Legislative Round-up - March 23, 2020

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
2. Hearings
3. On the Record

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Legislative Round-Up was conceived. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

With Congress consumed with the COVID-19 crisis, there was no Middle East-related legislation introduced or moved during the past week.

Letters

(CONCERNS RE: COVID-19 CYBER SURVEILLANCE) Bicameral letter to Trump/Pence: On 3/19, Reps. Eshoo (D-CA) and DelBene (D-WA), along with Senator Wyden (D-OR), sent a letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence raising concern about Americans’ privacy in the context of discussion of plans to track COVID-19 in the United States. Concerns about COVID-19 opening the door to far-reaching governmental cyber surveillance come in the context of (among other things) the decision by the Netanyahu government to implement such measures in Israel (the issue is now before the Israel’s High Court) and reports that NSO Group – the Israeli tech company already embroiled in controversy for its spyware – is involved in developing/selling software for use in tracking COVID-19. For more, see: GeekWire 3/19: Rep. DelBene and other lawmakers voice privacy concerns over virus-tracking plans

(US MILITARY EQUIPMENT USED TO DEMOLISH PALESTINIAN HOMES?) Khanna et al letter to Pompeo: On 3/16, Reps. Khanna (D-CA), Eshoo (D-CA) and Cohen (D-TN) led a letter, signed by more the 60 House Democrats, to SecState Pompeo, urging the Trump administration to take immediate action to oppose the Israeli government’s acceleration of home demolitions and displacement of Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The letter requests the State Department to examine Israeli compliance with the requirements applied by the Arms Export Control Act in order to ensure that U.S.-supplied equipment is not being used to destroy Palestinian homes. The signers note that the United States “should work to prevent unlawful home demolitions and the forcible transfer of civilians everywhere in the world and prevent the use of U.S.-origin equipment in this destructive practice.” The letter requires Pompeo to respond to a list of specific questions by April 30. Khanna press release is here. For further factual background on this issue, see this piece Mitchell Plitnick writing at Responsible Tradecraft. For another view — from the “Israel-right-or-wrong-and-if-you-say-”wrong”-you-are-probably-an-antisemite” camp, see this piece published by the Jewish News Service (JNS, which in the past has been reported to be funded by Sheldon Adelson), written by Stephen Flatow, who publishes regularly as the far-right-wing Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva, which not coincidentally is the same outlet that regularly published op-eds by David Friedman before he became the US Ambassador to Israel).

(SUPPORT AID TO PALESTINIANS) Humanitarian leaders letter to Appropriators: On 3/16, a group of 12 major international NGOs sent a letter to the heads of the Appropriations Committees of both the House and Senate urging that support for UNRWA ’s critical programs “be restored and protected in the 2021 appropriation enacted by the U.S. Congress.” The letter states that “As organizations deeply involved in programs and advocacy surrounding international humanitarian response, we write to you to share our concerns regarding the Trump administration’s continuing refusal to provide U.S. humanitarian assistance to people in need in the West Bank and Gaza. The funding includes support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and programs implemented by organizations through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) to meet the basic needs of the civilian population. UNRWA is currently facing its third year without financial support from the United States, which has had a corrosive effect on the Agency’s provision of essential services.” Refugees International’s press release is here.

2. Hearings

Nothing to report.

3. On the Record...

Congress-related news with an Israel/Mideast Angle

Jewish Insider 3/18: Pro-Israel groups react to Rep. Dan Lipinski’s primary loss in Illinois – “Taking credit: Ben Shnider, vice president of political affairs at J Street, told JI that Newman’s win ‘demonstrates the momentum behind her pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy views in today’s Democratic Party. We were proud to support her and look forward to working with her in Washington.’ Newman said she would support conditioning aid to Israel based on its policies toward the Palestinians. ‘The U.S. has a responsibility to examine how aid to Israel is used and that we should ensure that this aid is not used to support actions and policies that undercut our values.’ She told JI that aid should not ‘support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Israeli blockade of Gaza.’ Flashback: Talking to JI earlier this year, Newman stressed that all issues need to be agreed upon in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and that the U.S. should play a strictly supportive role, not dictate policy. In her position paper, she wrote that Palestinians ‘whose homes in Israel and the Palestinian territories were lost as a result of the conflict have the right to reside in Israel or Palestine and that the resolution of the conflict should include a fair and just resolution of the rights and aspirations of Palestinian refugees and Palestinians in the diaspora in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.’” [Other takes: The Algemeiner – “Anti-Israel Democrat Upsets House Incumbent,” citing the RJC commenting: “Newman’s win goes to show that, without fail, supposedly pro-Israel groups on the left will throw a pro-Israel candidate under the bus for a more liberal, anti-Israel candidate. Pro-Israel Democrats need to take notice that their party is no longer a pro-Israel party”; Haaretz – AIPAC vs J Street: Pro-Israel Lobby Loses Ally as Progressives Score Win in Illinois]

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AIPAC 3/17: With the COVID-19 crisis gripping the country, AIPAC decided that 3/17 was a good day to send out an action alert telling Americans to call Congress to tell members to “support important bipartisan initiatives to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran.” These initiatives — S. Res. 509 in the Senate and an Engel-led letter in the House — were agenda items launched in the context of last month’s AIPAC Policy Conference. During the week, AIPAC continued to tweet out its call for people to contact Congress about these initiatives – 3/19, 3/18, 3/17, 3/17, 3/17, 3/17, 3/16, 3/16. Notably, on 3/17, with COVID-19 already nearly shutting down Israel and causing economic and social upheaval in the U.S., AIPAC tweeted a video (that it had started tweeting out the previous week) that opens with the warning: “A major development may soon threaten both Americans and Israelis” — referring to the threat of Iran and pushing people to call Congress to support AIPAC’s initiatives.

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Sherman (D-CA) 3/17: Interviewed by JNS.org – Excerpt re: Israel:

“Q: What was your reaction to the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast peace plan? Do you agree with any of its components?

“A: It seems to be Bibi Netanyahu’s Middle East peace plan, and it was. It’s a reasonable opening position for the Israeli government in peace negotiations, and we ought to be starting serious peace negotiations as soon as possible. It’s now up to the Arab side to put forth a reasonable opening position for them. Opening positions for negotiations are rarely the final and just conclusion. The Arab side has put forward what is a reasonable bargaining position for them to take, except for the words they put in about the so-called right of return or “the right to refugees.”

“If you read what the Arab side is saying, it is that they are in favor of a two-state solution as long as there are two Palestinian states. Anyone who speaks Arabic and claims that even one of their distant ancestors lived in Israel—and it’s just a claim because there are no records—go to Istanbul and see how many records you have of families living in Israel 150 years ago. There are no records. So it means that an Arabic-speaking person has a right to move to Israel. If you say it that plainly, then it’s clear that their bargaining position is unreasonable.

“That’s the chief problem we have. They look reasonable because they don’t say in plain English or plainly in any other language that they want two Palestinian states, and that that’s their definition of a two-state solution. Whatever their opening bargaining position is, the Israeli opening bargaining position is the Trump-Kushner-Netanyahu plan and that ought to be laid on the table. They can lay theirs on the table. It’s time to start talking peace.

“I’ve been a pro-Israel activist for more than 50 years. The position has always been that we want the parties to negotiate final-status issues. We don’t want outsiders trying to impose solutions. The pro-Israel community ought to return to its position that issues are to be negotiated between the parties. We should regard the document that was issued from the White House as, in effect, the current bargaining position of the Israeli government and be regarded as an Israeli plan.”

Jewish Journal 3/14: ADL Publishes Guide on Anti-Semitic Tropes for Candidates and Congress. Notably, the ADL’s new guide identifies 7 categories of antisemitism, the 7th of which is anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel. Fun excerpt: “Consciously or not, among today’s anti-Zionist leaders, and those who engage in harsh delegitimization of Israel, are individuals who often thinly disguise irrational antipathy toward Jews and use age-old anti-Jewish rhetoric in their charges against Zionism and Israel; for example invoking dual loyalty, conspiracies of Jewish/Zionist power over a country’s policy and using classical antisemitic imagery to characterize Israelis, among others. Such expressions are also found in some harsh criticism of Israel, whereby Jews and Judaism are rejected or condemned based on perceived associations with Israeli policy.”

 

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