Legislative Round-Up: August 4, 2017

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Legislative Round-Up was conceived

  1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
  2. Hearings
  3. On the Record

    Shameless self-promotion: On 8/3, FMEP’s Lara Friedman appeared on a panel convened by the Middle East Institute focusing on the situation in the Gaza Strip. Fellow panelists were Chris McGrath (UNRWA), Tareq Baconi (Shabaka), and Natan Sachs (Brookings); the panel was moderated by MEI’s Paul Salem. C-SPAN 3 broadcast the event, and video is availablehere.

    1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

    (CUT OFF $$ FOR PA) S. 1697: Introduced 8/1 by Graham (R-SC) and having 19 cosponsors, “A bill to condition assistance to the West Bank and Gaza on steps by the Palestinian Authority to end violence and terrorism against Israeli citizens and United States Citizens.” This is the latest iteration of the “Taylor Force Act,” which aims to cut off some or all funding to the PA and (in some versions for all programs for Palestinians) unless the PA ceases payments to Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel. Notably, the SFRC held a hearing on the Act on 7/12 (this appears to be the only instance of the SFRC holding a hearing focused on a single piece of legislation so far in this Congress). S. 1697 was crafted to address some of the issues that were raised in that hearing. The SFRC, evidently quite eager to move ahead on the bill (haste that is at odds with the fact that the Palestinian funding program it targets has existed for decades), held a mark-up of S. 1697 on 8/3. During that mark-up, a number of amendments were offered; most Democratic amendments were rejected (text of all the amendments available here). The measure passed the SFRC by a vote of 17-4, with the “no” votes coming from Booker (D-NJ), Udall (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR), and Murphy (D-CT). It is not known how much broader opposition there is to the bill in the Senate, but given this vote (and the potential for wider opposition) there is a good chance that leadership will be unable to rush the bill to the floor and move it by Unanimous Consent, setting up the possibility for a public, contentious vote on the measure. Cardin statement following SFRC passage of the bill is here. Graham’s statement on introduction of the bill and anticipating its markup on the SFRC is here.  Graham-Corker press release touting SFRC passage of the measure is here. Rubio press release is here.
     
    (CHANGING US POLICY ON JERUSALEM) HR 3547: Introduced 7/28 by Issa (R-CA) and four cosponsors (one Democrats, Vargas, D-CA), “To authorize the Secretary of State to establish a permanent residence in Jerusalem, Israel, for the United States Ambassador to Israel, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Note: Vargas has distinguished himself as the House Democrat most likely to cosponsor (often as the sole Democrat) legislation on Israel, Jerusalem, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that seeks to push U.S. policy in a direction favored by the Israeli far-right and its U.S. supporters (he has actually managed to out-do Sherman, D-CA, in his zeal). Such legislation includes HR 257, a bill offered by Franks, R-AZ, to change U.S. policy on Jerusalem (Vargas is the sole Democrat cosponsor); HR 1697, the House version of the anti-boycotts/pro-settlements legislation that is now the focus of concerns of the ACLU and others (Vargas was an original cosponsor on); HR 2856, a bill to support states legislating against boycotts of Israel and settlements (Vargas is an original cosponsor on; and of course H. Res. 11, slamming UNSCR 2334 (Vargas was an original cosponsor). His record in the previous Congress on this issue is similar.
     
    (IRAN – LET OUR PEOPLE GO) S. Res. 245: Introduced 8/3 by Cruz (R-TX) and Leahy (D-VT), “A resolution calling on the Government of Iran to release unjustly detained United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
     
    **UPDATE** ON FAUX-PRO-ISRAEL, PRO-SETTLEMENTS BILL: HR 1697 & S. 720: These bills remain very much in the news, as more and more people realize (belatedly) what is actually going on here: a concrete threat to free speech coupled with an effort to replace 50 years of U.S. policy opposing settlements with a new policy of actively defending settlements and treating them as part of Israel. See last week’s edition of the Round-Up for context and discussion of the ACLU’s (now repeatedly reiterated/defended position). For all the latest analysis/commentary from the ACLU (and other legal experts) see here. New this week on the issue:
  • At a town hall meeting on 7/31, Sen. Gillibrand faced strong questioning from constituents about her support for S. 720, and concerns about the free speech implications. This is at least the second round of public challenges to Gillibrand by constituents over her support for the bill (the first was on 7/22, at a town hall in the Bronx). On 7/31, Gillibrand told the crowd that she had met with the ACLU and agreed now that the bill was “ambiguous,” and committed to trying to change that, stating, “I will not support it in its current form.” Subsequently, on 8/1, Gillibrand formally withdrew her co-sponsorship of the bill.
     
  • On July 28, Amnesty International joined the chorus of voices objecting to the bills, sending letters to Senator Cardin (D-MD)and Congressman Roskam (R-IL).Amnesty argues that the bills would “directly violate U.S. legal obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression and association guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Amnesty also argues that the legislation “would violate U.S. legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, by implying recognition of and facilitating an illegal situation [by normalizing settlements]."
     
  • The chief cheerleader/defender of the bills (and of other anti-boycott/pro-settlements legislation), Eugene Kontorovich, was reportedly on the Hill 8/3 briefing in support of the legislation (not clear under what auspices), and insisting that those who say that the bill restricts free speech are mistaken. Ironically, Kontorovich’s analysis was in effect directly challenged in an article published last week by constitutional law/free speech expert Eugene Volokh – whose Washington Post column, “The Volokh Conspiracy,” has long been Kontorovich’s primary platform for promoting his agenda of legislating against BDS, boycotts of settlements, and any differentiation between Israel and settlements.

Letters
 
(GO AFTER PA AT THE UN) SFRC letter to Amb. Haley: On 8/3, SFRC Ranking member Cardin (D-MD) and chair Corker (R-TN) led a letter, cosigned by 14 SFRC members, to US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, calling on her to, “use your position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to raise the problem of PA payments for acts of terrorism at the UN Security Council.  We also request that you urge other U.N. member nations on the Council, in the General Assembly, and across UN agencies to join the U.S. in calling on the PA to end this system immediately. We are hopeful that your efforts to use diplomatic leverage on the international stage will complement action in Congress.” Press release is here.

2. Hearings

8/4: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a mark-up of S. 1697, a new version of the Taylor Force Act, Introduced 8/1 by Graham (R-SC) and having 19 cosponsors (“A bill to condition assistance to the West Bank and Gaza on steps by the Palestinian Authority to end violence and terrorism against Israeli citizens and United States Citizens”). During that mark-up, a number of amendments were offered (text of all them available here). The measure passed the SFRC 17-4, with the “no” votes coming from Booker (D-NJ), Udall (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR), and Murphy (D-CT). It is not known how much broader opposition there is to the bill in the Senate, but given this vote (and potential wider opposition) there is a good chance that leadership will be unable to bring the bill to the floor and move it by unanimous consent (the preferred option), setting up the possibility for a public, contentious vote on the measure. Cardin statement following SFRC passage of the bill is here. Graham’s statement on introduction of the bill and anticipating its markup on the SFRC is here.  Graham-Corker press release touting SFRC passage of the measure is here. Rubio press release is here.

3. On the Record
 
Mast (R-FL) 8/3: Press release – “Mast to Travel to Israel, Meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - Mast Joins Congressional Trip as Member of Foreign Affairs Committee; Mast Previously Served Alongside IDF in Israel
Rothfus (R-PA) 8/3: Press release – “Rothfus to Meet with Israeli and Palestinian Leaders
Sanders (I-VT) 8/2: Video - Why I Voted Against The Sactions Bill (While I support sanctions on Russia and North Korea, I voted against the sanctions bill last week because it contains sanctions on Iran that I believe could endanger the Iran nuclear agreement)
Lamborn (R-CO) 8/1: Op-ed on Washington Times (with Israeli MK Elazar Stern – Yesh Atid), “How terrorists use foreign aid to fund terror”
Blunt (D-DE) 8/1: Blunt Rochester Joins Whip Hoyer and House Democratic Members to Travel to Israel and Palestinian Territories
Cantwell (D-WA) 8/1: Cantwell Applauds Funding for Joint United States-Israel Energy Center

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