Legislative Round-up: March 1, 2019

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

NOTE: As everyone knows by now, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to run in the upcoming elections in partnership with a party - Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) - that is the current iteration of the Kach/Kahane party. Congress has been conspicuously silent about this development, which is striking given that Kach/Kahane Chai are US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). This silence calls to mind the last time there were elections in the area that included a US-designated FTO, and raises the question, how did Congress respond at the time? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that Congress responded quite differently - I break down what some of that response was in this thread on Twitter. My conclusion: “...let’s not pretend that it [Congress’s silence] doesn’t send an unmistakable message to Israel, Palestinians & the world that rather than using the FTO list as a single standard, Congress has its own double standard when dealing with terrorists, depending on whose terrorists they are.”


1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(PEACE THROUGH REGIONAL NORMALIZATION & PRESSURE ON PALESTINIANS TO RETURN TO “TALKS”) H. Res.138: Introduced 2/19 by Hastings (D-FL) and having 12 cosponsors, including HFAC Chair Engel (D-NY) and 2 GOP members, “Expressing support for addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict in a concurrent track with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and commending Arab and Muslim-majority states that have improved bilateral relations with Israel.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Hastings press release, with quotes from lead co-sponsors, is here; Hasting statement introducing the measure is here. It is early to be placing bets but it would not be a stretch to suspect that this will be part of AIPAC’s lobby agenda during its policy conference (taking place in Washington March 24-26). My thoughts on this resolution can be found in this thread on Twitter. In a nutshell, this resolution, coming in the context of the ongoing Israeli election campaign, offers a warm embrace and implied endorsement of Netanyahu. While giving lip service to support for a two-state solution, this is in effect little more than for:

  • Endorsing Netanyahu’s (and the Trump Administration’s) “regional” approach to achieving “progress” toward peace.
  • Joining with Netanyahu and the Trump Administration to urge regional Arab/Muslim-majority states "to engage in bilateral and multilateral negotiations with the State of Israel to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and support the normalization of bilateral relations” [i.e., endorsing the notion of “peace through normalization,” rather than normalization as a by-product and benefit of peace];
  • Urging the "resumption of bilateral negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including piecemeal approaches to advance the ultimate goal of a final-status agreement between the parties.” [“Piecemeal” appears to be code for pressuring the PA to accept more “interim” arrangements involving Palestinian concessions on permanent status issues, rewarded with incremental Israeli “concessions” -- like improved Palestinian access and movement on their own land -- while an actual permanent status agreement is further delayed, and while this interim approach gives cover for the continuation and expansion of policies on the ground that prevent such an agreement ever being achieved. NOTE: This analysis is not based on speculation about what might happen; it reflects observation of what has happened, repeatedly, over the past 25 years of the peace process];
  • Saying literally nothing about Israeli policies and statements that are systematically undermining and preventing the possibility of any two-state outcome (and are explicitly designed to do so);
  • Saying literally nothing about Netanyahu formally partnering with a political party that is directly linked to a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (a party that gleefully embraces policies that reject not only the possibility of peace, but the desirability of pursuing it);
  • Commending the Israeli government (led by a Prime Minister who has partnered up with folks associated with an FTO) for its normalization campaign with the Arab/Muslim world -- the success of which is one of Netanyahu’s key campaign messages.

Truly, the mind boggles.

(SUPPORTING US-ISRAEL LAW ENFORCEMENT COOPERATION) HR 1459: Introduced 2/28 by Meadows (R-NC) and Schneider (D-IL), “To support security and law enforcement training and cooperation between the United States and Israel.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. NOTE: This legislation seeks to push back against grassroots in US cities to stop local police cooperation with Israel, which not coincidentally is a North Carolina issue, given that the Durham city council that adopted a non-binding statement against the militarization of civilian policing (without singling out Israel). That city Council is now facing a SLAPP lawsuit accusing the city of illegal discrimination against two Israeli “volunteer” policeman who claim they are being unlawfully deprived of the hypothetical opportunity to participate in cooperation that might have hypothetically taken place. I wrote about this here. With this bill, it appears that Meadows has decided to get involved in that case, and not on the side of the city council.

(FIRST WE RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM, NOW LET’S RECOGNIZE THE GOLAN! Not a song by Leonard Cohen) HR 1372 & S.567: Introduced 2/26 in the House by Gallagher (R-WI) and 13 GOP cosponsors, and in the Senate by Cruz (R-TX) and 4 GOP cosponsors, to clarify that “it is United States policy to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” In the House, referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Ways and Means, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and the Committee on Agriculture. In the Senate referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Joint House-Senate press release is here.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 1441: Introduced 2/28 by Kustoff (R-TN) and Gottheimer (D-NJ), “To require a report on oligarchs and parastatal entities of Iran, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services.

(REPORT ON MURDER OF KHASHOGGI) S. 544: Introduced 2/25 by Wyden (D-OR) and 4 Democratic cosponsors, “A bill to require the Director of National Intelligence to submit to Congress a report on the death of Jamal Khashoggi, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Select Committee on Intelligence.

(CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT OF ANY CIVIL NUKE DEAL WITH KSA) S. 612 and HR 1471: Introduced 2/28 in the Senate by Markey (D-MA) and Rubio (R-FL) and in the House by Sherman (D-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), the “Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act.” The bill would require Congress to affirmatively approve any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. It also makes clear that Congress believes that no 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia should be approved unless and until the Kingdom is truthful and transparent about the death of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, unless it commits to forego any uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing activities – the so-called “gold standard – within its territory, and until it agrees to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol. The legislation also urges Saudi Arabia to make substantial progress on protecting human rights, including through the release of political prisoners. Referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs committee. Markey press release is here; Sherman press release is here. This was introduced previously at the end of 2019, HR 7350 and S. 3785.

(REQUIRING GOLD-STANDARD FOR SAUDI CIVIL NUKE AGREEMENT) H. Con. Res. 23: Introduced 2/28 by Levin (D-MI) and Amash (R-MI), “Expressing the sense of Congress that any United States-Saudi Arabia civilian nuclear cooperation agreement must prohibit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from enriching uranium or separating plutonium on its own territory, in keeping with the strongest possible nonproliferation ‘gold standard’”. Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(POSSIBLY IRAN-RELATED) HR 1453: Introduced 2/28 by Kinzinger (R-IL) and 2 GOP cosponsors, “To prioritize the efforts of and enhance coordination among United States agencies to encourage European countries to diversify their energy sources and supply routes, increase European countries' energy security, and help the United States reach its global energy security goals, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The text of this bill is not yet available, but from the title it seems quite possible it is focused on incentivizing/pressuring Europe to walk away from the JCPOA.


(HOW DID US WEAPONS END UP WITH AL-QAIDA GUYS IN YEMEN?) Menendez et al letter: On 2/27, Menendez (D-NJ) joined by a bipartisan group of 5 Senate colleagues, Engel (D-NY) and McCaul (R-TX), sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan demanding to know how U.S. military equipment ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Yemen. Press release is here.

(HOW DID US WEAPONS END UP WITH AL-QAIDA GUYS IN YEMEN?) Engel-McCaul letter: On 2/26, Engel (D-NY) and McCaul (R-TX), along with a bipartisan group of 18 fellow House members sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan demanding to know how U.S. military equipment ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Yemen. Press release is here.

(HOW DID US WEAPONS END UP WITH AL-QAIDA GUYS IN YEMEN?) Warren letter: On 2/21, Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan demanding to know how U.S. military equipment ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Yemen. Press release is here.

(IRELAND: DON’T YOU DARE BOYCOTT SETTLEMENT PRODUCTS!) King-Engel et al letter: On January 20, members of Congress sent a letter to Ireland’s prime minister, cc’d to top elected officials, warning that if Ireland’s bill to boycott settlement products becomes law, it could have “potentially severe implications.” The letter goes on to suggest that US companies would be forced to “choose between violating Irish law or the U.S. Export Administration Act.” This is a very heavy allegation that bears examination, which I carried out in this Twitter thread. In a nutshell:

  • The relevant section of the EAA can be found here.  It bars US companies from “complying with “any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States and which is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation.”
  • Accordingly, the EAA should not apply to boycotts of settlements, as settlements are not legally part of Israel, even under Israeli law -- meaning such boycotts have nothing to do with boycotting a “country,” friendly to the US or not. [Notably: there could be some gray area here when it comes to settlements in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed. That annexation violated international law and, as a result, is not recognized by nearly the entire world -- leaving it open to question whether US courts would agree that a country that decides to boycotts settlements in East Jerusalem, based explicitly on that country’s view that these settlements are NOT part of Israel, is still in the eyes of US law boycotting Israel.]
  • The EAA goes on to say, in various places, that companies are barred from “Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to do business with...any  business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country…” Some will certainly try to read this as meaning that under the EAA boycotting settlements is the same as boycotting Israel. In fact, based on the letter of the law, the opposite is true.
  • So long as Ireland (or any country) is affirmatively NOT boycotting Israel (which Ireland is not and is not seeking to do), then as far as the EAA is concerned, there is no “boycotted country” involved, period. The fact that settlement businesses are organized under Israeli law is, in this context, irrelevant, since the boycott is in no manner based in or an extension of a boycott of Israel. Hence, the EAA clearly does not apply.
  • This may be easier for people to understand with a non-politicized example. Say: an Israeli company (based inside Israel) is engaged in the manufacture of luggage from the pelts of animals that are endangered species. And say the (fictional) Kingdom of Genovia, which has made it a national project to protect endangered species, adopts a law barring business with companies that traffic in the pelts of endangered species. The Kingdom of Genovia’s resulting boycott of this Israeli luggage company does NOT trigger the provisions of the EAA. The fact that the company is Israeli does NOT mean that US law protects it, by definition, from any boycott. The EAA would only kick in if Genovia launched an international boycott of Israel - the country - and by extension, of this company.

The bottom line is that the letter conflates Israel and settlements and grossly mischaracterizes US law. Whether this is a result of ignorance/negligence or a deliberate intent to deceive is unknown - but either way, both are inexcusable. As reported in the Irish media: US Congressmen accused of bullying Ireland over Israeli settlement goods boycott


2. Hearings

3/12: The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations will hold a hearing entitled, “Public Witness Hearing: State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.”

3/7: The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in the Greater Middle East and Africa.” Scheduled witnesses are: General Joseph Votel, Commander, U.S. Central Command; General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander, U.S. Africa Command; and Kathyrn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

3/7: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Status of American Hostages in Iran.” Scheduled witnesses are: Christine Levinson (Wife of Robert Levinson), Babak Namazi (Brother of Siamak Namazi and son of Baquer Namazi),Omar Zakka

(Son of Nizar Zakka) and Hua Qu (Wife of Xiyue Wang).

3/6: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen: Addressing Current Political and Humanitarian Challenges.” Scheduled witnesses are: Dafna Rand, Mercy Corps; Radhya Almutawakel, Mwatana for Human Rights; Jeremy Konyndyk, Center for Global Development; and Katherine Zimmerman, American Enterprise Institute.

3/6: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of General John Abizaid to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Matthew Tueller to be Ambassador to Iraq.

3/4: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a closed/classified briefing, “Briefing Status of the Global Magnitsky Investigation Related to the Khashoggi Murder.” Briefers will be: Manisha Singh, Acting Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and Andrea Gacki, Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

2/27: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Trump Administration’s Foreign Policy: A Mid-Term Assessment.” The witness was former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Video of the hearing is here.

2/27: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “America’s Global Leadership: Why Diplomacy and Development Matter.” Witnesses were: Heather Higginbottom, Former Deputy Secretary of State, Management and Resources, and Andrew Natsios, Former Administrator, United States Agency for International Development. Video of the hearing is here.

2/21: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a closed/classified briefing: the Conflict in Yemen. Briefers were Timothy Lenderking, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, and Michael Mulroy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East.


3. On the Record

Deutch (D-FL) 2/29: Tweet responding to UNHRC report regarding possible Israeli war crimes committed against Gaza marchers, “Not surprising the UNHRC issued another biased report related to Israel. It’s a shame that this body chooses to obsess over one country instead of taking a strong stand for human rights around the world.”

Warren (D-MA) 2/28: Tweet: “First embracing right-wing extremism. Now manipulating a free press, accepting bribes, and trading government favors. The allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu are serious and cut to the heart of a functioning democracy.” And follow-up tweet: Corruption—in Israel, in the US, or anywhere else—is a cancer that threatens democracy. We need to fight back. And we can start by having the courage to call it out wherever it occurs. Even among our allies. Especially here at home

Engel (D-NY) 2/28: Tweet responding to UNHRC report regarding possible Israeli war crimes committed against Gaza marchers, UNHRC predictably denounces Israel’s conduct in last year’s Gaza operations but discounts Hamas violence. Another example why the Human Rights Council is undeserving of its own name. Unfortunate, it taints the important work this body could do.


Risch (R-ID) 2/25: Chairman Risch Announces Upcoming Committee Activities Related to Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi Investigation


Inhofe (R-OK) 2/25: Inhofe Leads Delegation to Israel

McCollum (D-MN) 2/25: Tweet: “What does Congress, the Trump administration, and the American people do when the leader of Israel, a U.S. ally and beneficiary of billions of dollars in aid, embraces racists and terrorists?”

Schneider (D-IL) 2/25: Tweet: “The extremist beliefs of the Otzma Yehudit party are odious and stand in direct opposition to the values on which Israel was founded. This party and its racism should be roundly rejected by all.” [tweeted as a comment on the American Jewish Committee’s press release criticizing Otzma Yehudit but making no connections to Prime Minister Netanyahu]

Inhofe (R-OK) 2/20: Op-ed in the Times of Israel: The US has a true friend in Israel

Griffith (R-VA) 2/18: Anti-Semitism Has No Place in America

Frankel (D-FL) 2/16: U.S. lawmakers call on Saudi Arabia to free imprisoned women’s rights activists