Legislative Round-up - May 15, 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

(HEALTH COOPERATION WITH ISRAEL) S. 3722 (pdf of text is here): Introduced 5/13 by Cruz (R-TX) and 7 bipartisan co-sponsors, “A bill to authorize funding for a bilateral cooperative program with Israel for the development of health technologies with a focus on combating COVID-19.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. NOTE: AIPAC has been pushing activists to contact their senators to ask them to sponsor this legislation for weeks (since it was first announced, even though the bill wasn’t actually introduced until now). Cruz press release is here; Tweet celebrating the bill is here.

(HEALTH COOPERATION WITH ISRAEL) HR 6829: Introduced 5/12 by Pappas (D-NH) and 3 bipartisan cosponsors, “To authorize funding for a bilateral cooperative program with Israel for the development of health technologies with a focus on combating COVID-19.” Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Kustoff (R-TN) press release touting his cosponsorship of the bill is here, and Tweet. AIPAC Twitter thread touting the bill and its sponsors is here; Example of an AIPAC tweet promoting/lobbying for the bill is here.

(SLAMMING ICC OVER ISRAEL) S. Res. 570: Introduced 5/12 by Cruz (R-TX), “A resolution opposing and condemning the potential prosecution of United States and Israeli nationals by the International Criminal Court.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. As background, see: Cruz’s March 5 statement, “The ICC’s Campaign Against Our Troops Will Fail Because the United States Will Ensure That It Fails”; his March 3 press release regarding his appearance at the AIPAC policy conference, “Sen. Cruz: It Has Never Been More Important to Assure the Bipartisan Commitment to Strengthening America and Israel’s Unshakable Alliance”; and the Daily Beast, March 5, “Sen. Ted Cruz Hatches Plan to Curtail the International Criminal Court’s Power.” Note: In the past there have been multiple resolutions introduced slamming the Palestinians for potentially seeking recourse against Israel at the ICC (e.g., 2015 – H. Res. 209 & H. Res. 270; 2017 – H. Res. 109), in addition to annual language in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill punishing the Palestinians for seeking or supporting action against Israelis at the ICC. This Cruz resolution, however, appears to be the first resolution shifting the attack from the Palestinians to the ICC itself.

(CONDEMNING IRAN’S OPPRESSION OF BAHA’I) S. Res. 578: Introduced 5/14 by Wyden (D-OR) and 3 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution condemning the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.” Wyden press release announcing the resolution is here.

Letters

(SPEAK OUT AGAINST SETTLER VIOLENCE) House letter to Amb Friedman: On 5/14, a Dear Colleague began circulating in the House inviting members to co-sign a letter to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, calling on him to condemn all acts of violence in the West Bank, whether the victim is either Israeli or Palestinian [note: Trump Administration officials have been largely silent in the face of ongoing/rising settler violence]. The letter, led by Reps. Haaland (D-NM), Huffman (D-CA), and Yarmuth (D-KY) notes, with respect to the spike in settler violence during the COVID-19 crisis: “As supporters of the safety and security of Israelis and Palestinians, we grieve for each family that has suffered harm or lost a loved one to this conflict. There is no doubt that such incidents, in addition to causing tragic suffering, harm the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict that is in each of Israel’s, the Palestinians’ and US interests. We believe the United States must condemn all acts of violence that pull us further away from peace and should make its condemnation clear whether the victim is Israeli or Palestinian. We therefore urge you to urgently and publicly speak out against settler violence and work with relevant Israeli authorities.”

(POMPEO – STOP THE ICC FROM ATTACKING ISRAEL!!) AIPAC-backed House & Senate letters: This week, letters were sent to Secretary of State Pompeo – from both the House and Senate – demanding that the U.S. work to block an ICC investigation of Israel for its actions against the Palestinians (the letters are not identical). The House was led by Luria (D-VA) and Gallagher (R-WI), and signed by 262 representatives. The Senate letter was led by Cardin (D-MD) and Portman (R-OH), and signed by 69 senators. The House letter suggests that the current investigation is “politically motivated,” that the ICC has no jurisdiction, and that those pursuing it are doing so “in place of a negotiation process between Israelis and Palestinians” [notwithstanding the fact that the “negotiation process” has been replaced by unilateral actions by the Trump Administration (on Jerusalem, settlements, etc) and Israel (which is on the brink of formally annexing much of the West Bank, with U.S. approval)]. The Senate letter argues that the ICC does not have jurisdiction, that the prosecutor’s recommendation for an investigation “constitutes a dangerous politicization of the Court and distorts the purposes for which the court was established,” and that what is being contemplated is a “biased investigation of Israel.” 

  • These letters were core AIPAC legislative agenda items launched in the context of its March 2020 policy conference (the language in the letters was updated to reflect events since that time).
  • On 5/13, Portman Tweeted – “Today Senator Cardin & I along w/ 69 of our colleagues called on @SecPompeo to help defend Israel against the International Criminal Court’s politically motivated discrimination. The message is as clear and unambiguous as it gets: the United States proudly stands with Israel.
  • On 5/13, AIPAC’s announced the release of the letters in a Twitter thread.
  • Want to know specifically who did/didn’t sign? AIPAC has made that super easy, publishing a handy table to help activists know who to thank and who to spank. Interestingly, the key at the bottom of the table (which includes designations that apply not just to the letter but also to legislation) bears close resemblance to the key to tables included in guides AIPAC used to publish in the context of congressional elections, even as AIPAC insisted it doesn’t rate candidates (I have no idea if they still publish these guides).
  • Luria press release is here.
  • For some historical context (especially for this new Senate letter, which takes a direct, personal shot, by name, at the ICC’s chief prosecutor) it is worth recalling that on 4/16/19, Reps. Omar (D-MN), McGovern (D-MA), Raskin (D-MD), Cicciline (D-RI), Tlaib (D-MI), and Levin (D-MI) sent a letter to SecState Pompeo requesting information on the Administration’s decision to restrict visas of International Criminal Court (ICC) staff. The lengthy letter notes, among other things,  that the U.S. has “a long and proud history of supporting mechanisms of international justice and the rule of law…In line with that history, and with some of our most cherished values, it is absolutely essential that we support the work of the ICC. The Court is a critically important institution in the global fight against impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It is a mechanism by which some of our most important American values — including the rule of law, the right to redress, and the principle that no one is above the law — can be put into practice.

(UPDATE — DEAR ISRAEL: PLEASE KNOW WE DON’T LIKE THE IDEA OF ANNEXATION ) Senate letter to Bibi/Gantz: Last week, the Round-Up reported on a letter circulating in the Senate, led to Senators Kaine (D-VA), Van Hollen (D-MD), and Murphy (D-CT), makes the case that annexation would threaten US-Israel relations and “would likely erode the strong support among the American people for the unwavering security assistance and diplomatic partnership from the United States that Israel currently enjoys.” 

  • On May 10, the Jewish Insider broke the story that this very moderate letter (which reportedly had garnered 10 signers in its original form), had been “watered down” by its authors. It should be noted that the substantive changes appear to be quite minor (and don’t significantly walk back the meaning of the letter).
  • It is clear that the real point of the “news” around the “watering down” of this letter is to create a narrative that the letter was a far-left message that was rejected and forced back by outside pressure. For instance, the “watering down” has been connected in media reports to Cardin (D-MD) saying he wouldn’t sign the letter and publicly criticizing it (also to Jewish Insider), saying “I don’t like to second-guess Israel’s government’s decisions…” and “I don’t think it is helpful for us to sow dissension in the United States as it relates to the support for Israel. I think we have to show that even when we disagree with the policies of the government that the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong.” 
  • Coincidentally (or not), on May 11, AIPAC came out swinging with a message to Congress (and everyone else) that Israeli annexation of West Bank territory should have no impact on the US-Israel relations, taking a direct shot at anyone who suggest otherwise: “Today, some have proposed reducing our ties with Israel because they object to the potential decision by Israel’s leaders to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. Doing anything to weaken this vital relationship would be a mistake.” [Both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post connected the AIPAC statement to the Senate letter].
  • It remains to be seen how many members will be willing to sign on to this allegedly “watered down” letter. Whatever the result, this episode calls to mind the 2019 narrative (if not the substantive) debacle around H Res 326, where an extremely mild resolution in support of a two-state solution was watered-down twice (in an effort to generate support/neutralize opposition), and then, after a long delay, it was passed, but by a very weak vote of 226-188 (i.e., in terms of raw numbers, the AIPAC-backed letter attacking the ICC – discussed above – obtained broader backing than H. Res. 326). For full details of the H. Res. 326 drama, see previous editions of the Round-Up: 12/13/19 (floor consideration, final vote), 12/6/19 (Rules committee and other drama on way to bringing H Res 326 to the floor), 7/26/19 (when H. Res. 326 was conspicuously NOT brought to the floor), 7/17/19 (on the HFAC mark-up).

2. Hearings

5/14/20: On May 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to hold a business meeting to deal with a long list of legislation. Included on that list are two Middle East-related items: “S. 712, Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, with amendments” and  “S. 3176, United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020, with an amendment.” That meeting was postponed; as of this writing, a new date has not been announced.

  • As a reminder, S. 3176 is the Senate version of HR 1837, passed by the House – brought to the floor under suspension of the rules and passed by a voice vote, after virtually no substantive debate/consideration – on 7/23/19.
  • Notably, S. 3176 does not include the most egregious elements included in HR 1837 (see the 7/19/19 edition of the Round-Up for a comprehensive review of HR 1837’s provisions, including  Sec. 204, which would give the President authority to provide Israel with any defense-related article or service if he determines Israel is “under an existing or imminent threat of military attack,” without any limitation under law (including the Arms Export Control Act) and without any oversight by Congress).
  • That said, in terms of substance the bill is still problematic, in that is (a) seeks to codify in law the current MOU (with the clear goal of preventing any future president from even thinking about using US aid to Israel as leverage); (b) it seeks to codify in law that the level of aid stipulated in the MOU is a floor, rather than a ceiling – an understanding that is the opposite of what was negotiated by the Obama Administration; and (c) it includes a provision for funding joint Israeli-Arab programs that could easily become the basis for funding Israeli projects in the West Bank.
  • Moreover, the timing – as in, bringing it up now — is deeply problematic. This legislation represents a veritable “everything Israel could wish for” gift from Congress. Assuming it goes ahead (which is a near certainty in an election year), it will be yet another signal from Congress that not only will there be no consequence for annexation (or, indeed, anything Israel does in any conceivable context), but that Congress will continue to seek every opportunity to find new way to reward Israel.
  • Finally, it should be noted that on the committee schedule, it is noted that S. 3176 will be considered with an amendment. Strong possibilities for what this might be (and it could be both) are: (a) the new Cruz et al legislation funding US-Israel medical cooperation (S. 3722) and (b) the new Cruz resolution attacking the ICC (S. Res. 570). See Section 1, above, for details of both.

3. On the Record

Members on the Record

Schakowsky (D-IL), Price (D-NC), Connolly (D-VA), Yarmuth (D-KY), Levin (D-MI), Welch (D-VT), Lowenthal (D-CA), Lee (D-CA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Haaland (D-NM), and Doggett (D-TX) 5/14: Members of Congress Continue to Reaffirm Opposition to Unilateral West Bank Annexation [Lowenthal Tweet re the letter: “Congress spoke clearly when it passed my Resolution, H.Res 326. A two-state solution is the only way to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Unilateral annexation is unacceptable and dangerous.

GOP Tweetstorm 5/14 (many with identical gifs) celebrating 2nd anniversary of moving of US embassy to Jerusalem: Armstrong (R-ND), Blackburn (R-TN), Davis (R-IL), Zeldin (R-NY), Wilson (R-SC), McKinley (R-WV), Allen (R-GA), Cruz (R-TX), Williams (R-TX), Kustoff (R-TN), Miller (R-WV), Blackburn (R-TN – another one), Scott (R-FL), Smith (R-MS), Spano (R-FL), Watkins (R-KS), Lesko (R-AZ), Calvert (R-CA), Grothman (R-WI), Barr (R-KY), Biggs (R-AZ), Timmons (R-SC), McCarthy (R-CA), Smucker (R-PA)

Zeldin (R-NY) 5/14: Tweet – “The Obama admin was angry that General Michael Flynn and others helped successfully get President Obama’s anti-Israel Plan A scrapped in December 2016 and they had to scramble to find new countries to introduce UN Security Council Resolution 2334 going after Israel.” [NOTE: Zeldin deleted this tweet soon after he tweeted it]

Zeldin (R-NY) 5/14: Tweet – “Keep in mind Obama admin was furious Gen Michael Flynn was making calls to world leaders helping to block UN Sec Council Res 2334 in Dec 16, which was an anti-Israel effort that should’ve been vetoed by the US, not fast tracked. Gen Flynn was doing exactly what needed to be done.”

Murphy (D-CT) 5/14: Tweet – “The U.S. has rightfully worked to stop the Palestinians from taking unilateral actions outside the peace process. We must hold Israel to the same standard. Annexation of the West Bank would be a catastrophic mistake, and we should oppose it.” [re-tweeting this article]

Rounds (R-SD) 5/14: Tweet – “On this day 72 years ago, the modern State of Israel was established. Israel is our strong ally and a source of stability in a region full of turmoil. I look forward to continuing this great relationship.

Feinstein (D-CA) 5/14: Op-ed in Bloomberg – “U.S. and Iran Need a Coronavirus Peace Plan”

McCollum (D-MN) 5/11: Tweet – “@UNICEF in calling on Israel to release all Palestinian children in its military prisons. The #COVID19 pandemic & the abuse inflicted on these children justifies their immediate release. @UNICEFUSA

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

Al-Monitor 5/14/20: How Jordan’s refusal to extradite a convicted terrorist could imperil $1.5 billion in US aid [for more details, see last week’s edition of the Round-Up]

Mondoweiss 5/14/20: Mckayla Wilkes is trying to unseat one of the country’s most hawkish Democrats [“On Palestinian rights being an important part of her campaign – Mckayla Wilkes: I see what’s happening in Israel and Palestine as a human rights issue. Being a black person in America, I understand what it’s like to be treated as a second-class citizen. So for me, it became a personal issue and I really believe that we shouldn’t put foreign policy on a back burner as a second-tier issue, so that’s why it’s really important for me to speak out. It’s just the right thing to do.”]

Jewish Insider, 5/13/20: From Washington to Westchester: the Obama Justice Department official running for Lowey’s seat “…The congressional aspirant, who rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, supports giving security aid to Israel ‘no matter what.’ His hope is that such aid will not be used in an effort to annex any part of the West Bank, which the Israeli government has indicated it plans to do as early as this summer. ‘But that is not a conditioning,’ he hastened to add, lest his words be taken out of context. Jones also supports restoring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.”

Former Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) 5/13: Op-ed in the Hill – “Are Jews in America safe in this era?” [Excerpt: “In 1977, numerous neo Nazis planned a march in Skokie, Illinois, where one out of six residents were survivors of the Holocaust. At the time, President Carter said, ‘I want to voice my complete solidarity with those citizens of Skokie and Chicago who now gather in a peaceful demonstration of their abhorrence of Nazism.’ Compare it to the response by President Trump to the neo Nazis unfurling swastika flags and chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ as they marched past Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville. He told the country there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ The supporters of President Trump will of course equivocate. They will point to the fact that he moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and produced a peace plan that meets with approval by the leaders of Israel. But what solace is having a commander in chief who believes he is protecting the state of Israel while in charge during the increasingly dangerous state of the Jews in America today?”]

Jewish Insider 5/13/20: Trump campaign hosting a $1,000 [per person, minimum] Jerusalem embassy anniversary party on Zoom

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