Legislative Round-up: April 19, 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

Recommended reading: Fun piece about evolving controversy, emerging policy disagreements among Democrats on the Hill, including among 2020 contenders, on Israel-Palestine.

Also, here’s a neat piece published this week in the Federalist (the political outlet published by the husband of Meghan McCain), written by “Jason D. Hill is honors distinguished professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago” - openly endorsing war crimes against the Palestinians (you gotta read it to believe it).

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(NEEDS MORE COWBELL! I MEAN, MORE US-ISRAEL COOPERATION!)  H. Res. 324: Introduced 4/18 by Lieu (D-CA) and Allen (R-GA), “Recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(ALWAYS A GOOD DAY TO GRATUITOUSLY TARGET THE PALESTINIANS!) HR 2343: Introduced 4/18  by Sherman (D-CA) and 5 bipartisan cosponsors, “To require the Secretary of State to submit annual reports reviewing the educational material used by the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in the West Bank and Gaza, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Notably, the Trump Admin has cut off ALL U.S. funding that might have gone to support Palestinian educational materials (or anything else for the Palestinians) - meaning that now this targeting of the Palestinians is just straight-up grandstanding, disconnected from even the pretense of representing oversight of U.S. taxpayers funds. And notably, this is not the first time Congress has asked for State Department or GAO to report on Palestinian education materials -- indeed, the last GAO report on the topic was issued in April 2018 [from the headlines and press release one would think that report documented terrible, terrible deeds by the PA and UNRWA; rather than trust me, read it for yourself to see what the GAO found].

PENDING LEGISLATION - DEVELOPMENTS OF NOTE:

  • On 4/17, NIAC published an analysis of S. 925, “the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Economic Exclusion Act”. The analysis notes that, “The bill seeks to preempt efforts to return the United States into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the nuclear deal between the U.S., other major world powers, and Iran—by sanctioning all sectors of Iran’s economy, which would have a significant harmful impact on the livelihood of the Iranian people. In addition, the bill has the effect of undoing any benefit to Iran from adhering to the nuclear-related limitations outlined in the JCPOA, thus incentivizing Iran to halt its compliance with the accord and generating a new nuclear crisis in the Middle East. Proponents of diplomacy and the judicious but effective use of U.S. sanctions should reject this bill.”
  • The totally-non-ironically-named “Problem Solvers Caucus” weigned in this week with its own bipartisan endorsement of H. Res. 246, a broadside attack on BDS, accompanied by a few lines about peace intended to make it more palatable to progressives (for detailed analysis of H. Res. 246 and its Senate companion. S. Res. 120, see here and here.) Press releases on this “problem-solving” move: Reed (R-NY), Watkins (R-KS, plus statements from Gottheimer, D-NJ, & Reed, R-NY); coverage in Haaretz here. And taking the roll call of shame, H. Res. 246 currently has 198 cosponsors (115D, 83R); S. Res. 120 currently has 36 cosponsors (18D, 18R).

Letters

(“WHEN I SAY GOLAN YOU SAY ISRAEL”: “GOLAN!” “ISRAEL!”) Cotton-Cruz letter: On 4/17, Reps. Cotton (R-AR) and Cruz (R-TX) led a letter to President Trump applauding his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and urging him to take additional actions to implement the decision. The letter was co-signed by 8 other GOP senators. The actions urged are: “1.  Direct all federal government agencies to update their official documents, publications, and maps to recognize the Golan Heights as the State of Israel's sovereign territory. 2. Direct the State Department to treat the Golan Heights as the State of Israel's sovereign territory for the purpose of: (a) issuing passports to Americans born in the Golan Heights and (b) all treaties and agreements. 3.  Direct the State Department to pursue talks with the Israeli government about updating the 1972 U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation agreement and the related 1977 agreements covering industrial and agricultural research. These agreements bar funding of projects in or relating to ‘geographic areas which came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967,’ which is in conflict with your proclamation. 4.  Direct all federal government agencies responsible for foreign commerce and customs enforcement to allow products from the Golan Heights to be labeled ‘Made in Israel.'" Press release is here.

(WHIPPING HYSTERIA AROUND CAMPUS FREE SPEECH ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE) Budd & Holding letters to DeVos: On 4/15, Rep. Holding (R-NC) sent a letter to Secretary of Education DeVos demanding an investigation into a recent event organized by University of North Carolina (UNC) and Duke University entitled “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities.” On 4/16, Rep. Budd (R-NC) followed up with a nearly identical letter.  Holding press release is here. Both letters allege that the event had a “radical anti-Israel bias” [notwithstanding the moderate/mainstream credentials of most of the panelists], and that it included the performance of a “brazenly anti-semitic song” [notwithstanding the fact that the song in question is a well-known, non-controversial, and genuinely hilarious song satirizing the prejudices and narratives of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel]. The goal of the attacks on the event appears to be to get the Department of Education to impose a pro-Israel litmus test on funding for all campus programs -- which is especially ironic given that of late, it is conservatives/Republicans who have been lamenting politically/ideologically-motivated efforts to quash campus free speech, calling for more protections and praising Trump for taking a stand on the issue.My tweet threads on the issue are here and here (for the record, I was a panelist at this event, during which, among other things, I articulated my concern for Israel, my desire for Israel to exist and its right to security and my self-identification as a liberal Zionist); my thread of photos of the protesters at the event exercising their right to free speech is here.. Media is all over this HUGE story: Raleigh News-Observer; JTA; The Free Beacon (which, predictably, adds in an accusation of support for terrorism); The Forward; Roll Call; The Hill; ABC.

(NO RENEWAL OF EXCEPTIONS FOR IRANIAN OIL EXPORTS) Cheney et al letter to Trump: On 4/12, Rep. Cheney (R-WY) let a letter to President Trump, co-signed by 35 GOP colleagues, praising Trump for having “freed” American from the JCPOA and urging him to keep up the pressure “to deprive Iran of its terror funds” by not renewing exceptions for Iranian oil exports. Press release is here.

 

2. Hearings

Nothing on the schedule as of 4/19

 

3. On the Record

a. Broaching the un-broachable: Are we allowed to talk about touching US Aid to Israel?

On 4/14, during an interview on a podcast called “Skullduggery,” journalist Daniel Klaidman asked Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (aka, AOC): “Would you be in favor of reducing military or economic aid to Israel?” AOC responded: “.. I think it’s certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed. I also acknowledge my role in this as well, in that I think that I hope to play a facilitating role in this conversation and a supportive role in this conversation, but I also know that there are people that have been leading on this for a long time, like Congresswoman McCollum. I think we need to expand what those policy conversations are because I would — as just a citizen of this country, I would be very concerned if Trump started really pursuing more and more and more, increasingly dangerous policies and everyone just standing aside and saying this is normal, this is just like before.”

[NOTE: Klaidman - like a lot of smart people who don’t focus exclusively on Israel - seems unaware of the fact that the U.S. ended economic aid to Israel more than a decade ago. The fact that he (and all the people who wrote headlines based on his question) got this key fact wrong has gone entirely ignored (except, I think, by me). Yet, at least one reliable critic of anyone who criticizes Israel, the Republican Jewish Committee, jumped on the headlines to argue that this error (Klaidman’s, not AOC’s) is proof that AOC (not Klaidman) is so ignorant about U.S. policy on Israel that she is disqualified from having any opinion in the matter.]

Responses to this suggestion of support for the vague possibility of discussing even the possibility of questioning the current levels of unconditional aid for Israel generated predictably quick responses from “don’t-you-dare-rock-the-boat-on-Israel” Democrats:

  • The self-styled “Jewish Democratic Council of America” 4/15: FB post - “We are pleased Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recognizes she is NOT a leader on Israel in Congress. We recommend she engage with Dem leaders Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, & Congressman Ted Deutch before contemplating the future of US military aid to Israel. US-Israel ties must supersede politics.” [The JDCA is apparently not worried that it isn’t a great look to publicly condescend to an elected member of Congress, or that it is an even worse look to patronizing suggest that when it comes to Israel-related issues, an elected member of Congress should defer to three Jewish members of Congress - who yes, all happen to be in leadership positions on foreign policy, but still, not a good look at all).

  • Gottheimer (D-NJ) 4/15: “The U.S.-Israel alliance is absolutely essential. It’s vital to America’s national security, and especially in the fight against Hamas and Hezbollah. Given that Hezbollah is on the march to the Mediterranean, I think now more than ever, and with threats of terror increasing, we must obviously stand by our key ally to keep democracy in the region for their security, but also for our security. And I feel that the idea that we would in any which way, walk away from that relationship is unacceptable.”

  • Sires (D-NJ) 4/16: Tweets: “While some have suggested that cutting funds to Israel should be on the table, I believe that now is not the time to reduce military aid. As the only democracy in the region, Israel has long been a friend to the United States and an important partner on the international stage.” and “We should continue supporting this friendship and ensure the security of the people of Israel.”

And in an interesting twist, J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami tweeted 4/15: “Nuanced position from @AOC in wake of Netanyahu annexation pledge: open up discussion of US-Israel relations. J Street view: US can assure Israeli security w/o funding activities that run counter to US values, interests such as annexation, demolitions.”

 

b. Other Stuff

McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) 4/18: Tweet - “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It’s critical that the United States remain a staunch, unequivocal, steadfast friend of Israel. (linked to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says she’ll defend Israel, combat socialism as Congressional rep to U.N.)

Watkins (R-KS) 4/17: Watkins Spearheading Bipartisan Efforts Opposing BDS (Problem Solvers Caucus) (comments from Walker, Gottheimer, D-NJ, & Reed, R-NY)

Graves (R-MO) 4/16: Tweet: "Yesterday, President Trump’s action to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization took effect—placing tough new sanctions on these radical Islamic terrorists."

Engel (D-NY), Lowey (D-NY), Deutch (D-FL) &, Schneider (D-IL) 4/12:  Statement on a Two-State Solution [Israel-Palestine equivalent of “thoughts and prayers” after a school shooting - and notably, to the extent that the statement takes a stand against bad behavior/policies, it explicitly - and in old-school, contemptuous Israeli terms - bashes the Palestinians and offers not a single word of direct criticism for the Israeli government. This is what some people would argue counts as constructive, courageous, and pro-peace today.]

Gallagher (R-WI) 4/12: We Must Recognize Terrorism For What It Is (on IRGC designation)

Coons (D-DE), Graham (R-SC), Kaine (D-VA), Isakson (R-GA), Booker (D-NJ), and Murphy (D-CT) 4/12: Statement On the Removal Of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

 

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