Legislative Round-Up - May 22, 2020

1. Bills, Resolutions, and Letters
2. SFRC Amends/Passes Israel Wish-List Bill
3. Hearings
4. 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.

Heads up: New CRS report  — Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief, May 18, 2020 (including reference to annexation)

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(LEGISLATING US $$ FOR ISRAEL) S. 3176: Introduced 1/9 by Rubio (R-FL) and Coons (D-DE), the “United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020”, aka, “A bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 to make improvements to certain defense and security assistance provisions and to authorize the appropriations of funds to Israel, and for other purposes.” Marked up in SFRC 5/20, and adopted with an amendment. See Section 2, below, for details of the bill as adopted in SFRC.

(US-ISRAEL PARTNERSHIP IN DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY) S. 3775: Introduced 5/20 by Peters (D-MI) and Cotton (R-AR), “The United States Israel Military Capability Act,” aka, “A bill to establish a United States-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Peters press release is here; Cotton press release is here.


(UPDATE — DEAR ISRAEL: PLEASE KNOW WE DON’T LIKE THE IDEA OF ANNEXATION ) Senate letter to Bibi/Gantz: On 5/21, a group of 19 Senate Democrats, led by Murphy (D-CT), Kaine (D-VA) and Van Hollen (D-MD) sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gantz cautioning against unilateral annexation of West Bank territory by Israel. For background on the letter and its rocky course in the Senate, see last week’s edition of the Round-Up. Along with Murphy, Kaine and Van Hollen, signers on the letter were Schatz (D-HIi), Leahy (D-VT), Durbin (D-IL), Brown (D-OH), Baldwin (D-WI), Udall (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR.), Markey (D-MA), Heinrich (D-NM), Whitehouse (D-RI), Shaheen (D-NH), Duckworth (D-IL), Carper (D-DE), Warren (D-MA), Murray (D-WA), and Sanders (I-VT). Press releases: Murphy, Kaine, Van Hollen. Also see: Jewish Insider – Democratic senators release letter warning Israel against annexation

(ANNEXING THE WB WILL BE BAD FOR ISRAEL) Feinstein letter to Bibi: On 5/15, Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulating him on the new unity government and expressing her concern “about the implications of Israel unilaterally annexing territory in the West Bank.” Specifically, this concern boils down to Feinstein fearing “that any steps taken by Israel to unilaterally annex land in the West Bank will result in long-term costs to Israel’s national security and diplomatic relationships.” Feinstein press release is here. [As I noted on Twitter, it’s a shame Feinstein’s message to Netanyahu suggests — at best — that even pro-peace US politicians think expressing concern for the rights of Palestinians is unnecessary or politically counter-productive. At worst, it sends the message that even ostensibly pro-peace politicians don’t see Palestinians as having rights that Israel can trample.]

(PUSH TURKEY TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS) Trone et al letter to Pompeo: On 5/13, Reps. Trone (D-MD), Connolly (D-VA),Keating (D-MA), Costa (D-CA), Omar (D-MN), and Bera (D-CA) sent a letter to SecState Pompeo asking him to raise concerns about Turkey’s COVID-19 prisoner release policies, namely that journalists, activists, and other political prisoners not be excluded from equitable application of the policies. Press release is here.

(DON’T END US SUPPORT FOR MFO OUT OF SINAI) Bipartisan, bicameral letter to Pompeo & Esper: On 5/13, House and Senate members joined together in a bipartisan, bicameral letter to SecState Pompeo and SecDef Esper, calling for the U.S. to maintain its strong support for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The letter comes reports that the Trump Administration is considering ending US support for the MFO. The letter was led in the Senate by SFRC chair and ranking member Risch (R-ID) and Menendez (D-NJ), and signed by SASC chair and ranking member Inhofe (R-OK) and Reed (D-RI), as well as Graham (R-SC) and Leahy (D-VT) from the Approps committee. From the House, the letter was signed by HFAC chair and ranking member Engel (D-NY) and McCaul (R-TX), HASC chair and ranking member Smith (D-WA) and Thornberry (R-TX), HAC Chair Lowey (D-NY), and HAC/SFOPS ranking member Rogers (R-KY). Risch/Menendez press release is here; Smith/Thornberry press release is here. Also see: Jewish Insider 5/18 –  Congress warns Trump about withdrawing U.S. troops from Sinai

2. SFRC Amends/Passes Israel Wish-List BIll

What happened in the SFRC?

On 5/21, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a “business meeting.” On the agenda were 21 pieces of legislation (most with amendments to be considered by the committee) – including the nomination of Michael Pack to be the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Among the bills on the agenda was S. 3176 – the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020. And like many bills on the agenda, S. 3176 was to be considered with a managers’ amendment.

Last year, when the House version of this legislation was brought up first in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and then on the House floor, the measure — which authorizes not only $3.8 billion in funding for Israel for the life of the current MOU, but also millions in new funding for various programs, plus other goodies — was adopted with zero discussion/debate. Yesterday, the SFRC followed suit, adopting S. 3176 without even bothering with a pretense of public discussion/consideration. This lack of transparency is especially egregious because the managers’ amendment to S. 3176 was an amendment in the nature of a substitute (as in, the amendment that deleted the entire text of the original bill and replaced it with new text), and even more egregious because that amendment **WAS NOT MADE PUBLIC UNTIL LONG AFTER THE HEARING ENDED.**

So how did it go down? Literally the entire SFRC business meeting was consumed by contentious consideration of Pack’s nomination — at the conclusion of which, the Chairman noted that time was running out and moved 15 bills “that have been agreed to” – including S. 3176 and its amendment – en bloc. Following some expressions of unhappiness by Menendez (D-NJ) over bills not included in the bloc, the Committee adopted the en bloc bills (with their amendments) by Voice Vote (video of this charade of committee oversight is here).

What happens next?

This week’s actions paves the way for S. 3176 to be brought to the Senate floor, where it will almost certainly be adopted without debate (except perhaps an effort to amend it to add more goodies for Israel). The Senate can then either send S. 3176 to the House or, more likely, it can take up the House-passed version HR 1837 (which the House sent to the Senate back on 7/24/19), amend it to replace the House text with S. 3176, and send it back to the House for action. Either way, the House and Senate versions of the bill are different enough that further action is required before this legislations goes to the President.

What Are the Key Things to Know about S. 3176?

Some key points before getting into the details of the bill:

First, as noted in last week’s Round-Up, the original text of S. 3176 omits the most problematic element in HR 1837 (a provision giving 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). The amended text of S. 3176 likewise omits this provision.

Second, as amended by the SFRC, S. 3176 includes a lot of the same/similar provisions as are in the House version (see below for details). In general, these fall into 4 categories:

  • Codifying into law annual US aid to Israel – both the amount and the manner in which it is disbursed – in a manner to prevent any future Administration or Congress from having the ability to use that aid as leverage, and to make clear that the only changes in US aid to Israel that Congress will contemplate are changes that increase aid beyond the level negotiate in the current MOU.
  • Increasing U.S. military support for and cooperation with Israel, and facilitating additional, new military aid support.
  • Establishing and authorizing funding for programs designed to make enhanced/expanded US-Israel cooperation part of the DNA of more and more U.S. government agencies.
  • Establishing programs that in effect recruit U.S. agencies/funding to the cause of expanding Israel’s relations and influence in the region (i.e., open normalization by Arab states) and around the world.

Third, as noted in last week’s Round-Up, the timing of this bill – coming up now – is significant. This legislation represents a veritable “everything Israel could ask for” gift from Congress. Assuming it goes ahead (which is a near certainty), it will be yet another signal from Congress that not only will there be no consequences 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.

Also, the lead sponsor of the House version of the bill, Deutch (D-FL) — who refrained from co-sponsoring H. Res. 326 and has been notably silent in the face of impending annexation of West Bank territory by Israel — celebrated the SFRC’s passage of the measure on Twitter: “Another proud bipartisan vote in Sen. Foreign Relations Cmte w/ unanimous passage of US-Israel Security Assist. Auth. Act,companion to my bill the House passed in July. Support in Congress for US-Israel relationship & Israel’s security through 2016 MOU remains broad & bipartisan

What – specifically – is in S. 3176?

Below is a detailed look at the provisions of S. 3176 (as amended in committee).

Title I – Security Assistance to Israel

Section 103: Amends U.S. law by legislating annual security assistance for Israel under the MOU. Also makes explicit that the aid amount stipulated under the MOU is a floor, not a ceiling (changes “equal to” to “not less than”). Also legislates early disbursal of full amount. (Similar to Section 205 of the House bill)

Section 104: Extends authority for the War Reserves Stockpile through 2025, and authorizes annual increases of up to $200 million for 2021-2025, for a total increase of $1 billion. [I broke down how this stockpile acts as an unaccounted source of U.S. military aid to Israel here].  (Similar to Section 209 of the House bill)

Section 105: Extends existing loan guarantees to Israel through 2025. (Similar to Section 211 of the House bill)

Section 106: Authorizes transfer to Israel of precision guided munitions from U.S. reserve stocks “in such quantities as necessary for legitimate self-defense of Israel and is otherwise consistent with the purposes and conditions for such transfers under the Arms Export Control Act.” For such transfers, requires a certification to Congress — “Except in the case of an emergency as determined by the President” — that such transfer doesn’t undermine U.S. military readiness, is “necessary for Israel to counter the threat of rockets in a timely fashion,” and “is in the national security interest of the United States.” (Similar to Section 207 of the House bill)

Section 107: Expressing Sense of Congress that the President “should (1) prescribe procedures for the rapid acquisition and deployment of precision guided munitions for United States counterterrorism missions, or(2) to assist an ally of the United States, including Israel, that is subject to direct missile threat.” (Similar to Section 208 of the House bill)

Section 108: Pushes for Israel to be included “in the list of countries eligible for the strategic trade authorization exception under section 740.20 (c) (1) of title 15, Code of Federal Regulations section…” [which pertains to “exports, reexports, and transfers (in-country) in which the only applicable reason(s) for control is (are) national security (NS); chemical or biological weapons (CB); nuclear nonproliferation (NP); regional stability (RS); crime control (CC), and/or significant items (SI) are authorized for destinations in or nationals of Country Group A:5]“] (Similar to Section 210 of the House bill)

Title II – Enhanced United States-Israel Cooperation

Section 201: Authorizes the Secretary of State Department to enter into an MOU with Israel for the purposes of ensuring US-Israel cooperation to advance common goals in third countries and in various sectors, (including energy, agriculture and food security, democracy, human rights, governance, economic growth, trade, education, environment, global health, water and sanitation). (Similar to Section 106 of the House bill)

Section 202: Authorizes $2 million each year from 2020-2024 ($10 million total) “to finance cooperative projects among the United States, Israel, and developing countries that identify and support local solutions to address sustainability challenges relating to water resources, agriculture, and energy storage…”(Similar to Section 107 of the House bill)

Section 203: Authorizes the Secretary of State to establish a program to “help foster cooperation in the Middle East region by financing and, as appropriate, cooperating in, projects related to innovation and advanced technologies” with the goal of such projects – which each must involve an Israeli partner – being to “contribute to the development and the quality of life in the Middle East region through the application of research and advanced technology” and to “contribute to Arab-Israeli cooperation by establishing strong working relationships that last beyond the life of such projects.” [This would be, in effect, a USAID program incentivize/coerce Arab countries into open normalization with Israel] (Similar to Section 108 of the House bill)

Section 204: Expressing the Sense of Congress regarding the value of US-Israel economic cooperation, including on science and technology innovations, and stating that the President should “regularize and expand existing forums of economic dialogue with Israel and foster both public and private sector participation.” (Similar to Section 110 of the House bill)

Section 205: Authorizes US-Israel cooperation on directed energy capabilities; authorizes financial support for specified activities under such cooperation; mandates additional reporting to Congress. (Similar to Section 102 of the House bill)

Section 206: Requires the President to establish and update, as appropriate, contingency plans to provide Israel with defense articles and services that are determined by the Secretary of Defense to be necessary for the defense of Israel and to brief Congress on these plans. (Similar to Section 203 of the House bill)

Sec 207: Grab bag of other goodies building Israel-related programs into a range of US agencies and on a range of issues. (Similar to Section 110 of the House bill)

  • HHS: Authorizes $4 million a year from 2021-2023 ($12 million total) to the Department of Health and Human Services for “a bilateral cooperative program with the Government of Israel that awards grants for the development of health technologies…” [House version authorizes $2 million annually for 2020-2022 ($6 million total)] NOTE: This is, in effect, the Cruz (R-TX)/Coons (D-DE) legislation introduce 5/13 –S. 3722; Cruz tweet crowing about getting the bill included in S. 3176 is here]
  • DOS/science & technology: Authorizes the President to designate a State Department official to act as “Coordinator of United States-Israel Research and Development” to oversee civilian science and technology programs “on a joint basis with Israel”
  • FDA: Expresses sense of Congress that the Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration “should explore collaboration with Israel through the Office of Global Policy & Strategy” and requires a report to Congress from that office “describing the benefits to the United States and to Israel of opening an office in Israel for the Office of Global Policy and Strategy… 
  • DOE: Authorizes $4 million a year for 2021-2023 ($12 million total) to the Department of Energy “to carry out the activities of the United States-Israel Energy Center established pursuant to section 917(d) of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007”;
  • BIRD: Expresses sense of Congress that “grants to promote covered energy projects conducted by or in conjunction with the United States-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation should continue to be funded at not less than $2,000,000 annually…
  • DHS: Authorizes $2 million a year for 2021-2023 ($6 million total) for U.S.-Israel cooperation on energy, water, homeland security, agriculture, and alternative fuel technologies via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS is not mentioned in the bill, but the section of law amended by this provision deals with DHS programs).].
  • DOT: Calls for an annual US-Israel dialogue “to implement the 2016 Memorandum of Cooperation signed by the Secretary of Transportation and the Israeli Minister of Transportation”
  • NASA: States that the NASA Administrator “shall” continue work with the Israel Space Agency “to identify and cooperatively pursue peaceful space exploration and science initiatives in areas of mutual interest, taking all appropriate measures to protect sensitive information, intellectual property, trade secrets, and economic interests of the United States”
  • OSTP: Requires a report to Congress from the White House’s Office of Science Technology Policy on “research and development cooperation with international partners, such as the State of Israel, in the area of desalination technology…”
  • VA: Expresses sense of Congress that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should “explore collaboration between the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers of Excellence and Israeli institutions with expertise in researching and treating posttraumatic stress disorder.”

3. Hearings

5/21/20: On May 21, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the rescheduled (from 5/14/20) business meeting to deal with a long list of legislation. Included on that list was  “S. 3176, United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020, with an amendment.” With no discussion, the SFRC adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 3176 (text not available publicly until long after the hearing ended) and adopted the bill, as part of a bloc of 15 bills, by voice vote. For details of the meeting, see Part 2, above. 

4. On the Record

Members on the Record

Warner (D-VA) 5/21: Tweet – “I say this as a strong supporter of Israel: Israel should not unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. It could threaten the security of Israel and the region and hurt the potential for peace with the Palestinians.”

Gottheimer (D-NJ) 5/19: Tweet – “Great to speak to @AIPAC and @JasonKoppel with @ProbSolveCaucus Co-Chair @RepTomReed about our support for the historic, bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship… (1/2)” “…which is key to our national security, and ways we can expand cooperation with Israel to help find a cure for COVID-19. Thank you to all who joined! (2/2)

Scott (R-FL) 5/18: Sen. Rick Scott Statement Following FBI Update on NAS Pensacola Attack

Calvert (R-CA) 5/18: Twitter – “Last week, I was proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to stand with Israel against the blatant discrimination displayed by the International Criminal Court.”

Wilson (R-SC) 5/13: Praising Pompeo for this trip to Israel [“The timing of the visit, especially given today’s circumstances, sends a clear message to our valued allies and friends in Israel: the United States will unequivocally stand by your side.”]

Sullivan (R-AK) 5/13: Sullivan on Saudi Arabia’s Commitment to Additional Oil Production Cut

Hoeven (R-ND) 5/13: Hoeven Statement on Saudi Arabia Announcing BPD Cut to Oil Production

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

Jewish Insider 5/21: Florida’s Jewish Democratic members of Congress tout Biden

Opinio Juris 5/18: At Best, Some U.S. House and Senate Members Lack Even an Elementary Understanding of the International Criminal Court