Legislative Round-up: March 22, 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

Shameless plug: Last week was publication of Part 1 of my thoughts on the kerfuffle over the missing word “occupied” in the West Bank and Gaza section of the this year’s State Department Human Rights Report - Not Breaking News: Trump Administration Does Not Believe in Occupation. This week Part 2 was published - Erasing Occupation: The Pernicious Role of Congress

NOTE: As everyone knows, on 3/21 President Trump tweeted out a change to U.S. policy on the Golan. As As a reminder, there are bills pending in both the House and Senate that would put Congress on the record in support of this change - HR 1372 and S. 567. Will AIPAC decide to make these bills lobbying priorities next week, or will Congressional leaders decide to move them on their own? I have no idea.


1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(WISH LIST OF ALL THINGS ISRAEL COULD WANT, PLUS ATCA “FIX”) HR 1837: Introduced 3/21 by Deutch (D-FL) and Wilson (R-SC), “To make improvements to certain defense and security assistance provisions and to authorize assistance for Israel, and for other purposes.” This is the 2019 version of AIPAC’s 2018 conference ask, HR 5141 (which was also included in S. 1, which as of this writing still shows up on AIPAC’s website as a legislative priority), “United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.” Text of the bill is not yet online, but assuming it is the same version of the bill that was included in S. 1, it should be expected to:

  • authorize U.S. security assistance for Israel for 10 years, as called for in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance.
  • Extend authorization for the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile in Israel by five years and authorize an additional $1 billion in stocks.
  • Authorize the president to transfer precision guided munitions to Israel.
  • Extend authorization for loan guarantees to Israel by four years.
  • Authorize U.S.-Israel cooperation to counter unmanned aerial vehicles and establishes aU.S.-Israel cybersecurity research and development grant program.

The breadth of the authorizations in this bill are so broad that I described it last year in this way: “this bill reads like a comprehensive AIPAC & IDF wish list of everything – short of mutual defense pact, or maybe a seat for Israel in the Cabinet – raising the question (if it passes into law): what will be left to ask for in next year’s AIPAC conference?” But it didn’t pass, so here we are again.

In addition, something new this year is Title III of the bill, entitled the “Justice for United States Victims of Palestinian Terrorism.” This section seeks to “fix” some of the problems caused (deliberately or accidentally) by the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act - namely, the fact that ATCA meant the end of U.S. security aid the the Palestinian Authority (aid that helps Israel), an end to U.S. funding for a handful of humanitarian programs for Palestinians that People Who Matter have deigned to designate as worthy of preserving, even as all other aid related to the Palestinians is deliberately cut off, and potential jeopardy for international partners of USAID working around the world. HR 1837 “fixes” all of this by amending ATCA to eliminate the provisions related to U.S. aid - meaning that if this passes into law, the mere fact of a party accepting security, economic, or law enforcement funding will not mean that party is consenting to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts -- hurrah!

At the same time, the tweak is designed to do whatever it legally possible to permit U.S. citizens and their lawyers to sue the PLO in U.S. courts - bearing in mind that the clear agenda behind such suits is not just to obtain justice for victims of terror but to sue the PLO (and PA) out of existence [don’t believe me? Here’s how Shurat Hadin describes itself and its mission: “Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center is an Israeli based civil rights organization and world leader in combating the terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world. Shurat HaDin seeks to bankrupt the terror groups and grind their criminal activities to a halt – one lawsuit at a time.

With this goal is mind, HR 19837 leaves in place existing ATCA language linking personal jurisdiction to the waiver of the 1987 law barring the PLO from operating in the US - which those suing the PLO believe still gives them a hook for lawsuits despite the closure of the PLO office in DC, based on the continuing operations of the PLO mission to the UN (which operates outside the scope of the waiver, consistent with US responsibilities as host to the UN headquarters). In addition, the “fix” adds a fun new layer of jeopardy for the PLO, such that if in the future the PLO gets a new waiver of the 1987 law and comes back to DC under that waiver, it will then face personal jurisdiction if it seeks to join UN agencies.


(BASHING BOYCOTTS): H. Res. 246: Introduced 3/21 by Schneider (D-IL), Nadler (D-NY), Zeldin (R-NY), and Wagner (R-MO), “opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Financial Services, Science, Space, and Technology, and the Judiciary.

This resolution - which as the title suggests is a broadside attack on BDS, accompanied by a few lines about peace intended no doubt to make it more palatable to progressives - appears to represent an effort by House Democrats to turn the clock back to the Obama era and what they remember with nostalgia as “consensus” on Israel, grounded in weak rhetoric in support of peace, and complemented by the kind of unquestioning attacks on BDS that were the norm before people recognized that the anti-BDS campaign presents a fundamental test of the people’s readiness to defend free speech.

As it stands, this resolution is guaranteed to please very few people. If House Democrats believe it will let them re-establish “pro-Israel” bona fides and insulate them from attacks from the right and the left, they are almost certainly mistaken.

  • This resolution is likely to energize and anger the progressive base - whether out of actual support for BDS or out of an understanding that this resolution, while non-binding in nature, legitimizes and will fuel the attacks on free speech that are taking place in states and in Congress. In so doing, it will further fracture the progressive base on an issue related to Israel.
  • This resolution will likewise fuel attacks from hardline Israeli supporters and from Republicans who will argue that based on the text of the resolution, Democratic leaders must agree that anyone who supports BDS - including members of Congress - is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. It is a short jump from this to the argument that the lack of Democratic unity around this bill proves the Democratic party has an anti-Semitism problem, both in Congress and in the grassroots. And it is an even shorter jump to the argument that Democratic leaders are hypocrites if they actually believe what they are selling in this resolution but are then not willing to support binding legislation to stop these outrages against Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Indeed, on 3/21, Rubio (R-FL) launched the opening salvo in these predictable attacks, tweeting: “House Dems offer resolution rebuking #BDS but won’t pass bill protecting states & local govts who decide not to contract with firms that boycott #Israel. They hide behind 1st amend concerns yet promote boycotts of advertisers on conservative media”.
  • Meanwhile, the narrative is already being set by pundits that this bill is going to be a test for Democrats on BDS (and making clear that Rep. Omar, D-MN, will be watched especially closely).


(SANCTIONING EVERYONE WHO TOUCHES HAMAS) HR 1850: Introduced 3/21 by Mast (R-FL), Gottheimer (D-NJ), Engel (D-NY) McCaul (R-TX), the “Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act.” Based on the summary of the bill in the press release announcing its introduction (text is not online yet), it will require the President to submit reports to Congress on governments, foreign persons, agencies or instrumentalities of a foreign state who knowingly and materially assist Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or an affiliate or successor of one of those organizations, with all those identified then subject to mandatory sanctions. Based on all of that, it seems likely that it would apply to Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Switzerland, and Israel (which is actively complicit in getting cash to Gaza for Hamas), as well others -- which suggests that it will also have language laying out some exceptions.


(MORE US-ISRAEL COOPERATION) HR 1820: Introduced 3/18 by Frankel (D-FL) and Weber (R-TX), the “United States-Israel International Development Cooperation Act,” aka, To authorize appropriations for certain cooperative projects among the United States, Israel, and developing countries, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. PDF of text is here; Frankel press release is here, Weber press release is here.

*Given (a) the timing of its introduction, and (b) the fact that it fits in elegantly with Israeli efforts to build support from developing countries [in large part to build broader support for/defense of its policies in the United Nations], this could be an AIPAC ask next week*

REMINDER: (WEAPONIZING ANTI-SEMITISM TO QUASH FREE SPEECH) S.852: Introduced 3/14 by Scott (R-SC), along with Casey (D-PA), Rubio (R-FL) and Isakson (R-GA), “A bill to provide for the consideration of a definition of anti-Semitism for the enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws concerning education programs or activities.” Referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. This is the re-introduced Anti-Semitism Awareness Act - legislation that seeks to enact in U.S. law a definition of anti-Semitism that is designed to quash free speech critical of Israel on campuses. Scott was also the lead in the last Congress. A compilation of resources related to the First Amendment problems with this bill is available here, including vehement opposition to the legislation from Kenneth Stern, who is the person who literally drafted the definition of anti-Semitism that is at the center of this bill. *THIS BILL WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE ONE OF THE AIPAC ASKS ON THE HILL NEXT WEEK*

(MORE US-ISRAEL MILITARY COOPERATION) HR 1795: Introduced 3/14 by Lieu (D-CA) and Stefanik (R-NY), the “U.S.-Israel Directed Energy Cooperation Act,“ aka, “To authorize the Secretary of Defense, upon request of the Ministry of Defense of Israel and with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, to carry out research, development, test, and evaluation activities, on a joint basis with Israel, to establish directed energy capabilities that address threats to the United States, deployed forces of the United States, or Israel, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. NOTE: Lieu and Stefanik introduced this same measure last September (HR 6725). Joint press release touting the measure is here.

*Given the timing of its introduction, this could be an AIPAC ask next week*


(KSA: RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS) Senate letter to Saudi King Salman: On 3/19, Sen. Durbin (D-IL) led a letter, co-signed by 8 Democratic Senate colleagues, addressed to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman call on him to immediately and unconditionally release a number of prisoners held by the Saudi government, many of them on dubious charges related to their activism. The letter closes with: “The brutality of the Khashoggi killing and Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, as well as the continued detention of political prisoners threaten not only Saudi Arabia’s regional role but also the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. We will continue to closely watch Saudi action—or inaction—on human rights as Congress considers measures related to the Middle East.  Our shared interests must be underscored by support for basic values and freedoms, as anything else will not be sustainable.” Press release is here.

(EXTRADITE PALESTINIAN IN CONNECTION WITH KILLING OF AMCITS) Perry letter to Pompeo: On 3/14, Rep. Perry (R-PA) led a letter, signed by 19 House colleagues (bipartisan), demanding that the U.S. raise the demand for the extradition of Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi with the government of Jordan at “all levels.” Al-Tamimi was previously tried in Israeli court, where she pled guilty to for her role in the infamous 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 15 people, including 2 American citizens. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but subsequently released by Israel as part of a prisoner exchange with Hamas. In 2017, she was formally charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside of the U.S., resulting in deaths. Until now, Jordan has refused U.S. requests to extradite Al-Tamimi. Press release is here.

(JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF BEIRUT BARRACKS BOMBING) Gallego-Cook et al letter to POTUS: On 3/12 (not previously reported), Reps. Gallego (D-AZ) and Cook (R-CA) led a letter, signed by nine other Marines currently serving in the House, urging President Trump to “stand up for the families of the U.S. Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in Beirut.  Please direct the Solicitor General to oppose Iran's request for certiorari at the Supreme Court. Press release is here.


2. Hearings

3/27: The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “The State Department’s Foreign Policy Strategy and FY20 Budget Request.” The sole witness will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

3/27: The House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations s scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “Department of State Budget Request for FY 2020.” The sole witness will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


3. On the Record

Cotton (R-AR), Cruz (R-TX), Gallagher (R-WI) 3/21: Praising Trump for Recognizing Israel’s Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

Kustoff (R-TN) 3/21: Praising Trump re: Golan - “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for always standing by Israel’s side.”

Mitchell (R-MI) 3/21: “I support President @realDonaldTrump's decision to recognize #Israel’s sovereignty over the #GolanHeights. The United States stands firmly behind our close strategic ally and friend, especially as it faces growing threats in the region.”

Crawford (R-AR) 3/21: Re: Golan “I agree 100% @realDonaldTrump! #StandWithIsrael

Gallagher (R-WI) 3/21: “The President is right: it is long past time to recognize the fact of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. I urge Congress to swiftly pass my legislation with @SenTedCruz and @SenTomCotton to make it official.” [suggesting that Gallagher does not understand the role of Congress v. the White House when it comes to recognition, but no matter]

Cruz (R-TX) 3/21: Joyful thread celebrating Trump’s Golan tweet

Cruz (R-TX) 3/21: “I applaud @realDonaldTrump for taking the long overdue step of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. It’s an enormously important signal that we stand with our allies and against our enemies, and will be heard by both.”

Harris (R-MD) 3/21: “I’m glad President Trump has recognized Israel’s sovereignty by acknowledging the Golan Heights as part of Israeli territory. This administration is committed to stability and security in the Middle East, and I applaud the support of our democratic ally.”

Duncan (R-SC) 3/21: “Thank you @POTUS @realDonaldTrump for recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This is an important step in continuing to support our great friend & ally, Israel!”

Scalise (R-LA) 3/21: “It is past time that we recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel faces constant threats from Iran-funded terror groups throughout the Middle East. We will always stand by Israel’s right to exist, defend itself, and ensure stability in this important region.”

Rubio (R-FL) 3/21: “We should support #Israel sovereignty over #Golan. #Assad allows #Iran & #Hezbollah to operate with impunity in southern #Syria. If Assad got ahold of Golan they would operate against Israel from there too. Israel needs that buffer to be permanent.”

Cotton (R-AR) 3/21: “The Golan Heights belong to Israel & are essential to its safety from Iran & terrorist groups like Hezbollah. The administration is right to recognize this reality, a move I have long called for in Congress.”

Ratcliffe (R-TX) 3/21: “I commend President Trump's recognition of the Golan Heights as a sovereign part of Israel. We must make it clear to the world that the United States stands firmly behind our trusted ally and friend.”

Gordon (R-TX) 3/21: “I commend @realDonaldTrump for recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a territory that is crucial to both Israeli security and regional stability. Well done, Mr. President!”

Zeldin (R-NY) 3/21: “Yes. 100% right & a position I’ve long held as well after visiting the Golan Heights. Add this to the Embassy move to Jerusalem, signing the Taylor Force Act into law, fighting against anti-Israel & anti-Semitic hate at the UN & elsewhere, & withdrawing from the flawed Iran deal!”

Lamborn (R-CO) 3/21: “Earlier today President Trump boldly and correctly stated that America must recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. I'm excited we have an Administration who sees a strong U.S.-Israel relationship as critical to stability in the Middle East.”

Graham (R-SC) 3/21: Euphoric Twitter thread, starting with: “President Trump’s decision to recognize the Golan as part of Israel is strategically wise and overall awesome. Well done, Mr. President! Now I, along with Senator @tedcruz, will try to get Congress to follow your lead.”

Scott (R-FL) 3/21: “.@realDonaldTrump is right: it is time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Florida stands with our ally and friend – Israel!”

Wright (R-XX) 3/21: On Trump/Golan - “I could not agree more! It’s past time. #Israel”

Meadows (R-NC) 3/21: “Once again the President delivers on his promise to stand with our ally Israel. America should absolutely recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights and support their right to defend themselves in the region. Bravo @realDonaldTrump.”

Mast (R-FL) 3/21: On Trump/Golan - “Last month I helped introduce legislation to do exactly this. Glad to have @POTUS support…”

Smith (R-NJ) 3/19: Smith Warns of European Countries Helping Iran Bypass U.S. Sanctions

Maloney (D-NY) 3/17: Rep. Maloney Brings Together Elected Officials, Religious and Community Leaders to Condemn Rising Anti-Semitism