Florida federations push Nelson on Iran sanctions


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Four Jewish federations in South Florida urged Sen. Bill Nelson to sign on to legislation opposed by the Obama administration that would enhance Iran sanctions.

The Dec. 30 letter to Nelson (D-Fla.) was sent amid a renewed post-holiday push by some pro-Israel groups to pass the legislation initiated by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

The Obama administration says the new sanctions will inhibit talks underway between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The letter sent by the federations of greater Miami, South Palm Beach County, Broward County and Palm Beach County praises President Obama’s overall strategy while pressing for the sanctions.

“We believe that this congressional action will only strengthen President Obama’s hand,” the letter said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the state’s other senator, already is a cosponsor. A query to Nelson’s office was unreturned.

Thirty-three senators have signed on to the bill. Top pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are seeking additional sponsors.

Committing a veto-proof two-thirds of the 100-member Senate to the bill would undercut the White House pledge last month to veto the measure. A similar bill this summer overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

On Thursday, the American Jewish Committee on one of its Twitter accounts called on most of the senators that have not signed on to join.

A number of federations in states with senators who have not signed on are making similar overtures.

“We are encouraging our leadership around the state to reach out to Senator Brown and ask him to sign on,” Joyce Garver Keller, who directs Ohio Jewish Communities, referring to Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat.

The Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut has scheduled a meeting with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is also a holdout.

In Rhode Island, Marty Cooper, the director of community relations for the state’s Community Relations Council, said he had spoken with staff for Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who had told him that Reed was concerned that the bill could undercut the negotiations, which he saw as important for U.S. and Israel security.

Cooper said he was not lobbying for the bill but seeking to understand where Reed stood.

The bill would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” which would add the engineering, mining and construction sectors. It would also tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.

The law faces significant opposition: Ten committee chairmen in the Democratic-led Senate have pushed back against new legislation in a letter to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the body’s majority leader.

Among them are four Jewish senators with strong pro-Israel records: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee; Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment Committee; and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy Committee.

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