Jerusalem embassy legislation: the political gift that keeps on giving

You know elections are in the offing when Congress starts playing games with the endless issue of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and sure enough, with 2012 just around the corner, the issue is back in the legislative hopper.

JTA is reporting that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and others are pitching a bill that would strip presidential waiver authority from the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.

That waiver has been used by every president since Bill Clinton to keep the embassy where it is – in part because of the belief moving the embassy before an Israel-Palestinian peace deal would compromise U.S. mediation efforts, in part because presidents hate what they see as congressional meddling in foreign policy.

The 1995 measure was widely seen as a political gambit by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kans), who was getting set for his unsuccessful run for president against President Bill Clinton.

Neal Sher, who was AIPAC’s executive director at the time, wrote that “The 1996 presidential campaign was heating up and AIPAC would soon hold its annual policy conference. The conditions were ripe for some political mischief, so a few manipulators leaped into action and hijacked the issue in hopes of driving a wedge between Clinton and the Jewish community.”

The measure passed, and ever since then, Republicans have huffed and puffed about the twice-a-year waiver – except when it’s a Republican president like George W. Bush doing the waiving, which he did 16 times.

Likewise, most Democrats ignore the issue when one of their own is sitting in the White House but get all indignant when it’s a Republican wielding the waiver.

This particular game goes way back; the Republicans tried to use the Jerusalem issue against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and the Democrats tried to use it against Ronald Reagan in 1984.

And here we go again.

Nobody expects the current legislation to become law, especially with a Democratic Senate and a presidential veto looming in case the impossible happens and it passes.

But White House opposition will give the Republicans something to use with Jewish audiences in next year’s campaigns, and they’ll get a fair number of pro-Israel Democrats to go along.

And when 2016 rolls around, you can bet whichever party is out of the White House will revive the issue and use it to flay their opponents. Politically speaking, the Jerusalem embassy issue is the gift that keeps on giving.

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.