Legislative Round-Up: Jan 27-Feb 12, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  Pro-Diplomacy Forces Gain Ground in Iran Hill Battle
3.  The New Strategy: Fighting BDS with Legislation Attacking Free Speech?
4.  Hearings
5. Members on the Record

Note:  Apologies for the irregular schedule of Round-Ups in recent weeks (due to winter colds, international visitors, and now an impending snow storm).  The Round-Up should return to its regular Friday schedule starting next week.

1. Bills & Resolutions

(ISRAEL BEST-ALLY-WITH-BENEFITS) HR 938 (and HR 1992):  Introduced 3/4/13 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and having 351 cosponsors as of this writing, the “United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013.”  After languishing in committee for almost a year, on 1/29/14 the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the measure (amended) by unanimous consent.   The amendment in the nature of a substitute to the original text - offered by Ros-Lehtinen and lead co-sponsor Deutch, D-FL, and accepted by unanimous consent - is available here.  A further amendment to that text relating to fighting anti-Semitism, offered by Smith (R-NJ) and also adopted by unanimous consent, is available here.   The bill, as amended, now includes the text of HR 1992, the “Israel QME Enhancement Act,” introduced 5/15/13 and passed by the House 11/20/13. The mark-up of the measure can be viewed here.  Ros-Lehtinen statement touting passage of the bill can be found here.  Lead co-sponsor Deutch’s (D-FL) press release can be found here. Smith’s press release touting adoption of his amendment can be found here.

As a reminder, HR 938 was one of the key AIPAC “asks” at the time of the 2013 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC (as discussed in the 3/8/13 edition of the Round-Up), and has been on the legislative agenda of AIPAC and various other groups, including NORPAC, since that time (as discussed in the 5/24/13 edition of the Round-Up) .  It has been held up, at least in part, over a provision in the bill that seeks to facilitate Israel becoming part of the Visa Waiver program, as discussed in detail in the 5/10/13 edition of the Round-Up (the Senate version, S. 462, is far more problematic in this regard).  The decision to suddenly move this almost year-old bill may be linked both to the recent push-back against AIPAC over Iran legislation (discussed in Section 2, below), and to the fact that even as this remains outstanding, the next AIPAC policy conference is fast approaching. 

At the time of its introduction, HR 938 was also referred to Judiciary Committee, which referred the measure to its Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.  It was also referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which referred the measure to its Subcommittee on Research and Technology.   It is not clear as yet if the Foreign Affairs Committee’s passage of the bill means that the bill will now be on a fast-track to the House floor.

(SEEKING TO OUTLAW BOYCOTTS AGAINST ISRAEL) HR 4009:  Introduced 2/6/14 by Roskam (R-IL) and Lipinski (D-IL), the “Protect Academic Freedom Act.”  Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  The purpose of this bill, in Roskam’s own words, is to “prevent these campaigns [boycotts against Israel] by prohibiting Federal funds to universities that boycott Israeli academic institutions.”  For more on this bill, see Section 3, below.

 (ENHANCED EXPORT/RE-EXPORT PRIVILEGES FOR ISRAEL) HR 3961:  Introduced 1/29/14 by Grayson (D-FL), “To provide Israel a license exception to the Export Administration Regulations currently made available to 36 other nations.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The bill requires the President to direct the Secretary of State “to undertake discussions with Israel to identify the steps required to be taken to include Israel within the list of countries described in section 740.20(c)(1) of title 15, Code of Federal Regulations (relating to eligibility for Strategic Trade Authorizations).”  The referenced law “authorizes exports, reexports and in country transfers, including releases within a single country of software source code and technology to foreign nationals in lieu of a license that would otherwise be required” under U.S. law.   

 (ENHANCED US-ISRAEL ENERGY COOPERATION) HR 3683:  Introduced 12/10/13 by Upton (R-MI) and having 7 cosponsors, “To amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to improve United States-Israel energy cooperation, and for other purposes.”  On 2/5/14, the bill was reported out of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, H. Rept. 113-341, Part I.  (The bill was also referred, upon introduction, to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and the Committees on Foreign Affairs).

 (JEWISH ARTIFACTS FROM IRAQ) S. Res. 333:  Introduced 1/16 by Toomey (R-PA) and having 29 cosponsors, “A resolution strongly recommending that the United States renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq.”  Passed by the Senate 2/6 by Unanimous Consent.  Toomey’s press release touting the passage of his bill can be found here


 (IRAN) House Pro-Democracy Letter:  On 2/13, Days before talks on a permanent agreement between P5+1 countries and Iran are set to begin in Vienna, 104 Members of the US House of Representatives sent President Obama a bipartisan letter supporting continued diplomatic engagement with Iran.  The letter notes that “A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.”  Reporting on the letter is available here.

 (IRAN) Ros-Lehtinen letter to Obama: On 2/12, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to make the full text of the Iran nuclear deal public.” (Ros-Lehtinen press release is here).

 (IRAN) Shaheen letter to Obama:  On 2/7, Sen. Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to President Obama urging him to “use an upcoming state visit from French President François Hollande as an opportunity to press the French leader on the recent French trade mission to Iran, which has the potential to undermine progress toward an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program.”

  (IRAN) Paul letter to Obama on Iran:  On 2/6, Sen. Paul (R-TX) sent a letter to President Obama Regarding Iran Negotiations, following up on questions he had raised during the 2/4 Iran hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 (IRAN SANCTIONS) Senate GOP letter to Reid:  On 2/4, 42 GOP Senators sent a letter to Senate Majority leader Reid (D-NV) calling on him to permit a vote on the pending Iran sanctions bill, S. 1881.  While supporters of the bill have long sought to promote it as a bipartisan measure, the letter to Reid included only Republicans, and, notably, was not signed by Corker (R-TN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  For more on how this figures into the current drama around this bill, see section 2, below. Press release on the letter from Rubio (R-FL) can be found here.

 (IRAN) Hillary Clinton Letter to Carl Levin On 1/26, former Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) opposing new sanctions against Iran at this time.  Her letter was in response to an inquiry sent to her by Senator Levin (both her letter, and the original letter, are available at the link included in this entry). 

(IRAN) Gutierrez letter to House Leaders: On 1/30, Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) sent a letter to Reps. Pelosi (D-CA) and Boehner (R-OH) calling for a classified briefing for all Members of the House of Representatives on the international agreement aimed at preventing a nuclear armed Iran.

(OPPOSING BOYCOTT AGAINST ISRAEL) Roskam et al letter to ASA:  On 1/17, 134 Members of Congress, led by Reps. Roskam (R-IL), Deutch (D-FL), Collins (R-GA), and Schneider (D-IL), sent a letter to ASA President Curtis Marez opposing ASA’s boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions.  Notably, subsequent legislation introduced by Roskam related to this issue, mentioned above and discussed in Section 3, below, attracted only a single cosponsor.

 2.  Pro-Diplomacy Forces Gain Ground in Hill Iran Battle

 As reported in the 1/17/14 edition of the Round-Up, efforts to press ahead with new Iran sanctions were already hitting serious obstacles in both the House and Senate, even before President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he made a strong case for his Iran policy and vowed to veto any new sanctions legislation sent to him at this time. 

 In the wake of the SOTU, S. 1881 has hit a wall as the politics around S. 1881 have become openly partisan.  As noted in Section 1 (above), on 2/4 forty-two Republican senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid demanding that he permit a vote on the bill.  Sen. Menendez (D-NJ), the lead Democratic cosponsor of the bill, subsequently made a lengthy statement on the Senate floor making the case for the bill but seeming to back off insistence that it be voted on immediately.  In response, AIPAC – the most important force lobbying in support of the measure – issued a statement backing off insistence on passing the bill at this time (followed by another statement assuring members that this, in fact, wasn’t what it was doing at all). 

 At the same time, efforts to press ahead with some kind of tough Iran-focused measure in the House still appear stymied, even as today, more than 100 House members (from both parties) sent a letter to President Obama supporting Iran diplomacy (discussed in Section 1, above).

 All of this has led to a discussion of unprecedented openness about AIPAC’s efforts on the Hill promoting a piece of legislation, and of AIPAC’s apparent miscalculations in this particular instance.  For example:

The Daily Beast 2/11: How AIPAC Botched Its Biggest Fight in Year
The Forward 2/7: AIPAC Caves on Iran Sanctions Push
JTA 2/6: Reversing course, AIPAC says now is not the time for new sanctions
New York Times 2/3:  Potent Pro-Israel Group Finds Its Momentum Blunted

 In terms of what happens next, rumors continue to flourish on the Hill of a possible Cantor-Hoyer non-binding resolution in the House, and something like that in the Senate, but as yet, nothing has come out.  With the AIPAC policy conference fast approaching, it seems certain that AIPAC will want to make sure that its activists have something to lobby around – a resolution, a bill, a letter – but according to a recent report in the JTA, even AIPAC doesn’t know yet what it will be.  Read more here: JTA 2/11:  As confab nears, AIPAC still trying to figure out its legislative agenda.  Also see this 2/12 piece from Doug Bloomfield in the Jerusalem Post: Washington Watch: What is AIPAC’s plan B for Iran? (which offers analysis very similar to what was suggested in the 1/17/14 edition of the Round-Up).

3.  The New Strategy: Fighting BDS with Legislation Attacking Free Speech?

On 2/4, Rep. Roskam (R-IL) delivered a statement on the House floor condemning the decision of the American Studies Association (ASA) to adopt an academic boycott of Israel, and noting, “The former Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren, after that happened, he asked this question: Will Congress stand up for academic freedom?”  Roskam then announced his intention to introduce legislation that “will prevent these campaigns by prohibiting Federal funds to universities that boycott Israeli academic institutions.” 

On 2/6, Roskam introduced HR 4009, which seeks to do just that.  The bill is co-sponsored by his fellow Illinois congressman Lipinski (D-IL).  Roskam’s press release touting the bill can be found here.  In the press release, Roskam notes, “I’m so thankful for the wisdom and leadership of Ambassador Michael Oren, who has helped raise awareness for this important effort.”  Oren is also quoted in the press release, stating, “The Protect Academic Freedom Act represents the first legislation that defends Israel against discriminatory boycotts which impede rather than advance the peace process and that seek to deny Israelis the right to free speech on American campuses… As a citizen of Israel and its former ambassador to the United States, as well as an historian and visiting professor on leading American campuses, I strongly support this courageous initiative. It can be the turning point in the struggle against the delegitimization of the Jewish State."

The day it was introduced, the bill was immediately the subject of a glowing report in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon, which suggested that the bill “could serve as a deterrent to other groups considering Israeli boycotts.”  The article quoted both Oren and former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, now the head of the Israel Project, as supporting the measure.  At the same time, it was reported elsewhere that major Jewish groups would not support the measure. One article quoted a source, identified as a “pro-Israel Democratic strategist familiar with the groups’ thinking” as saying:  “’The legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional, it’s a bad law, and it reinforces stereotypes about Jewish influence.  It’s so bad that AIPAC and ADL oppose it.’”

The Free Beacon subsequently published another article, both challenging that report and appearing to challenge AIPAC and the ADL to take a different position.  That article also asserts that Oren “helped initiate the measure,” and cites support for the measure from CUFI (Christians United for Israel, the organization led famously by Pastor Hagee) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with the Josh Block-led Israel Project.

 All of this comes in the context of the debate in New York over similar legislation in the New York Senate, first floated in December 2013.  That bill was passed (amended slightly) by the New York State Senate on 1/28/14, and was harshly denounced by the New York Times editorial board in its 2/3 editorial, entitled, “A Chill on Speech.”  A companion bill in the State Assembly was subsequently withdrawn but then re-introduced (amended somewhat). 

 According to the Forward, “Several major Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, told the Forward they do not support the measure. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large Washington-based Israel lobby, did not take a position on the bill and has said it is reviewing it. Congressional sources made clear that AIPAC did not lobby for the bill. But the legislation’s sponsors in New York, which include State Senator Jeffrey Klein and the usually indomitable New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have one powerful organization working on their side: the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.”  In a statement on the withdrawal of the New York State bill, Steven Bayme, AJC’s director of Contemporary Jewish Life, said “…the proposed legislative action, which itself raised academic freedom questions, is not the answer to discriminatory acts against Israeli academics, such as boycotts.”

 Similar efforts at the state level are also underway in Maryland and Illinois.

 All of this also comes in the context of reports in the Israeli media that the Israeli government in its discussions of the various options to fight Israel-related boycotts.  One report noted:  “Another consideration is whether to activate the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., specifically AIPAC, in order to promote legislation in Congress against the economic boycott of Israel, akin to the legislation that was passed in the 1970's against the Arab boycott.”  Another report stated: “A number of courses of action were reportedly raised at the meeting, including encouraging anti-boycott legislation in friendly capitals around the world, such as Washington, Ottawa and Canberra. One idea is to support a model similar to the one used in the US to get recalcitrant countries to join the Iranian sanctions regimes – making sure that any company that dealt with Iran knew it was jeopardizing its US contracts…”

 NOTE:  Americans for Peace Now opposes boycott-divestment-sanctions efforts targeting Israel.  We believe such efforts are misguided, misdirected, and counter-productive.  However, APN believes that legislation that seeks to combat BDS by undermining academic freedoms and free speech is equally misguided, likely to be counter-productive, and almost certainly unconstitutional.  Pursuing such legislation is neither an acceptable nor an effective method of countering BDS targeting Israel.  APN believes that the most effective answer to BDS is to couple opposition to anti-Israel boycotts with support for activism focused clearly on settlements and the occupation.   For more on our position, see here.  Recent APN articles on the issues can be found here and here.

 4.  Hearings

 2/13: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a two-panel hearing entitled, “Syria Spillover: The Growing Threat of Terrorism and Sectarianism in the Middle East” [Note: There is a good chance this will be re-scheduled due to a snow storm…]  Panel 1 witnesses are: William Burns, Deputy Secretary of State;  Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs;  Nicholas Rasmussen, Deputy Director, National Counterterrorism Center.  Panel 2 witnesses are: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (statement).  

 2/11: A hearing was held in the Senate Armed Services Committee entitled, “Current and Future Worldwide Threats.” Witnesses were James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (testimony) and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (testimony). Video of the hearing is available here.  Clapper’s testimony covers a great deal about Iran and the Middle East, as did the Q&A during the hearing.

 2/11: A hearing was held in the House Armed Services Committee entitled, “United States Security Policy and Defense Posture in the Middle East.”  Witnesses were: Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5), The Joint Staff, Department of Defense (statement); Ambassador Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (statement); and Elissa Slotkin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

 2/11: The House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled, “Al Qaeda's Expansion in Egypt: Implications for U.S. Homeland Security.”  Witnesses were: Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations (statement); and Thomas Joscelyn, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (statement); Mohamed Elmenshawy, Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute (statement).

 2/4: The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing entitled, “Negotiations on Iran's Nuclear Program.”  Panel 1 witnesses were: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (statement), and David S. Cohen, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financing (statement).  Panel 2 witnesses are: David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security (statement), and Mark Dubowitz, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

 1/29:  The Senate Select Intelligence Committee held a hearing entitled “Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States.”  The witness at the hearing was James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.  His statement, which includes comments on a number of Middle East countries and Iran, is available here.  Video of the hearing is here.

 1/28: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, convened jointly by the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, entitled “Implementation of the Iran Nuclear Deal.”  Witnesses were: Mark Wallace, UANI (statement); Gregory Jones, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (statement); Olli Heinonen, Harvard University (statement); and David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security (statement).  A webcast of the hearing is available here.

 5.  Members in the Congressional Record

 Holding (R-NC) 2/10:  Another statement blasting the Iran deal, this time couched largely in terms of concern for the Iranian people, including minorities: “To forget about the plight of the Iranian people and not address what happens domestically in Iran would be a failure, plain and simple, and one which will continue to cost innocent lives.”

Honda (D-CA) 2/7: Statement opposing the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli academics and institutions

Menendez (D-NJ) 2/6: Statement insisting that his sanctions bill is a good thing and the right way forward, and laying out parameters for a final deal

Rubio (R-FL) 2/6: Making the case for an immediate vote on new Iran sanctions

Cruz (R-TX) 2/6: Interview with the Washington Examiner, slamming Obama’s Iran policy and suggesting, among other things, that the U.S. should “arm Israel with so-called ‘bunker buster’ bombs capable of destroying Iran's bomb plants deep below the surface of the earth.”

Gutierrez (D-IL) 2/5:   “I have been convinced that now is not the time to consider additional sanctions, but I want my colleagues to make up their own minds and to do so with as much information as possible, so I renew my request for classified briefings as soon as they can be arranged.”

Cruz (R-TX) 2/4: Criticizing Obama’s State of the Union statements on the Middle East, including slamming his policy on Iran and Syria, accusing Kerry of “actively working behind the scenes to encourage European countries to threaten Israel with boycotts if the Israelis don't agree to whatever framework Mr. Kerry will propose in two weeks..”

King (R-IA) 2/4: Criticizing negotiations with Iran, opposing any return by Israel to 1967 borders, Egypt/Muslim Brotherhood, etc…

Bachmann (R-MN) 2/3: Lengthy statement railing against the Iran deal as a threat to Israel, blasting Kerry for “threatening” Israel with BDS, praising Israel for allowing Palestinians to work and live inside its borders, slamming the Palestinians for a range of sins, bemoaning the lack of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, etc… (and noting, “I think we need to be very clear and very careful in how we deal with the Jewish State of Israel. Israel must never be betrayed, and the United States must not put pressure on the Jewish State of Israel.”

Holding (R-NC) 2/3: Accusing Obama Admin of jeopardizing US national security by making deal with Iran

Menendez (D-NJ) 1/30: Chairman Menendez Statement on the Democratic Transition in Tunisia

McCain (R-AZ) 1/30: Taking President Obama to task over Syria policy

Gohmert (R-TX) 1/29: Another rant about the Middle East (sigh), applauding the military government in Egypt and, in passing, taking a swipe at the Palestinians

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/28: Statement: Iranian Nuclear Deal is Lopsided, Sets Dangerous Precedent and Does not Eliminate the Threat of a Nuclear Capable Iran

Cook (R-CA) 1/28: Statement slamming Iran deal

Wolf (R-VA) 1/27: Statement on the plight of Syrian Christians

Holding (R-NC) 1/27: Opposing the interim deal with Iran.