israel more," are joining in.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the #2 Democrat in the Senate, told colleagues,  "The purpose of this undertaking, the negotiating with Iran, is to stop that nation from acquiring nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel’s right to exist,” The Hill reported

 “The existential question as to whether Iran will recognize Israel’s right to exist … is all very important conversation,” he continued. “The most important thing is make sure that Israel has a right to survive, and we think these negotiations with Iran will help us reach that.”

Corker privately warned his Republican colleagues that their 'poison pills" could kill his legislation to require congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran.

The hardline Emergency Committee for Israel, in contrast to AIPAC's call for a clean bill, is encouraging the poison pill amendments and "strongly objects" to efforts by Corker and Cardin to avoid turning the bill into veto bait.

Sen. Dean Heller, from Adelson's state of Nevada, has an amendment to the Iran bill that would require the United States to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The love fest will continue in the Senate before moving over to the House branch of the Knesset.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.