APN Legislative Round-Up: March 4, 2016

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. APN Analysis/Commentary on Obama Signing Statement
3. Hearings
4. On the Record

Note: The campaign to legitimize Israeli settlements – through U.S. legislation conflating settlements and Israel – continues. In tandem with this campaign is a steady stream of reports about U.S. policy vis-à-vis settlements and the West Bank since 1967. Many of these reports – either out of incompetence or a deliberate effort to mislead – misrepresent the facts (to say the least). In response to the latest round of factually incorrect reports, on 2/16 APN published: Setting the Record Straight (again) on U.S. Labeling Policy – which includes both analysis and links to all the relevant U.S. government original source documents.

1. Bills & Resolutions

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – TRADE POLICY) HR 644: As noted in the last round-up, on 2/11 the Senate finally voted on the conference version of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, aka the Customs Bill, passing it by a vote of 75-20.  The conference version (i.e., the text agreed to by House and Senate representatives in a joint conference to iron out differences between their respective versions of the bill) was passed before the winter recess and had been sitting at the Senate desk awaiting a vote since that time. What happened next is the following:

  • On 2/23, when Congress returned to session after a week in recess, HR 644 was signed by the Speaker of the House and sent to the president.
  • AIPAC’s statement praising Congress for passing the measure (which, unsurprisingly, omits any mention of the settlements-related elements in the provision, portraying the provision, simply as an effort to “combat harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices,” is here).
  • On 2/24, HR 644 was signed into law by President Obama.
  • The chief advocates of the settlements=Israel language in the House and Senate – Roskam (R-IL) and Portman (R-OH) – issued statements (here and here, respectively) celebrating the signing the faux-anti-BDS provisions of the bill into law.
  • As long predicted (by this writer), when he signed HR 644, President Obama issued a signing statement saying, in effect, that the settlements=Israel provision of the law was unconstitutional and would not be implemented. For full analysis and commentary on that signing statement, see here or Section 2, below.
  • Speaker Ryan’s statement closed with an explicit threat to compel the Administration to enforce the settlements=Israel provision: “We will use our oversight capacity to ensure these measures are faithfully enforced.” It is worth noting that Roskam staffer Michael Shapiro recently made the move to Speaker Ryan’s office (opening para of the linked article: “Michael Shapiro was galvanized into pro-Israel work after witnessing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel at Columbia University, where he was studying in a joint program with Jewish Theological Seminary. Lobbying trips to Washington solidified his decision to move to Washington and work on his foreign policy passions through a conservative lens.”

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – TRADE POLICY) HR 4555: Introduced 2/12 by Lamborn (R-CO) and having 18 all-GOP cosponsors, “A bill to clarify the application of section 304 of the Tariff Act of 1930 as it relates to articles from areas of the West Bank and Gaza that are not administered by Israel.” The purpose of the bill is to retroactively make it U.S. policy that settlement goods are labeled as “made in Israel.” Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. Lamborn press release touting the bill is here.  Lamborn argues in that press release that, “this legislation is needed to clarify the labeling guidelines, as they were never intended to apply to Israeli controlled territory within the West Bank or Gaza, and were subject to final status negotiations.” This argument is entirely without foundation, as laid out in excruciating detail (with links to the relevant original U.S. government documents), here.

(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) H. Res. 551: Introduced 12/3 by Lieu (D-CA) and having 92 cosponsors, “Recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Marked up by the Committee on Foreign Affairs 2/23 and reported out by unanimous consent. Lieu’s press release issued when the resolution was introduced is here – notably, in that press release there is no mention of BDS. Now, the resolution, while not amended in any way, is now being re-branded as a response to BDS, including in a Free Beacon article presenting the months-old resolution as a new initiative (and as a Free Beacon scoop). It was also portrayed this way in a report on the settler media outlet Arutz Sheva (a report derived from the Free Beacon article), entitled “Congress moves to 'boost Israel ties, hammer BDS'” –  apparently pleased ith this re-branding, that article was re-posted on Lieu’s own website. In addition, Rep. “and-that’s-just-the-way-it -s” Poe (R-TX) weighed in with his support for the measure, here.

(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) S. Res. 383 (Senate version of H. Res. 551): Introduced 3/1 by Perdue (R-GA) and having 4 cosponsors as of this writing, “A resolution recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(JEWS FROM ARAB LANDS + IRAN) HR 4664: Introduced 3/2 by Nadler and 15 cosponsors, the “Displaced Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran Act.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill, which requires the issue of Jewish refugees to be resolved as part of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, is a new iteration of H. Res. 185, passed back in 2008, updated to include Jews from Iran, and with some binding elements added. Aside from the addition of the issue of Jews from Iran (it is not clear how Congress expects that issue to resolved in the context of ARAB-Israeli peace efforts), what was true about H. Res. 185 is also true here: while other efforts in Congress have sought to make resolution of claims of Jews from Arab countries a condition for Israeli-Palestinian peace, this bill ties resolution of these claims to comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace efforts. As noted with respect to H. Res. 185, “This represents a significantly more responsible approach -- i.e., one that does not create a new obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace by holding Israeli-Palestinian peace hostage to multilateral negotiations between Jewish refugees and the countries against which they may wish to lodge claims.”  The same analysis applies to HR 4664 – although, bizarrely, the new formulation now appears to hand Iran (a country that is an adversary not only of Israel but of many of Arab regimes) veto power over any comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace. Nadler et al press release on the bill is here.

(AUMF AGAINST HAMAS & HIZBALLAH) H. J. Res. 84: Introduced 3/2 by Perry (R-PA) and Salmon (R-AZ), “To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against organizations that support Islamist extremism, and for other purposes.” Consistent with the Netanyahu worldview, the resolution explicitly equates Hamas and Hizballah with ISIS and other groups, noting: “The list of organizations described in this subsection are the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Nusrah Front, the Haqqani-Network, the Taliban, Houthi’s [sic], Khorasan Group, Hamas, Hezbollah, and any substantial supporters, associated forces, or closely related successor entities to any of such organizations.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(SYRIA WAR CRIMES) H. Con. Res. 121: Introduced 3/1 by Smith (R-NJ) and 3 cosponsors, “Expressing the sense of the Congress condemning the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict in Syria, and asking the President to direct his Ambassador at the United Nations to promote the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes could be addressed.Marked up 3/2 in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and reported out by Unanimous Consent.

(AMERICANS HELD IN IRAN) H. Res. 148: Introduced 3/10/15 by Deutch (D-FL) and having 34 cosponsors, “Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States hostage in our Nation's history.” Marked up in and reported out by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs 2/24. Brought to the floor under suspension of the rules 2/29 and passed by voice vote. Floor consideration 2/29 is here (statements from Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL; Smith, R-NJ; and Deutch, D-FL). Deutch press release on committee passage of the bill is here. Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) statement here.



(VISA WAIVER PROGRAM & DUAL NATIONALS) Durbin et al letter: On 2/12, Senator Durbin (D-IL) and 12 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seeking guidance on the issuance of waivers for individuals who are dual nationals of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program and Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. The letter states, “Notably, the prohibition on dual nationals [passed as part of recent legislation] applies to individuals who were born in VWP countries and have never traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, but who are nationals of one of these countries solely because of their ancestry.  We support reforming the VWP, but singling people out based on their national origin does not make us safer, is inconsistent with American values, and invites discrimination against American citizens who are dual nationals.” Press release on the letter is here.

(CONFIRM ADAM SZUBIN) Senate Banking Committee Dems letter: On 2/22, all 10 of the Democrats on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs sent a letter urging Chairman Shelby (R-AL) to stop obstructing President Obama’s nominees for critical Administration positions related to financial oversight, national security, export financing, and public transportation safety, including Adam Szubin. The letter notes, “The nominees include Adam Szubin, who was appointed in April 2015 to serve as Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes at the Treasury Department. Szubin is currently serving in the position in an acting capacity. The post is essential to enforcing U.S. sanctions laws against countries like North Korea, Iran, and Russia, as well as to choking off funding to ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations.”

(US FUNDING FOR ETHIOPIAN CITIZENS OF ISRAEL?) Hastings/Murphy letter: This week, Reps. Hastings (D-FL) and Murphy (D-FL) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to the Appropriations Committee ForOps Subcommittee chair and ranking member – Granger (R-TX) and Lowey (D-NY), respectively. The letter asks them to include in the FY17 ForOps report language (accompanying the ForOps bill) a recommendation that the State Department provide $12 million in ESF funding “for the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) and its mission of advancing the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society.” The U.S. does not provide ESF to Israel (which ranks 33rd on the list of wealthiest countries), so these funds would come out of the small pot of un-earmarked ESF funding available in the annual ForOps bill.


2. APN Analysis/Commentary on Obama Signing Statement

Following President Obama’s issuance if his signing statement on HR 644, APN published the following analysis/commentary:

With Obama Signing Statement, the Conflation Campaign Must Stop

by Lara Friedman 02/26/16

On February 24th, Congress sent HR 644, known as the “Customs Bill,” to President Obama's desk. As we has been reporting for the past year, this bill includes a provision that, while ostensibly about countering the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, is in truth about legitimizing settlements and for the first time in history legislating U.S. support for and defense of Israel's settlement enterprise and the occupation that enables it. The provision achieves this by conflating Israel and the occupied territories, in effect requiring the U.S. to treat both as sovereign Israel.

As long predicted by APN, when President Obama signed HR 644 into law shortly after it reached his desk, he issued a signing statement [text of statement is here] observing (correctly) that the conflation of Israel and settlements contradicts longstanding U.S. foreign policy and violates the Executive's constitutional foreign policy prerogative, and declaring that this conflation would not be implemented.

Like President George W. Bush, who in 2002 issued a similar signing statement in response to a Congressional effort to change longstanding U.S. foreign policy regarding Jerusalem, President Obama deserves credit for defending the Executive's prerogative in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy. This prerogative was confirmed emphatically and to a degree unprecedented in U.S. history by the Supreme Court last year. The Court did so, ironically, in its ruling on the Jerusalem law that President Bush declared unconstitutional.

These two cases – Congress seeking to legislate a change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem and now on settlements –highlight why the drafters of the Constitution vested foreign policy in the hands of the executive, where it is to a greater degree insulated from reckless efforts that, for the purposes of grandstanding and populist point scoring, would move U.S. foreign policy in a direction that is anathema to U.S. national security interests.

APN has followed, reported on, and vociferously opposed the “settlements=Israel” provision in the Customs Bill since its inception, along with similar provisions in other legislation. APN has also repeatedly raised concerns about AIPAC and other Jewish community groups who advocated and lobbied for this provision, and their consistently dishonest or disingenuous insistence that it is merely about BDS.

The fact that AIPAC and its fellow travelers have actively sought to obscure the real intent of these legislative efforts, hiding behind false claims that these measures are merely about stopping BDS, underscores their own awareness of the fact that openly advocating for settlements would find little support among the same American Jews they claim to represent. Indeed, such a campaign would likely divide the American Jews to a degree unseen since the early 1990s, when AIPAC opposed then-Prime Minister Rabin's efforts, backed by President Clinton, to launch the peace process with the Palestinians.

Looking ahead, it is clear that advocates of the settlements plan to continue to try to exploit concerns about BDS against Israel to legislate the "settlements=Israel" conflation wherever they can. Numerous pieces of legislation are pending in Congress, including measures that are expected to be key "asks" in next month's AIPAC policy conference. Likewise, numerous states are considering, and some have already passed, their own "settlements=Israel" measures.

It's not too late for AIPAC and other groups to desist from this dishonest campaign and cease efforts to hijack concerns about BDS against Israel in order to legitimize settlements. It's not too late for them to recognize that by refusing to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories, they are only making common cause with and strengthening the BDS movement. They are, in effect, advocating for a mirror image of the outcome sought by many in BDS movement: a zero-sum goal of one nation, Greater Israel or Palestine, extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Failing that, AIPAC and others backing this campaign, both at the federal and state level, must come clean to legislators and the American people about the real purpose of these efforts: not combating BDS but legitimizing settlements and the occupation. At least, then, Americans and American Jews who care about Israel – including elected officials – could have an honest debate about what is being proposed and what is at stake.

APN will continue to track, report on, and vociferously oppose all such measures. APN will likewise continue to both oppose BDS against Israel and support boycotts and other activism targeting settlements and the occupation.


3. Hearings

3/2: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing entitled, “The Growing Threat of Cholera and Other Diseases in the Middle East.” Witnesses were: Dr. Peter Hotez, Sabin Vaccine Institute [statement]; Dr. Issam Raad, Health Outreach to the Middle East [statement]; and Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, CSIS [statement]. Video of the hearing is here.

2/25: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a full committee hearing entitled “Strengthening U.S. Leadership in a Turbulent World: The FY 2017 Foreign Affairs Budget.” The hearing’s sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry (prepared testimony). Video of the hearing is here.

2/24: The House Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Budget Hearing - Department of State and Foreign Assistance.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. Forops subcommittee chair Granger’s (R-TX) opening statement is here; full committee chair Rogers (R-KY) is here.

2/24: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s ForOps Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “State, Foreign Operations Review of FY17 State Dept. Budget Request.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry (testimony). Video of the hearing is here.

2/24: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a full committee markup of H. Res. 148, calling on the government of Iran to fulfill their promises of assistance in this case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States hostage in our Nation's history; H. Res. 551, recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation; H.R. 3924, the ``Global Development Lab of 2015''; and H.R. 4403, the “Enhancing Overseas Traveler Vetting Act.” Video of the markup is here. A summary of the Committee’s actions is here.

2/24: The House Judiciary Committee held a markup of HR 3892, the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015.” The bill was introduced 11/-3/15. Video of the markup is here; a transcript of the markup is here. The committee passed the bill by a party line vote of 17-10.  An article celebrating the committee’s action, published by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, is here. Interestingly, WINEP counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt tweeted, in response to the Committee’s action: “I'm no fan of the MB, but this is a bad idea. Judiciary Comm Calls on Admin to List Muslim Brotherhood as Terror Org.” When asked why, Levitt responded, “MB is radical, extremist & sometimes violent. But it will fall short of FTO or SDGTE designation standards.”

2/23: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Review of the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry [prepared statement].  Video of the hearing is here.


4. On the Record

Engel (D-NY) 3/3: Applauding the GCC’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization

Nadler (D-NY) 3/3: Statement on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign at Columbia University (excerpt: “

Blumenthal (D-CT) and Coons (D-DE) 3/3: Calling for new sanctions against private Iranian airline company Mahan Air (also see Al-Monitor: US seeks to block sanctioned Iranian airline’s flights into Europe)  Coons also made the case for “why it is critical that the Senate confirm Adam Szubin, Treasury's now-Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, who plays a key role in pressuring our allies to push back on Iran and who, in the absence of confirmation, is weakened in that vital role. If we are serious about our shared intentions to hold Iran accountable, then this Senate must confirm Adam Szubin, and our European allies must work with us to sanction Mahan Air.” [NOTE: Coons references bipartisan letter on this subject sent this week to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (text of letter not posted so far)]

Peters (D-MI) 3/3: Agreeing about new sanctions on Mahan Air, addressing Iran’s elections, and making the case for “the need to confirm highly qualified nominees like Alan Szubin, who will oversee Treasury Department sanctions against Iran and the front companies used to support illicit activities, and we need to urge our allies to join us in imposing these sanctions. We need to ensure that we provide the IAEA with the resources required to do its job and conduct rigorous daily oversight of the JCPOA.  Most importantly, we must continue to provide strict oversight of the JCPOA and ensure compliance with its terms. We cannot let up or be distracted by perceived improvements or setbacks in Iran's politics. We made a commitment to the American people that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. This is a commitment we must uphold and be focused on each and every day.

Royce (R-CA) 3/3: Chairman Royce Welcomes GCC Action Against Hezbollah

Gohmert (R-TX) 3/3: Another Gohmert rant on the House floor, with lots of stuff about the Obama Administration betraying Israel and how this has outraged the American people

Smith (D-WA) 3/3: On the Iranian elections

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 3/2: Ros-Lehtinen Encouraged By Gulf Nations’ Pledge To Designate Hezbollah A Terrorist Organization; Urges GCC To Do More To Combat Terror Financing

Pittenger (R-NC) 3/2: “Should Foreign Aid Be Linked to Willingness to Combat Terrorism Financing?” (excerpt: “For example, I am interested in exploring whether or not Technical Assistance for Economic Crimes should be expanded, or merged with, resources, including asset forfeitures, and other foreign aid that we have provided to so many countries around the world. In Turkey, the United States has provided an average of $10 million a year for the past decade in foreign aid.  This is in addition to the vast amount of foreign military sales we provide to Turkey.  What if some of these dollars and programs became tied to combating economic crimes in Turkey and creating additional accountability regarding terror financing?”)

Zeldin (R-NY), Pompeo (R-KS) and LoBiondo (R-NY) 2/29: on Iran’s Elections, Iranian Government’s Missed Deadline to Respond to Visa Applications

Sen. Fischer (R-NE) 2/29: Celebrating Nebraska’s new beef agreement with Israel

Hoyer (D-MD) 2/28:  Statement on the elections in Iran

Pompeo (R-KS) 2/26: Oped in the Washington Examiner – “Amid Iran's 2016 elections, our visas: denied”

Coons (D-DE) 2/25: On elections in Iran

DeSantis (R-FL) 2/24: DeSantis Commends Florida’s Passage of Anti-BDS Bill

Zeldin (R-NY) 2/24: State Department Admits in Writing to Rep. Lee Zeldin that the Iran Nuclear Deal Hasn't Been Signed Yet by Iran

Rubio (R-FL) 2/24: Rubio Commends Florida Legislature For Passing Law Targeting Anti-Israeli Boycotts

Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ) 2/23: Kirk, Menendez Comment on GAO’s Interim Report on Iran Nuclear Deal’s International Inspections

Young (R-IN) 2/19: Rep. Todd Young Responds to News on Iran's Illicit Weapons Procurement, Expected Launch

Portman (R-OH) 2/18: Iran Deal Remains Highly Unpopular With the American People

Boyle (R-PA) 2/14: Article in the National Interest highlighting (oddly) Boyle’s faux-anti-BDS (actually pro-settlements) bill, HR 2645 (introduced 6/4/15)

McCain (R-AZ) 2/14: Remarks on the agreement on a cessation of hostilities in Syria, at the annual Munich Security Conference (taking opportunity to attack JCPOA: “…We were told that the nuclear agreement with Iran would empower the so-called moderates and marginalize the so-called hardliners. Well, the opposite appears to be happening. Before the ink was even dry on the nuclear agreement, Iran was escalating its malign activities across the Middle East and testing new advanced military capabilities, all in its bid to establish itself not as a partner of the West, but as a dominant regional power that aims to drive Western influence out of the Middle East – a goal that it will soon pursue with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief.”)