Legislative Round-Up - December 11, 2020

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Hearings & Markups
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.

Of special note: On 12/9, during an appearance on the Mehdi Hasan Show, Mehdi asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) if the Democratic party gives Israel a pass on human rights abuses. Listen to his reply on the @MehdiHasanShow or via Twitter.

Shameless plugs: Announced this week: The IHRA Definition & the Fight Against Antisemitism: A Webinar Series from the Foundation for Middle East Peace

ICYMI: FMEP’s 12/8 webinar – Impending Dispossession and the Struggle to Live in East Jerusalem: Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah  video; FMEP’s 12/10 webinar – The View from Europe: Israel, Palestine, Biden, & Antisemitism  video

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(FY21 NDAA)  HR 6395: On 12/8, the House passed the Conference report on the FY21 NDAA by a vote of 335-78, with 1 voting “present.” On 12/10, the Senate passed the measure by a vote of 84-13.

(MOVE ISRAEL FROM EUCOM TO CENTCOM) S. 4978 (pdf):  Introduced 12/8 by Cotton (R-IN) and 6 Republican co-sponsors, “A bill to require a study and report on a potential transfer of Israel to the area of responsibility of the United States Central Command.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Cotton press release is here; Cramer press release is here. Tweets in support: Cotton, Cramer (R-ND). Some fun background: Why the US Military Puts Israel, Gaza in Europe (Military.com, 8/7/14).

(MORE SYRIA SANCTIONS) HR 8931: Introduced 12/10 by Wilson (R-SC), “To impose additional sanctions with respect to Syria, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Judiciary Committee, and the Committees on Financial Services, and Ways and Means. Wilson press release is here, explaining that the bill, “would enact the toughest sanctions ever proposed on the Assad regime in Syria, make it U.S. policy to support a free and democratic Syria, require a strategy to support a democratic Syria and prohibit any future President from recognizing the Assad regime or recognizing Assad as the President of Syria.

(CONDEMNING IRANIAN PERSECUTION OF BAHA’I) H. Res. 823: Introduced 1/30 by Deutch (D-FL) and currently having 94 bipartisan cosponsors, “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,” Amended and passed by the House 12/7 under suspension of the rule, by voice vote. Tweets celebrating passage: Deutch (D-FL), Gonzalez (D-TX). Floor comments are here and here.

(BASHING UNHRC ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY) H. Res. 1257: Introduced 12/10 by Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and McCaul (R-TX), “Recognizing International Human Rights Day.” The resolution includes a whereas clause reading: “…Whereas the United States announced its withdrawal from the Council on June 19, 2018, due to the organization’s profound need for reform, and its myopic focus on criticism of Israel, a democratic country that respects human rights.” Referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

(DISAPPROVING OF ARMS SALES TO THE UAE) S. J. Res. 77 & S. J. Res. 78: Introduced 11/18 by Menendez (D-NJ), Paul (R-KY) and Murphy (D-CT) “providing for congressional disapproval of the proposed foreign military sale to the United Arab Emirates of certain defense articles and services.” On 10/9, the measures were rejected by the Senate by votes of 46-50 (with Arizona’s Kelly and Sinema being the only Democrats voting no) and 47-49 (with Sinema being the only Democrat voting no), respectively. Also see:

(PROTECTING JOURNALISTS) S. 4992: Introduced 12/9 by Klobuchar (D-MN) and Leahy (I-VT), “A bill to protect journalists and other members of the press from gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and for other purposes” aka, “the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Klobuchar’s press release notes that the bill “would place targeted sanctions, restrict foreign aid, and increase reporting on human rights abuses committed against journalists by foreign governments.” [Note: this is the Senate companion to HR 8641, introduced in the House by Schiff (D-CA) on 10/20].

(AUDITING $$ TO INTL ORGS) HR 8907: Introduced 12/9 by Bergman (R-MI) and 3 Republican cosponsors, “To direct the Secretary of State to establish a unit within the Office of the Inspector General to audit United States contributions to multilateral and international organizations, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Bergman’s press release suggests that the goal of this bill is to impose Mexico City-style conditions on US funding to multilateral and international organizations – that is, to not only bar U.S. funds being used in certain ways, but to condition US funding to an organization on the requirement that NO funds of that organization be used “directly or indirectly” funds things the US disapproves of (seeking in effect to bar organizations working in any manner with: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and “Any organization designated as a foreign terrorist organization.”

(REMEMBERING DEC 2019 NAVAL AIR STATION ATTACK) S. Res. 793: Introduced 12/3 by Rubio (R-FL) and 5 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution remembering the December 6, 2019, terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola and commemorating those who lost their lives, and those who were injured, in the line of duty.” Adopted by the Senate 12/3 by Unanimous Consent. Also see Jones (R-AL) 12/7: Remembering Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson


(SUPPORTING RETURN TO JCPOA) House Dems letter to Biden: The JTA reported on 12/9 that “Influential U.S. House of Representatives Democrats, including one who has for years been close to the center-right pro-Israel community, are backing president-elect Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the Iran nuclear deal — without any new conditions on the country.” Alleged text of the letter, which according to the JTA is being led by Schakowsky (D-IL), Price (D-NC) and Lee (D-CA), was published 12/11 by the Jewish Insider. The JTA also reported that signers (so far) include Sherman (D-CA), Spanberger (D-VA), chairman-elect of HFAC Meeks (D-NY) and Castro (D-TX). Stay tuned!

(ABOLISH KAFALA SYSTEM IN GCC) Grijalva et al letter to Pompeo: On 12/10, Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) led a letter signed by 27 Democratic House colleagues to SecState Pompeo on the occasion of Human Rights Day. Grijalva tweeted about the letter: “On #HumanRightsDay, the U.S. must send a strong signal that human rights violations will not be tolerated. I led my colleagues in a letter urging Sec. Pompeo to urge the Gulf States to uphold human rights for migrant workers and abolish the discriminatory Kafala System.

(KUSHNER CONFLICTS OF INTEREST IN THE GULF?) Wyden/Castrol letters to White House Ethics Counsel & Brookfield Asset Management: Per the press release issued 12/9, by Senator Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Castro (D-TX): “Following Senior Adviser Jared Kushner’s latest official trip to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, today launched an investigation into whether Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest influenced U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, the members of Congress are probing whether Kushner advised Donald Trump to support a blockade against Qatar while Kushner Companies was seeking a billion-dollar bailout from Qatari, and possibly other Middle Eastern officials, for the property at 666 Fifth Avenue.” As part of this investigation, Wyden and Castro sent letters to the White House Counsel’s Office and Brookfield Asset Management.

(NO MOVING US EMBASSY BACK TO TEL AVIV!) Republican letter to House and Senate leadership: On 12/4, 43 House Republicans sent a letter to House and Senate leaders (from both parties) urging them to include in language in the FY21 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill to bar any U.S. funding being used to to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel out of Jerusalem. NOTE: This letter is a clear effort at political grandstanding, given that nobody associated with the incoming Biden Administration has suggested any possibility of moving the U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem. But such grandstanding generates great (and misleading headlines, like this in Jewish insider: House Republicans seek to block moving U.S. Embassy out of Jerusalem (misleading because the thing it suggests they are seeking to block isn’t happening). Grandstanding Tweets in support: Lamborn (R-CO), Barr (R-KY), Bacon (R-NE), Buck (R-CO), Cline (R-VA)

(RESUME HUMANITARIAN & PEACEBUILDING PROGRAMS FOR PALESTINIANS) Dingell/Tlaib et al letter: On 12/4, Reps. Dingell (D-MI and Tlaib (D-MI) led a group of 54 Demcratic House colleagues in a letter to SecState Pompei calling for the resumption of Palestinian humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding programs. Dingell press release is here.

2. Hearings & Markups

12/9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “International Human Rights and the Closing Civic Space.” Witnesses were: Joanne Lin, Amnesty International USA (testimony); Courtney Radsch, Committee to Protect Journalists (testimony); and Emilie Kao, The Heritage Foundation (testimony). Video is here.

12/9: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Diplomacy or Dead End: An Evaluation of Syria Policy.” The sole witness was Joel Rayburn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. HFAC GOP on Twitter 12/8: “LR @RepMcCaul ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran has all but directly threatened Israel, encouraging violence & conflict between Israel & Syria. I look forward to tomorrow’s hearing on US policy in Syria & how to address these threats.’”

3. On the Record

Members On The Record…

NOTE: As with previous normalization deals, the Round-Up is NOT including the mamy statements of support for the deal from members of Congress — if you want to see what a particular members said, check their website and/or Twitter account. 

…on Miscellaneous Issues

Rubio (R-FL) & Cardin (D-MD) 12/10: Chairman Rubio and Ranking Member Cardin Issue Joint Statement on Human Rights Day [“…the terror-sponsoring regime in Iran this year executed an Olympic wrestler, Navid Afkari, solely for exercising his fundamental right to expression. I…Women remain locked up in Saudi Arabia for advocating the rights of all Saudi women…”]

Moulton (D-MA) 12/10: Tweets – “Today is #HumanRightsDay. In 2020 we’ve seen the consequences of America’s policy of retreat from the world stage, and the consequences of the credibility lost because of the behavior of our president.” and “China points to our president’s tear gassing of protestors when it cracks down in Hong Kong. Saudi Arabia points to our president’s behavior when its leaders crack down on journalists…

Banks (R-IN) 12/9: Tweet – “Gen. Lloyd Austin’s record in Iraq and CENTCOM is… not good. He missed the rise of ISIS, let Iran’s militias run rampant through the region and played a critical role in Obama’s policy of appeasing #Iran.


Murphy (D-CT) 12/8: Tweet – “There is bipartisan opposition to labeling the Houthis as a “terrorist organization”. This lame duck designation would crush efforts to stop disease and starvation in Yemen, and block the U.S. from being a part of peace talks. It’s a very bad idea.” Linked to NBCNews article, “Trump admin debates labeling Yemen’s Houthis terrorists, aid groups warn thousands face famine

McCollum (D-MN) 12/8: Tweet – “‘No one will prosecute them. All they did was kill a Palestinian child.’ -Gideon Levy, writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz I entered his piece, along with my own statement, into the Congressional Record. Ali Abu Aalya’s life & name will not be forgotten.” Statement in Congressional Record is here.

Pocan (D-WI) 12/7: Tweet – “The tragic murder of Ali Abu Aliya, a 13-year old Palestinian boy by Israeli forces is unacceptable. Protesting illegal settlements should not be met with state-sanctioned violence. The possibility that US-sourced weapons were used requires an immediate investigation.” Linked to J St statement.

McCaul (R-TX) 12/7: Tweet – “For his decades of service to this country, his unwavering support for Israel, his opposition to the Ayatollah in Iran, & his long list of policy achievements, I believe I speak for all of us when I say: thank you, @RepEliotEngel. It has been an honor.” (link to video) 

Reschenthaler (R-PA) 12/6: Tweet – “The lack of condemnation from the left regarding Rashida Tlaib’s attendance at an anti-Israel conference last week is deeply disturbing.” linked to Breitbart article “EXCLUSIVE: PA Rep. Guy Reschenthaler Blasts Rashida Tlaib, Demands Swift Action

Biggs (R-AZ) 12/6: Tweet – “Three years ago, @realDonaldTrump announced what no previous president had officially declared: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Here, finally, was a president who not merely expressed support for the cause of Jerusalem’s recognition, but acted as well.”

Murphy (D-CT) 12/4: US Foreign Policy Has Become Too Dependent On Sanctions To Punish Our Enemies And Arms Sales To Reward Our

Lankford (R-OK) 12/4: The Price of Turkey’s Russian Dalliance (Lankford & Graham, R-SC, in the Wall Street Journal)

….expressing concerns about US recognition of Moroccan claims to Western Sahara

McCollum (D-MN) 12/10: Tweets – “I condemn Trump’s unilateral recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco’s diplomatic recognition of Israel. The Sahrawi people have an internationally recognized right to self-determination that must be respected.” & “Pres. Trump’s actions dangerously extend legitimacy to the illegal annexation of Sahrawi territory, which could foreshadow his administration’s intent to recognize Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land. This is why I introduced H.R. 8050” [the “Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act”]

Inhofe (R-OK) 12/10: Press release – Inhofe Statement on Western Sahara [“Today’s White House announcement alleging Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is shocking and deeply disappointing. I am saddened that the rights of the Western Saharan people have been traded away…] Also see: Inhofe 12/10 floor statement & Inhofe slams Trump administration on Western Sahara policy (Politico)

Engel (D-NY) 12/10: Engel Statement on Morocco-Israel Announcement [Also see – Top House Democrat warns against Trump’s Western Sahara designation (the Hill)

…on Iran (JCPOA & more)

Maloney (D-NY) 12/11: Maloney Cracks Down on Money Laundering with Corporate Transparency Act [“Today, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), author of the Corporate Transparency Act, joined with George Venizelos, Retired Assistant Director, NY Division of FBI to speak to the importance of the bill to counterterrorism operations and applaud the bill’s inclusion in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2021 at 650 5th Avenue – a building that had unknowingly been owned by Iran.”]

Steil (R-WI) 12/10: Tweet – “WATCH: Iran remains a threat to America’s national security. Our maximum pressure campaign and sanctions have reined in Iran’s power. At this moment of success, the United States cannot back down. We must maintain pressure on the regime.” [linked to video on the House floor]

Babin (R-TX) 12/8: Tweet – “This news is not surprising. Iran has never kept their word – even when Pres. Obama foolishly paid them MILLIONS to do so. That’s why we must continue to pressure this regime & never allow them to have nuclear capabilities. The safety of all depends on it.” Linked to Free Beacon article, “Iran Prepares to Expand Nuclear Program

Johnson (R-OH) 12/7: Tweet – “Easing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry would give more money and power to the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism, while also costing American energy jobs. We MUST continue to prioritize the safety and economic security of Americans.” Linked to Reuters article, “Iran prepares to raise oil exports if sanctions eased: state media

Zeldin (R-NY) 12/6: Tweet – “During the Obama-Biden administration, Iran was on offense, running the tables, rolling the US and winning. During the past four years, Iran has been on defense and losing. It looks like Biden and Company are eager to reset the clock and start getting rolled again.” [with video of Zeldin on FoxNews).

Cohen (D-TN) 12/4: Tweet – “The U.S. should expand diplomacy with #Iran & reenter the #nuclear deal (#JCPOA). I strongly support provisions in the House FY21 Defense #Appropriations Act that make clear #Trump has NO AUTHORIZATION to launch attacks on Iran w/o approval from Congress – linked to NYT article, “Assassination in Iran Could Limit Biden’s Options. Was That the Goal?

…on Saudi Arabia

Joint statement 12/10: Murphy, Leahy, Menendez, Van Hollen, Wyden Statement On Sentencing Of Walid Fitaihi In Saudi Arabia

Bonamici (D-OR) 12/10: Tweet – “Today is #HumanRightsDay around the world, but not in Saudi Arabia: @LoujainHathloul is standing trial today in a secretive “Specialized Criminal Court” on bogus espionage charges. They must #FreeLoujain.”

Trone (D-MD) 12/9: Tweet – “Yesterday #SaudiArabia sentenced Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a dual American and Saudi citizen, to 6 years in prison for obtaining U.S. citizenship and speaking out on the internet. He should be immediately released and allowed to leave the country with his family.

Leahy (I-VT) 12/8: Re-tweeting Rubio’s tweet with comment, “The Saudi authorities have once again shown their willingness to trample on fundamental rights. The prison sentence of Dr. Fitaihi is a travesty that should be universally condemned.”

Rubio (R-FL) 12/8: Tweet – “Saudi-American Dr. Walid Fitaihi was sentenced to 6 yrs in prison for ‘illegally’ obtaining U.S. citizenship. This is outrageous and if the Saudi gov’t truly values the U.S.-Saudi relationship then they should release him immediately and allow him to reunite with his family.” Linked to Washington Post article: “Saudi court sentences American citizen to six years in prison despite appeals from the U.S.”

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

News – General

Responsible Statecraft 12/9: Bipartisan disgust over US role in Yemen could incite early 2021 action

Politico 12/7: Biden’s ambassador to the GOP

Middle East Eye 12/5: US Congresswoman Betty McCollum denounces Israel’s ‘state-sponsored killing’ of Palestinian child

Elections/Campaigns – general

Haaretz 10/12: Centrist pro-Israel PAC Endorses Raphael Warnock, Who Is Under Fire for His Past Israel Views

Jewish News Syndicate 12/10: Incoming Florida Rep. Byron Donalds touts US relationship with Israel

Times of Israel 12/9: Denying anti-Israel charges, Georgia’s Warnock says he recognizes Hamas danger

Haaretz 12/9: The Jewish Community of Georgia Could Decide Who Controls the Senate

Arutz Sheva 12/9: Democrat who said Israel ‘shoots Palestinians’ says he supports Israel

The Forward/JTA 12/8: Georgia Senate candidates exchange accusations of anti-Semitism and white supremacy

JTA 12/8: Raphael Warnock, under fire for past criticism of Israel, rejects BDS and backs US defense assistance

Jewish Insider 12/8: Warnock seeks to clarify 2018 sermon blasting Israeli action on Gaza border

Jewish News Syndicate 12/8: From homeless to Congress, Florida’s Kat Cammack is ready to stand with Israel

Jewish Insider 12/8: Second time’s the charm for South Florida’s Maria Elvira Salazar [“Salazar, who was raised Catholic and became a born-again Christian at 18, has never been to Israel but plans to visit when she is in Congress. She has long wanted to go, but said she held off because she hoped to take her two daughters, who are in their early 20s, when they were old enough to appreciate the trip. ‘I really wanted them to see Israel and to see the promised land and to see this miracle in the middle of the Middle East,’ she said.”]

Israel-Sudan Deal on the Rocks?

Middle East Monitor 12/9: To boost normalisation efforts, Israel lobbies US to pass Sudan immunity bill

Axios 12/7: Scoop: Israel lobbies senators to pass Sudan immunity bill

Those F-35s…

Jewish News Syndicate 12/10: US Senate rejects effort to block F-35, drone sales to UAE

Al Monitor 12/10: Senate fails to pass resolution blocking Trump administration’s F-35 sale to the UAE

FDD 12/9: Amid terror finance allegations, Qatar lobbies for US F-35 fighter jets

Haaretz 12/9: Two Shocking Israel-UAE Developments Just Occurred. The More Significant One Was in D.C

Times of Israel 12/9: AIPAC says not opposed to US arms deal to UAE amid progressive backlash

Haaretz 12/9: McConnell Urges Support for Trump’s Massive UAE Arms Sale

Middle East Monitor 12/8: Republican US Senate leader urges support for Trump’s massive UAE arms sale

Jewish Insider 12/8: Rand Paul anticipates ‘significant’ but unsuccessful Senate effort to stop F-35 sale to UAE

Foreign Lobby 12/8: Qatar lobbies on F-35 sale to rival UAE

Responsible Statecraft 12/8: Senate vote fails to thwart $23B arms package to UAE

Huffington Post 12/6: Major Jewish Group [J Street] Joins Fight Against Trump’s Massive Middle East Weapons Sale