APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending 3/8/13

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. AIPAC Policy Conference
3. Hearings
4. Members on the Record
5. From the Press

 

CYMI:
Huffington Post 3/7: Killing the Two-State Solution Through the Suspension of Disbelief (Lara Friedman takes on Dennis Ross' 14-point plan and similar ideas...)

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(ISRAEL BEST-ALLY-WITH-BENEFITS) HR 938 and S. 462: HR 983 was introduced 3/4 by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Deutch (D-FL) and currently has 48 additional cosponsors. It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, plus the Committees on the Judiciary, and Science, Space, and Technology. S. 462 was introduced 3/5 by Senators Boxer (D-CA) and 4 cosponsors, and has since added one more cosponsor. Both have the short title "United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013." As expected, these bills were focal points of AIPAC supporters who lobbied the Hill this past week, and are featured on AIPAC's website under its "Legislative Agenda" (also labeled its "Policy Agenda"). NOTE: These bills are NOT identical. In fact, they are very different, although substantively the goals of both are the same:

- Making it U.S. policy that Israel is a "major strategic partner" of the United States. This terms is, at present, without any legal meaning (stay tuned, perhaps, for future legislation formally defining this brand-new designation...). The Senate version gives a hint of this when it states that it is U.S. policy "to pursue every opportunity to deepen cooperation with Israel on a range of critical issues including defense, homeland, energy, and cyber security."

- Extending Israeli access to the U.S. War Reserves Stockpile.

- Making Israel eligible for the strategic trade authorization exception, exempting Israel from the requirement for a license for the export, reexport, or in-country transfer of an item subject to controls under the Export Administration Regulations.

- Enhancing (including with additional funding) activities to promote U.S.-Israel cooperation in the fields of energy, water, homeland security, agriculture, and alternative fuel technologies.

- Expanding U.S.-Israel cyber-security cooperation. NOTE: HR 983 includes only a sense of Congress "that the United States and Israel should take steps and explore avenues to increase cooperation on cyber-security." S. 462 requires that the President report to Congress within 180 days "on the feasibility and advisability of establishing a joint United States-Israel Cyber Security Center for the purposes of sharing and advancing technologies related to the prevention of cybercrimes."

- Getting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program. NOTE: The House and Senate bill take very different approaches on this issue. The House bill in effect states that it shall be U.S. policy to include Israel as a Visa Waiver country once it has satisfied the laws governing such a designation. The House also requires a report to Congress from the Secretary of State on "the extent to which Israel satisfies the requirements specified in section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act for inclusion in the visa waiver program...and what additional steps, if any, are required in order for Israel to qualify for inclusion in such program." The Senate bill, in contrast, takes the extraordinary step of seeking to change the current U.S. law to create a special and unique exception for Israel in U.S. immigration law. Under S. 462, Israel would be exempted from the key existing requirement for the Visa Waiver program (a low refusal rate for non-immigrant visas). The Senate language also requires that the Secretary of State certify that Israel "has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens." This apparently is an effort to circumvent the problematic Visa Waiver program requirement that participating countries grant "reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States." This is a problem in Israel's case, due to Israel's regular and arbitrary denial of entry to U.S. citizens traveling both to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza (in particular U.S. citizens of Arab descent or U.S. citizens viewed as sympathetic to the Palestinians). This is such a serious problem that it is covered in the U.S. official Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and has received significant press coverage.

- Finally, the Senate version includes what is perhaps the weakest, most back-handed statement imaginable in terms of support for Israeli-Palestinian peace and the two-state solution - language that disconnects the issue from U.S. national security interests and in doing so creates a formulation that inconsistent with the actual foreign policy of the Obama Administration or ANY previous administration. The S. 462 states that it is U.S. policy to support for the Government of Israel "in its ongoing efforts to reach a negotiated political settlement with the Palestinian people that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security." The House version says nothing about Israel-Palestinian peace effort at all (which given the Senate wording is probably the better option).

(SUPPORT FOR ISRAELI ATTACK ON IRAN) H. Res. 98: Introduced 3/5 by Rep. Gosar (R-AZ) and having 25 cosponsors, "Expressing support for Israel and its right to self-defense against the illegal nuclear program by the Islamic Republic of Iran." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This appears to be an effort to grab a piece of the attention/credit that the Senate is getting over S. Res. 65, the so-called "Backdoor to War" resolution that is one of the centerpieces of current AIPAC lobbying. H. Res. 98 is less of a backdoor then a wide-open front door, stating in it single resolved clause that "the House of Representatives fully supports Israel's lawful exercise of self-defense, including actions to halt Iranian aggression such as a strike against Iran's illegal nuclear program." Gosar's statement introducing the bill is here.

(CUT OFF AID TO EGYPT) HR 939: Introduced 3/4 by Rep. Bentivolio (R-MI) and having 4 cosponsors, the "Support Democracy in Egypt Act." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. NOTE: Notwithstanding its democracy-oriented name, this legislation doesn't actually contain a single word about democracy. The conditions for assistance it lays out are focused on the government ending support for terrorism (apparently reflecting the continuing misapprehension in Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is a U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization), promoting "religious and political freedoms for the people of Egypt" (very vague), stopping smuggling through the Sinai and Gaza and adhering to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

(RELIGIOUS & MINORITY FREEDOMS IN ARAB WORLD) S. Res. 69: Introduced 3/7 by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) and no cosponsors, "A resolution calling for the protections of religious minority rights and freedoms in the Arab world." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

2. AIPAC Policy Conference

As reported in last week's Round-Up, March 3-5 was this year's AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Members of Congress addressing the conference included: Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Democratic WhipSteny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ChairmanRobert Menendez (R-NJ). Check the AIPAC website for details of the events, speeches, etc. Notably, check out AIPAC's reports, "Top Congressional Leaders to Address AIPAC Gala" and "AIPAC Activists to Lobby Every Senator and House Member Today."

As anticipated, AIPAC's legislative/policy agenda, linked to this week's AIPAC Policy Conference, centered on the following legislative initiatives (all of which are listed on the AIPAC website):

HR 850: This it the latest in a long line of AIPAC-backed Iran sanctions bill. As of this writing, HR 850 has attracted a total of 103 cosponsors (including Royce, R-CA, the lead sponsor). APN strongly objects to this bill and has called on members of Congress to (a) refuse to cosponsor it, and (b) to refuse to permit it to be ramrodded through the House, and instead to call for a full deliberative process, including committee hearings and markups during which the substance of the bill can be dealt with seriously and deficiencies in the bill can be addressed through amendments. APN's statement on HR 850 is available here. Our detailed analysis on the substance/problems with HR 850 is availablehere. Our Action Alert urging our supporters across the country to write to their members of Congress is here.

S. Res. 65: This is the "Backdoor to War" resolution discussed in detail inlast week's Round-Up. As of this writing, S. Res. 65 has attracted a total of 47 cosponsors (including Graham, R-SC, the lead sponsor). APN strongly objects to this resolution and has called on Senators to (a) refuse to cosponsor it, and (b) to refuse to permit it to be ramrodded through the Senate, and instead to call for a full deliberative process, including committee hearings and markups during which the substance of the resolution can be dealt with seriously and deficiencies in the bill can be addressed through amendments. APN's statement on S. Res. 65 is available here. Our detailed analysis on the substance/problems with S. Res. 65 is available here. Our Action Alert urging our supporters across the country to write to their Senators is here.

HR 938 and S. 462: These are the "Best-Ally-With-Benefits" bills, discussed in Section 1, above.

In addition, AIPAC supporters are lobbying the Hill for full funding of U.S. assistance to Israel (despite the ongoing sequestration issue). TheAIPAC website notes that "Despite ongoing buget [sic] woes, it is critical that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel. As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel's - and America's - enemies."

The draft letter AIPAC suggests activists send to their elected officials reads includes the following:

"...While I understand the tough budgetary environment facing our nation and the difficult decisions that lawmakers on Capitol Hill need to make, the Middle East is in turmoil right now and the slated increases for Israel are absolutely vital to her security and well-being. For Congress to support anything less than the full U.S. commitment to Israel's security would send the wrong message to the enemies of both our nations and would weaken Israel exactly at a time when she needs to be strong."

 

The issue of cuts (real or potential) to Israel aid due to the sequester, and possible AIPAC lobbying related to those cuts, has received a great deal of press coverage, including:

Globes 3/7: US reduces Israel aid cut - The US military aid cut to Israel for fiscal year 2013 will be reduced by 5% to $155 million, instead of the 8% cut initially planned.
Arutz Sheva 3/7: Report: US to Cut Aid to Israel by $150M
AFP 3/6: US defense chief seeks to reassure Israel on aid
JTA 3/5: Sequester cuts to Israel expected to be $155 million
JTA 3/5: At AIPAC confab, sequester looms large
Reuters 3/5: U.S. aims to support Israeli defense systems despite budget cuts
The Hill (Blog) 3/4: 'Israel lobby' to push for aid despite sequestration cuts
UPI 3/4: Israel fears $500M U.S. military aid cut
Israel Hayom 3/3: Israel prepares to take aid hit as US enacts budget cuts
Globes 3/3: AIPAC lobbies Congress to protect aid to Israel
JTA 3/3: Israel's finance chief worries about sequestration effects
YNEt 3/1: Israel may lose $500 million in US aid

Overall, the AIPAC conference - and the participation of many members of Congress, also received a lot of press attention, including:

NJ.com 3/5: Menendez shows support to Israel in first major speech as Senate committee chair
Roll Call 3/5: AIPAC Floods Hill to Advocate for Israel
Daily Beast 3/5: Missing In AIPAC's 'How To Lobby' Videos (Emily Hauser at Open Zion)
Haaretz 3/5: Full text of Cantor's speech at AIPAC policy conference
Slate 3/4: It Takes an AIPAC Village - When it comes to influencing U.S. foreign policy, the preeminent pro-Israel lobby knows which fights are worth fighting

3. Hearings

3/13: The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations will hold a CLOSED oversight hearing on Syria, featuring Ambassador Robert Ford.

4. Members on the Record

Stabenow (D-MI) 3/7: Commemorating Israel's 65th Anniversary
Reid (D-NV) 3/6: Statement on Syria
Roskam (R-IL) 3/6: Statement on AIPAC-backed bills, HR 850 and HR 938
Cotton (R-AK) 3/6: Condemning Attacks on MEK Members at Camp Liberty
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) & Deutch (D-FL) 3/4: Press release on HR 938
Bilirakis (R-FL) 3/4: Condemning Turkey PM Comparison Between Zionism and Facism
Wilson (R-SC) 3/4: Noting with respect to the sequester: "Removing these resources so drastically places American families and our allies, such as Israel, at risk of future attacks."
Engel (D-NY) 3/1: Regarding Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's Statement Equating Zionism with a Crime against Humanity
McCarthy (D-NY) 3/1: Condemning Comments by Turkish Prime Minister
Kennedy (D-MA) 3/1: Condemning Comments by Turkish Prime Minister
Griffin (R-AR) 3/1: Griffin Calls on Obama Administration to Stop Egyptian F-16 Deal

5. From the Press

Times of Israel 3/8: Carl Levin says he won't seek 2014 reelection
Arutz Sheva 3/2: Rand Paul: It's not Our Business Where Israelis Build

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