Florida Democratic Party donors affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are coming to the aid of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), who has come under fire in recent weeks over her efforts to quietly block new Iran sanctions measures in the House and Senate.
AIPAC’s initial letter on the controversy, which circulated two weeks ago, urged Wasserman Schultz’s constituents to "respectfully ask" that she clarify her position on the congressional measures and issue a statement supporting them.
However, on Jan. 24, AIPAC’s Southeastern states director Mark Kleinman issued a second letter, this one defending Wasserman Schultz.
Some pro-Israel activists in South Florida are not happy about AIPAC reversing course to defend Wasserman Schultz, who continues to stand in opposition to the group’s own legislative efforts.
"Friends, I wanted to forward a statement issued by AIPAC national board member Ike Fisher after the Huffington Post released an inaccurate article regarding AIPAC and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz," Kleinman wrote in the letter sent on AIPAC letterhead, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
"Thank you and Shabbat Shalom," Kleinman added before attaching a statement from board member Fisher.
"Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz has a strong record of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship," read Fisher’s statement. "She is a good friend of Israel and a close friend of AIPAC, and we look forward to our continued work together for many years to come."
The letter did not state why AIPAC considers the Huffington Post report to be inaccurate.
When asked about the controversy on Twitter, Huffington Post reporter Jennifer Bendery said that no one at AIPAC ever "contacted me with any problems."
"Sounds like they just need an excuse to flip," Bendery said on Twitter.
In addition to his role as an AIPAC board member, Fischer is a prolific political donor, having contributed at least $51,600 directly to Democratic candidates, including $3,000 to Wasserman Schultz in the 2010 election cycle. (Fisher has contributed to Republican candidates as well.)
He is also the author of a 2008 email to South Florida Jews vouching for President Barack Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.
"I am angry over the course this country has taken over the last eight years under the Bush administration, and I am fearful for the future," Fisher wrote in the email, which was sent to many top pro-Israel activists throughout Florida.
"As a political activist, I have supported both Republicans and Democrats, but the arrogance of the last eight years compels me to conclude that the Republican Party has forfeited its right to lead our country at this time," he wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Beacon.
Fisher goes on to tout "Senator Obama’s standing throughout the world," which "contrasts with the arrogant philosophy of this [George W. Bush] administration which has left us isolated and alone."
"I hope that you will come to the same conclusion that I have and vote for Barack Obama for president," Fisher wrote.
Neither Fisher nor Kleinman returned a Free Beacon request for comment. An AIPAC spokesman in Washington also declined comment.
One South Florida pro-Israel activist who has worked with AIPAC said he was surprised by AIPAC’s about-face on Wasserman Schultz.
"I found it shameful on several levels," the source said. "First, AIPAC reversed course with respect to Wasserman Schultz using an unsubstantiated allegation that the Huffington Post story was inaccurate, after having called for its members to ask the congresswoman about her lobbying of Democrat colleagues against Iran sanctions."
"Why? Was AIPAC pressured by Wasserman Schultz or other high-level Democrats?" the source asked. "Furthermore, I find it outrageous for Fisher to use his position as an AIPAC national board member to provide cover for Wasserman Schultz and in effect the Democratic Party without any disclosure of his clear partisanship and support for Obama."
Fisher is not the only high-level AIPAC member to defend Wasserman Schultz in recent days following a series of Free Beacon articles revealing the lawmaker’s bid to kill bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation.
Bruce Levy, a Wasserman Schultz donor and member of AIPAC's National Council, lashed out at the Free Beacon last week for reporting on earlier AIPAC letter that urged members to call Wasserman Schultz’s office and demanded she explain her position.
The original AIPAC letter, which cited the Free Beacon’s reporting on Wasserman Schultz, "probably gave [the Free Beacon] credibility, which I'm not happy about," Levy told Foreign Policy. "Every little schmuck can express his opinion on the Internet, and unfortunately, it gains credibility when you endorse it."
Foreign Policy omitted Levy’s donation of at least $3,500 to Wasserman Schultz’s campaigns over the last two years.
The Foreign Policy report also quoted AIPAC activist Michael Adler, who served as chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and is a member of its executive committee.
Jewish activists in Washington and South Florida say that AIPAC’s flip-flop is unusual for an organization that typically exercises great restraint and discipline.
"This is clearly a problem for them," said another pro-Israel activist for has worked with AIPAC. "One of these letters shows their incompetence; we’re just not sure which one it is."
Others said that the contradictory letters are a sign of deeper trouble at AIPAC.
"This is only the beginning," said Steve Rosen, a former top AIPAC official. "At the center of AIPAC is bipartisanship and the day it breaks with either of two parties is the day it ceases to exist—and they’re pretty close to this."
AIPAC is facing a "terrible dilemma because [Wasserman Schultz] is not going to change her position," Rosen said.