Legislative Round-up: July 11, 2018

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

1. Bills, Resolution, and Letters
2. Hearings and Markups
3. On the Record
 

1. Bills and Resolutions and Letters


(ISRAEL FREE SPEECH GAG BILLS) HR 1697: Introduced 3/23/17, and strongly backed/lobbied by AIPAC, the ADL, and a range of other groups, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act.” The bill has long been stalled over concerns about constitutionality – as in, it would brazenly violate the Constitutionally guaranteed right to political free speech. On June 28, the House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up and passed the measure, adopting an amendment in the nature of a substitute (offered by Royce, R-CA) that (a) does nothing to mitigate the First Amendment problems in the bill, and (b) arguably makes matters worse by legally handing the President broad authority/responsibility to, in effect, regulate – and thereby quash – political free speech. Despite these problems, the Committee passed the measure by a Voice Vote, with not a single member objecting or and only one Democrat expressing (limited) concerns. The Committee reported the bill out with an agreement to recommend the bill be taken up by the full House under suspension of the rules [note: the bill was also referred originally to the Financial Services Committee; as yet, that committee has neither marked up the bill nor waived jurisdiction. Unless/until it does so, the bill can’t be brought to the floor for a vote, so what leadership of that committee decides to do will be crucial]. For more on the markup, see Section 2, below. For analysis of the Royce version of the IABA, see: USCPR - Royce Amendment to Israel Anti-Boycott Act Is Still Unconstitutional; for further background, see my compendium of resources on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
 
(TARGETING UNRWA) HR 5898: [Because withholding funding isn’t enough for some members…] Introduced 5/21 by Cicilline (D-RI) and Zeldin (R-NY), “To require the Secretary of State to develop a strategy on administration policy regarding UNRWA, and for other purposes.” On 6/28, the House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up/passed HR 5898, and reported it out of Committee an agreement to recommend the bill be taken up by the full House, under suspension of the rules. For more on the markup, see Section 2, below.
 
(WISH LIST OF VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING ANYONE COULD THINK OF FOR ISRAEL) S. 2497: Introduced in the Senate 3/5 by Rubio (R-FL) and Coons (D-DE), and currently having 69 cosponsors, the “United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.” Scheduled for mark-up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 6/26; and again for mark-up on 7/10, when it was adopted by the Committee, with an amendment in the nature of a substitute. (Neither mark-up was broadcast). Rubio-Coons press release celebrating the SFRC action is here. Notably:
 

  • Sen. Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment to S. 2497 seeking to: (a) end US military aid to Israel, via annual reductions over a ten-year period; (b) end military aid to Egypt via annual reductions over a ten-year period; and (c) immediately suspend all economic aid (ESF) to the Palestinian Authority [given the passage of the Taylor Force Act, coupled with the current freeze on assistance to the Palestinians, that last provision is redundant). CUFI lobbied against Paul’s amendment and Booker (D-NJ) called on fellow SFRC members to oppose it. AIPAC, in its press release praising passage of the bill by the SFRC, noted that it “appreciates the committee's overwhelming rejection of an amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul to eliminate all aid to Israel over a 10-year period.It is worth noting that if a Democrat had offered an amendment even hinting at cutting aid to Israel, there would have been a public outcry suggesting that the Democratic Party was abandoning/betraying Israel. In the case of Paul’s proposal, the response has been: meh.
     
  • A key purpose of this legislation (in the House, HR 5141) is to prioritize supplying precision-guided munitions (PGMs, aka “smart bombs”) to Israel. As observed by Bryant Harris writing in the May 9 article in Al-Monitor, “There’s just one problem: The United States’ own stockpile is already insufficient.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee dealt with this issue in its markup of HR 5141, by adopting an amendment in the nature of a substitute that omits the provision – present in the original version of both the House and Senate bills – requiring the President to establish procedures to expedite the provision of PGMs to Israel. Notably, the version of the bill adopted by the SFRC on July 10 left that provision intact. [For further details on House actions on the bill, see the May 14 edition of the Round-Up].

 
(KINDA, SORTA STANDING WITH THE IRANIAN PEOPLE) H. Res. 979: Introduced 6/29 by Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX), “Expressing support for the Iranian people's continuing protests, fundamental human rights, and the desire for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic in Iran.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. [As of 7/10, text of the resolution has not been made public.]
 
(FY19 DOD APPROPS) HR 6157:  Introduced 6/20 by Granger (R-TX), the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2019.” The bill was debated and amended on the House floor June 26-28; passed June 28 by a vote of 359-49, and sent to the Senate. Middle East-related details of the bill and accompanying report were covered in the June 22 edition of the Round-Up.
 
Letters
 
(SUPPORT SECURITY AID TO ISRAEL…& ALSO EXPRESS CONCERN ABOUT ISRAEL’S DETENTION OF PALESTINIAN KIDS) Price-Schakowsky-Cohen-Yarmuth letter to Pompeo: Reps. Price (D-NC), Schakowsky (D-IL), Cohen (D-TN), and Yarmuth (D-KY) are circulating a Dear Colleague, headlined, “Support Necessary Security Aid to Israel and Stop Palestinian Child Detention by Israeli Military.” The Dear Colleague invites members to cosign a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo (originally set to close on 7/11, but reportedly may be held open a little longer). The letter opens with concerns about Palestinian child detention by the Israeli military, followed by a political CYA-non-sequitur-par-excellence, stating: “As we express our concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in detention, we are also united in our continued willingness to work with you on constructive steps to counter terrorist activity and violence toward Israelis. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to providing necessary security assistance to Israel that saves the lives of innocent civilians from terrorism and rocket attacks…” The latter language is especially striking (not so much for what it says but for the fact that the drafters were pressed to or felt it necessary to add it) if one compares this letter to a previous letter on the same topic led by this same group of House members in 2015 – in which they apparently did not feel the same necessity to counter-balance concern for the fundamental human rights of kids with a broad declaration of support for Israel.
 
(CONCERNS ABOUT PGMS FOR KSA/UAE) Menendez letter to Pompeo & Mattis: On 6/28, Menendez (D-NJ) sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis expressing his continued concern about proposed sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The letter closes, stating: “I am not confident that these weapons sales will be utilized strategically as effective leverage to push back on Iran’s actions in Yemen, assist our partners in their own self-defense, or drive the parties toward a political settlement that saves lives and mitigates humanitarian suffering.  Even worse, I am concerned that our policies are enabling perpetuation of a conflict that has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Press release is here.

2. Hearings & Markups

7/17: The House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security [acting in its capacity, apparently, as a second House foreign affairs committee) will hold a hearing entitled, “A New Horizon in U.S.-Israel Relations: From an American Embassy in Jerusalem to Potential Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” No witnesses have yet been announced (stay tuned for what will no doubt be a highly objective, expert, erudite panel).
 
7/12: The House Finance Committee’s will hold a hearing entitled, “Countering the Financial Networks of Weapons Proliferation.” Scheduled witnesses (focused very heavily on Iran and Iran sanctions) are: David Albright, ISIS; Tom Keatinge, Royal United Services Institute; Emanuele Ottolenghi, FDD; and Elizabeth Rosenberg, CNAS.
 
7/11: The House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security held a hearing entitled, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Threat.” Witnesses were: Hillel Fradkin, Hudson Institute (statement); Jonathan Schanzer, FDD (statement); Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy (statement); and Daniel Benjamin, Dartmouth University (statement). Video of the hearing is here. And CONGRATULATIONS, House Oversight Committee, on holding yet another all-male panel!
 
6/28: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a markup of a number of bills, including HR 1697 (the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” aka the IABA) and HR 5898 (the UNRWA Accountability Act of 2018, aka the UAA). Ranking member Engel’s (D-NY) opening statement is here. With regard to HR 1697, the Committee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute offered by Chairman Royce (R-CA); with respect to HR 5898, the Committee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute offered be Zeldin (R-NY) [for full, including of second degree amendments, see the summary of committee action). Both bills (along with other measures considered as part of the same mark-up) were adopted by a voice vote, in a single en bloc vote at the end of the markup. Video of the mark-up is here. Roskam’s (R-IL) press release cheering action on his bill (the IABA) is here. Cicilline’s press release cheering action on his bill (the UAA) is here.
 
Some observations:

  • The IABA, in its various forms, been vociferously opposed by the ACLU and other free speech orgs (for expert analysis on the Constitutional problems with the IABA and similar bills, see my resource page here). The Royce version in no way addresses the Constitutional concerns that are at the heart of this opposition. Indeed, the Royce text arguably makes matters worse by legally giving the President broad authority/responsibility to, in effect, regulate – and thereby quash – political free speech.
     
  • Members from both parties, including progressive Democrats, took advantage of the forum to grandstand against UNRWA, as well as to misrepresent both the IABA and EU/UN policy regarding differentiation between Israel and settlements, and cheer for the IABA’s passage – demonstrating that when it comes to grandstanding on Israel (even at the expense of free speech and humanitarian aid) remains a bipartisan matter in the Trump era.
     
  • The ONLY member expressing any concern (even if it was a very limited concern) over HR 1697 was Castro (D-TX), starting at 58:06 in the hearing. The fact that only one Democrat raised even minimal concerns about this bill is stunning, given the manifestly unconstitutional nature of the measure, the clear opposition from the ACLU, and huge grassroots opposition.
     
  • From the start, it has been clear that the primary goal of the IABA and similar measures is to erase – as a matter of US law – any distinction between Israel and settlements, in order to protect settlements and Israeli occupation policies from pressure. Underscoring the validity of this analysis, Rep. Frankel (D-FL) used her time during the hearing to speak in impassioned support of the bill, and highlighted SodaStream as an example of the kind of pressure that Congress wants to prevent (this was pressure on a company operating in the industrial zone of a SETTLEMENT, not inside Israel). Not only did Frankel misleadingly describe the pressure on SodaStream to get out of a settlement as a boycott of Israel (SodaStream eventually moved inside Israel’s sovereign borders, opening the door for many of us to, yes, buy a SodaStream machine), she credulously adopting the argument that SodaStream was doing good because it provided employment for Palestinians (for why this argument is completely misguided, see my 2014 analysis, “Sodastream, ScarJo, and the Myth of Benevolent Occupation.”
     

3. On the Record

Zeldin (R-NY), Hill (R-AR), Barr (R-KY), Kustoff (R-TN) 7/10: Hour-long colloquy on Hillary’s emails. Wait, I mean, on the evils of the Obama Admin & the JCPOA (sorry for the confusion over which dead horse/red herring is being beaten).
Lamborn (R-CO) 7/6: Press release - Knesset Passes Israeli Version of the Taylor Force Act [“Member of Knesset Elazar Stern said, "…Passing the Taylor Force Act in the U.S. made me wonder about how it could be that unlike the Americans, we in Israel continue to transfer funds that are used for terrorism. From that realization our law came, which I think has historic significance…"
Deutch (D-FL) 7/1: Tweet, “Proud to visit the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and discuss the strong bipartisan American support for Israel.” Deutch’s is a comment-with-retweet on a tweet from Ambassador David “Republicans-support-Israel-more-than-Democrats” Friedman, “Great meeting today with Congressmen @RepTedDeutch and @RepSires at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Bipartisan support for Israel is a longstanding tradition and quintessential American value!” – a tweet accompanied by a picture of all 3 men standing next to the engraving marking the new embassy building – with Friedman looking enormously self-satisfied)
Smith (R-NJ) 6/28: Apparently not content with his comments during the hearing, Smith made a statement cheering for HFAC passage of both bills and taking shots at UNRWA
Royce (R-CA) 6/28: floor statement, “It is time to sanction Assad and his backers” (pushing the Senate to pass the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act
Kinzinger (R-IL) 6/28: floor statement, “Let’s Save Syria”
Lamborn (R-CO) 6/28:  Floor statement of “support for the Iranian people,” aka, MIGA - MAKING IRAN GREAT AGAIN [excerpt: “…Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are ideals that America champions, the same ideals that the Iranian protestors are risking their lives to achieve. To this end, I support the Iranian people, as do the Trump administration and the free world.”]
Cotton (R-AR) 6/26: Press release on Iranian protests – “…The Iranian regime is hopelessly corrupt, and it is robbing the Iranian people blind to fund its terrorist escapades. The people are now speaking out, and the United States stands with them-as should our European allies.”
Rooney (R-FL) 6/26: Press release on Iranian protests: “The latest round of protests rocking the Iranian capital are further evidence of the asymmetries between the people of Iran, who yearn for democracy, and the repressive regime. The people care about rampant unemployment and rising inflation, while the radical mullahs in charge are more concerned with exporting terror and establishing Shiite hegemony across the region. The United States must stand with the democratically-minded Iranian people.”
Cantwell (D-WA) 6/25: Press release – “Cantwell Commends Launch Of Joint U.S. - Israel Energy Center”

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