Legislative Round-up: April 23, 2021

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. The J St Conference
3. Hearings & Markups
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.


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

*UPDATE* (NO US AID TO VIOLATE PALESTINIAN RIGHTS) HR 2590 (text): For details of the bill, see last week’s Round-Up and my subsequent Twitter thread. Also see: Bill Analysis: Supporting the Human Rights of Palestinians (FCNL). Since it was introduced last week, McCollum’s bill to assert some oversight over US aid to Israel has attracted two new cosponsors (Jayapal, D-WA; and Johnson, D-TX), bringing the total number of members backing the bill to 16.

(PROMOTING ARAB NORMALIZATION WITH ISRAEL) HR 2748: Introduced 3/21 by Schneider (D-IL) and 5 bipartisan cosponsors, “To encourage the normalization of relations with Israel, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This is the companion bill to S. 1061 (which currently has 27 cosponsors), and its imminent introduction (by Schneider) was announced weeks ago as part of the AIPAC 2021 lobby agenda (as reported in the 3/19/21 edition of the Round-Up). Both bills are being actively lobbied by AIPAC. Also see:

(INCREASE US-ISRAEL CYBERSECURITY COOPERATION) HR 2659/S. 1193: Introduced in the House 4/19 by Langevin (D-RI) and Garbarino (R-NY), and in the Senate 4/19 by Rosen (D-NV), Collins (R-ME), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Young (R-IN), “To establish a grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to promote cooperative research and development between the United States and Israel on cybersecurity,” aka, the “U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act.” Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Also see:

(BLOCK RETURN TO JCPOA) S. 1205: Introduced 4/19 by Blackburn (R-TN) and 8 Republican cosponsors, “A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds relating to rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran unless the President commits to submitting any successor agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent as a treaty.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. This bill is a companion to HR 1479, introduced 3/2/21 by Barr (R-KY), and currently having 6 Republican cosponsors (and covered in the 3/5/21 edition of the Round-Up).

  • Press releases: Blackburn (R-TN), Cramer (R-ND), Tillis (R-NC)
  • Tweets: Tillis (R-NC)
  • Media Coverage: from Jewish Insider 4/21 – “It’s time for Biden to wake up and realize that the U.S. cannot negotiate an honest agreement with Iran because they are a fanatical, anti-American regime. No amount of negotiating, or ‘indirect discussions,’ can change that. My legislation will prevent Biden from circumventing the U.S. Senate to salvage the failed deal or forge a new, just as disastrous one.

(BLOCK RETURN TO JCPOA) HR 2718 (text): Introduced 4/21 by Banks (R-IN) and 86 cosponsors (all Republican), “To impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran and modify other existing sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes,” aka, the “Maximum Pressure Act.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Financial Services, the Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, Ways and Means, and Rules. Also see:

*UPDATE* (PROTECT SAUDI DISSIDENTS IN US) HR 1392: Introduced 2/26 by Connolly (D-VA) and 6 cosponsors (all Democrats), “To protect Saudi dissidents in the United States, and for other purposes.”  Passed in the House 4/21 under suspension of the rules by a vote of 350-71 (Roll no. 130). Floor consideration is here. Connolly tweet celebrating passage of the bill is here. Also see: House passes bill limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing (The Hill)

(REVIEW SALE/LEASE OF PROPERTY NEAR US MILITARY SITES) S. 1278 (text)/HR 2728(text): Introduced 4/21 in the Senate by Cruz (R-TX) and Rubio (R-FL), and in the House by Gonzales (R-TX), Jackon (R-TX) and Fallon (R-TX), “A bill to require the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review any purchase or lease of real estate near a military installation or military airspace in the United States by a foreign person connected to or subsidized by the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the House Committees on Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Energy and Commerce, Armed Services, and Transportation and Infrastructure. Press releases: Rubio (R-FL), Cruz (R-TX)

Letters

(IHRA DEFINITION IS NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN!) Schakowsky et al letter to Blinken: On 4/22, Reps. Schakowsky (D-IL), Pocan (D-WI), Levin (D-MI), Raskin (D-MD) and Jayapal (D-WA) circulated a Dear Colleague inviting cosigners on a letter to SecState Blinken urging him, in carrying out his efforts to fight antisemitism, to “consider multiple definitions of antisemitism, including two new definitions that have been formulated and embraced by the Jewish community.” The letter notes that “While the IHRA definition can be informative, in order to most effectively combat antisemitism, we should use all of the best tools at our disposal,” and highlights two recently released alternatives – the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). The letter observes: “These two efforts are the work of hundreds of scholars and experts in the fields of antisemitism, Israel and Middle East Policy, and Jewish communal affairs, and have been helpful to us as we grapple with these complex issues. We believe that the Administration should, in addition to the IHRA definition, consider these two important documents as resources to help guide your thinking and actions when addressing issues of combatting antisemitism.” The letter was welcomed by Americans for Peace Now. Also see: House Democrats to Urge Blinken: Use All Antisemitism Definitions at Your Disposal (Haaretz)

(WE <HEART> ISRAELI IMPUNITY 4EVER WHEN IT COMES TO US AID) Deutch-McCaul letter to Approps Chair & Ranking Member: On 4/22, Reps. Deutch (D-FL) and McCaul (R-TX) led a letter, signed by a total of 330 House members, to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee arguing that “Reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance would be detrimental to Israel’s ability to defend itself against all threats.” The letter is being characterized by some media outlets as a response to HR 2590 (discussed above). That characterization is incorrect. The Deutch-McCaul letter has been circulating in Congress for more than a month, launched in mid-March as part of AIPAC’s 2021 lobbying agenda. For more see AIPAC’s March 16 tweet explicitly about this letter, as well as reporting on the letter in the 3/19/21 edition of the Round-Up. In this context, the fact that AIPAC failed to bring on board fully 25% of the House is as significant as the fact that the other 75% signed. Also see:

(UNRWA – BAD! DO NOT FUND) Risch et al letter to Blinken: On 4/22, Sen. Risch (R-ID) led a letter, consigned by 19 Senate colleagues (all Republicans), to “express grave concern regarding the resumption of U.S. foreign assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). We are concerned that this administration’s decision to resume U.S. assistance to UNRWA was made in haste, without any actionable attempt to secure much-needed and meaningful reforms of the agency.” The letter demands that a list of “reforms” be adopted before resuming funding, including “Release publically the number of true UNRWA refugees and the number of ‘refugees’ that have secured citizenship in the country they reside.” [NOTE: This demand is part of a longstanding effort to re-define Palestinian refugees out of existence. NOTE: there has never been any similar standard raised when dealing with the question of rights of Jews who see themselves as refugees from Arab countries (all of whom automatically qualify for citizenship in Israel under the law of return, and many of whom hold other passports) – a cause that has enjoyed support in the past from Congress.] Press releases: Risch (R-ID), Rubio (R-FL)

(UNIVERSITIES ARE BREAKING LAW BY HOSTING ZOOM EVENT WITH PFLP MEMBER) Lamborn letter to CA universities: On 4/22, Rep. Lamborn (R-CO) sent a letter to University of California, Merced and San Francisco State University (SFSU) alleging that by attempting to host Leila Khaled for a webinar, they are violating U.S. law barring material support for terrorism (Khaled participated in 2 hijackings more than 50 years ago, served time in jail for those acts, and was released in a prisoner exchange). This allegation depends on an extraordinarily broad interpretation of the material support statute. NOTE: It appears that some of those fighting against Khaled’s virtual appearance on these webinars are trying to use this as a test case for setting a new standard that would bar Palestinains in any way associated – directly or indirectly – with the PFLP from speaking on U.S. campuses, regardless of whether they or their organizations in any way engage in, promote, incite, fund, defend, or otherwise support terror. Such efforts have been made in the past to prevent Palestinian human rights organizations speaking on U.S. campuses, including efforts targeting the world-renowned, universally respected Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq. Lamborn’s press release is here; Free Beacon article is here.

(WE <HEART> ISRAELI IMPUNITY 4EVER WHEN IT COMES TO US AID) Roy-Biggs letter to Approprops Chair and Ranking Member: On 4/20, Reps. Roy (R-TX) and Biggs (R-AZ) led a letter, consigned by 7 House colleagues (all Republicans) to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee to “to express my [sic] strong support for robust security assistance to the State of Israel without any added conditions. Roy press release is here; tweet here.

(Nominate Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism) Rosen-Lankford letter: On 4/19, Sens. Rosen (D-NV) and Lankford (R-OK) led a letter to President Biden, signed by 20 senators, urging him to to expeditiously nominate a qualified Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in order to confront the rising level of anti-Semitism worldwide.”

(DEAR COLLEAGUE Re: NATHAN THRALL’S EPIC ARTICLE) Khanna Dear Colleague: On 4/7 (not previously reported in the Round-Up), Rep. Khanna (D-CA) circulated a Dear Colleague urging House members to read Nathan Thrall’s epic piece of journalism in the New York Review of Book, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama. [Full disclosure: I contributed a blurb that was included in that Dear Colleague – “Thrall’s writing is gorgeous, and the breadth and depth of the historical and factual data he seamlessly weaves into ‘A Day in the Life of Abed Salama’ is breathtaking. All told, the piece is truly extraordinary, telling both the story of one Palestinian father’s tragedy and the story of the cascade of tragedies and injustices that have defined the lived experience of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, from the 1948 through the present.”]

2. The J Street Conference

This week J St held it annual DC conference (virtually). Program details and conference highlights are here. Selected articles, press releases and tweets related to the conference and Congress:

Durbin (D-IL) press release: Durbin Meets Virtually With Illinois J Street Members

Warren (D-MA) post: Senator Elizabeth Warren’s remarks to the 2021 J Street Virtual National Conference (tweet) (press release)

Elizabeth Warren at J Street: Israeli Opposition Must Stop Infighting to Oust Netanyahu(Haaretz)

Elizabeth Warren Suggests U.S. Explore Conditional Aid to Israel (The Intercept)

Warren urges US to explore conditioning aid to Israel to help it ‘adjust course’ (Jewish New Syndicate)

What J Street means for Progressives’ views on Israel – analysis (Jerusalem Post)

Bernie Sanders: U.S. Should Have a Say in How Israel Uses Military Aid (Haaretz)

House Democrats Sound Alarm on Israel’s Deepening Occupation at J Street (Haaretz)

Sens. Sanders, Warren call for ‘restricting’ US aid to Israel at J Street confab (Times of Israel)

At J Street event, progressive Democrats seek conditions on US aid to Israel, others push back (Jewish News Syndicate)

Leading progressive US senators call for conditioning aid to Israel (Middle East Eye)

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren Call on Joe Biden to ‘Restrict’ Aid to Israel, Sparking Outrage (Breitbart)

Luria (D-VA) 4/22: Tweet – “Israel is America’s most vital ally in the Middle East. The aid we provide is an investment in the national security of both our countries and serves as a strong deterrent in the region. Conditioning this aid would be a grave mistake.” Linked to article, Sanders, Warren seek conditions on US aid to Israel (Israel Hayom)

3. Hearings & Markups

April 21: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism held a 2-panel hearing entitled, U.S. Policy on Yemen.”  The sole witness for Panel 1 was: Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen, Department of State (testimony). Witnesses for Panel 2 were: Lise Grande, USIP (testimony); and Amanda Cantanzano, International Rescue Committee (testimony). Video is here. Also see Murphy (D-CT) press release – Murphy Chairs First Subcommittee Hearing on Yemen

April 21: The House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing entitled, “The Crisis in Yemen: Part 2.” The sole witness was: Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen, Department of State (statement). Video is here. Also see: Tweet from Lieu (D-CA)

April 21: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a markup of a number of measures, including: HR 1036, the Bassam Barabandi Rewards for Justice Act; and HR 1228, the Libya Stabilization Act. All measures under consideration were passed en bloc by a voice vote. Video is here; markup summary is here. Also see Deutch press release: House Foreign Affairs Cmte Passes Deutch’s Libya Stabilization Act

April 21: The House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces held a hearing entitled, “FY22 Strategic Forces Posture Hearing.” Witnesses were: Melissa Dalton, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Strategy, Plans and Capabilities (statement); Adm. Charles Richard, Commander, US Strategic Command (statement); and Gen. James Dickinson, Commander, US Space Command (statement). All three witnesses touched on Iran in their statements. Video is here.

April 20: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in the Greater Middle East and Africa”.  Witnesses were: Amanda Dory, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (statement); Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., USMC, Commander, US Central Command (statement); and Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander, US Africa Command (statement). Video is here. Statement from Ranking Member Rogers (R-AL) is here. Also see: CENTCOM commander warns about Iranian drone threat during House hearing (Jewish Insider); Tweet from DesJarlais (R-TN), “Iranian unmanned air vehicles pose a great danger to Israel. We must prioritize developing technology that can better detect these UAVs and regain complete air superiority. This is vital to the protection of our greatest ally.” (linked to Jewish Insider article).

April 20: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “To receive testimony on United States Strategic Command and United States Space Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program. Witnesses were Gen. James Dickinson, Commander, US Space Command (testimony) and Adm. Charles Richard, Commander, US Strategic Command (testimony). Both written testimonies touch on Iran. Video of the hearing is here.

April 20: The House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee held a CLOSED hearing entitled, “United States European Command.” The sole witness was Gen. Tod D. Wolters, Commander, United States European Command (statement – which, oddly enough, is public notwithstanding the fact that this was a closed hearing). The statement touches on (in some detail) matters related to Israel and Iran. Other statements: McCollum (D-MN)

4. On the Record

Members On The Record…

….re: Israel, Normalization, Etc

Waltz (R-FL) 4/21: Tweet – “Yesterday, Rep. Waltz met with Ambassador @giladerdan1 to talk about fostering our strong alliance with Israel and shared goals in the Middle East.

Deutch (D-FL) 4/21: Tweet – “It was an honor to stand w/ my friends from the Middle East & North Africa to plant an olive tree representing the peace & growing friendship between Israel and its Arab neighbors. We also marked Earth Day & the potential for multilateral efforts toward a more sustainable planet.

Bacon (R-NE) 4/21: Tweet – “I support @POTUS decision to sell F-35s to UAE…UAE has strong ties with Israel & sale serves as a potent deterrent to Iran. The F-35 is unmatched! Iran knows the US & our Allies have the means to counter any aggression. #F35 @theF35JPO”, linked to article, Biden to approve $23 billion sale of F-35s to UAE that followed Abraham Accords (Times of Israel)

Hagerty (R-TN) 4/20: Tweet – “Israel-UAE cyber security cooperation is a big deal — and it’s only one of many fruits of the landmark Abraham Accords. Why isn’t the Biden admin making expanding these accords a top priority for US Middle East policy, instead of rushing to rejoin the failed Iran nuclear deal?” Linked to Barak Ravid tweet, “BREAKING: UAE cyber security czar @Dr_Alkuwaiti visits Israel for the first time and meets with his counterpart Yigal Una for cybersecurity talks”

…re: Colin Kahl nomination

 Cruz (R-TX) 4/22: Tweet – “Kahl opted to go one step further—or three—and suggested that the evidence Israel obtained and intended to publicize was part of some kind of Jewish plot to sucker America into war.’” Linked to article, Does Israel Lie America Into Wars? (Tablet)

Blackburn (R-TN) 4/21: Floor statement attacking Kahl [including, “He opposed bipartisan legislation that would have imposed sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He staffed the effort to condemn Israel at the United Nations Security Council.”]

Blackburn (R-TN) 4/21: Tweet – “Colin Kahl is the wrong choice to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He has been consistently wrong about almost every foreign policy issue in recent memory.” and “He was wrong about Russia, wrong about Iran, and wrong about Israel. He also has zero meaningful experience dealing with Communist China.

Cotton (R-AR) 4/21: Floor statement attacking Kahl [including, In 2017, he predicted that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, where the seat of Israel’s Government is located, would result in a ‘third Intifada.’’ Instead, Israel has signed multiple historic peace deals.   In 2018, when President Trump warned Iran against pursuing nuclear weapons, Mr. Kahl wrote the ‘war drums are already sounding.’ But no war happened.”]

Inhofe (R-OK) 4/21: Floor statement attacking Kahl [including, “Dr. Kahl predicted that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal would lead to war. It didn’t. He said by sanctioning Iran’s Foreign Minister, President Trump was boxing ‘himself into war.’ There was no war. It didn’t happen…”]

…re: Iran

McClain (R-MI) 4/22: Tweet – “#Iran is now a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In Iran, women don’t have legal rights, domestic violence is commonplace, and girls are shipped off to get married at 13. Just another example of the UN promoting hypocritical and atrocious behavior.

Rubio (R-FL) 4/22: Tweets – “#Iran’s election to the @UN Commission on the Status of Women is a mockery of the daily suffering endured by Iranian women at the hands of the brutal regime in #Tehran.” & “It’s disgraceful that #China, who has a record of female infanticide and is committing sexual violence against #Uyghur women, would also join. What a joke.

Scott (R-FL) 4/21: Sen. Rick Scott: Biden’s Weakness Toward Iran is Unacceptable (tweet)

Cotton (R-AR) 4/21: Tweet – Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and the Biden administration is offering to lift *terror* sanctions? Unbelievable.” Linked to article, Iran Nuclear Deal Talks Advance as U.S. Offers Sanctions Relief (Wall Street Journal)

Cotton (R-AR) 4/21: Tweet – “The Biden-Harris campaign promise of a longer, stronger Iran Nuclear Deal didn’t even last 100 days. They continue to lower the bar for the ayatollahs.”

Hill (R-AR) 4/21: Tweet – “President Biden is pushing the @IMFNews to send billions of dollars to China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. My legislation H.R. 1568, would stop this from happening.

Cheney (R-WY) 4/21: Tweet – “Weakness is provocative and the Biden Administration’s continued weakness towards Iran will have dangerous ramifications for our security. Easing terrorism sanctions against Iran and putting them back on the pathway to a nuclear weapon is not the answer.” Linked to article, Iran Nuclear Deal Talks Advance as U.S. Offers Sanctions Relief(Wall Street Journal)

Harshbarger (R-TN) 4/21: Tweet – “I had a very informative conversation with @mikepompeo this morning about China and Iran. The United States must remain strong against the national security threats posed by these rogue regimes.

Cheney (R-WY) 4/20: Tweet – “From Russia to the Chinese Communist Party to Iran and North Korea, our adversaries are testing this new Administration. So far, the Biden Administration has chosen to respond with weakness which does not serve our national security interests.”

…re: Saudi Arabia & Yemen

Lee (D-CA) 4/21: Tweet – “Yemen is not starving, it is being starved. The US-backed Saudi blockade is pushing Yemen toward a major famine & threatening the lives of 400,000 children. I urge @POTUS to call on Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade as a humanitarian act. #YemenCantWait” Linked to article, Congressional Democrats call on Biden administration to demand Saudi Arabia lift blockade on Yemen (CNN)

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

Haaretz 4/22: Progressive U.S. Lawmaker: ‘We Need to Be Able to See What’s Happening in Gaza’

Free Beacon 4/22: California Colleges Violate Anti-Terrorism Laws by Hosting Palestinian Terrorist, Lawmaker Warns

Jewish Insider 4/20: Congressional efforts to repeal Iraq war authorization raise questions about Iranian proxies

Jewish Insider 4/19: New DNC chair stands by Israel amid progressive headwinds[“Individuals may have their own opinions, but it is very clear to me, as a party-wide stance, we see Israel as a friend, as an ally and as our greatest ally in that region of the world — and we aren’t moving away from that.”]

Jewish Insider 4/19: Menendez and Feinstein renew push to limit F-35 sales to UAE

JTA 4/19: Top Democrats still want to slow down sale of F-35s to the UAE

Middle East Monitor 4/19: Pro-Israel congressional staffers: UNRWA books ‘anti-Semitic’

JTA 4/20: Citing Israel’s military edge, top Democrats aim to slow sale of F-35s to UAE

Foreign Lobby (subscription) 4/19: Mexican governor accused of drug ties hires US law firm to battle leaks; McConnell chief of staff lobbies for Egypt, Korea; Former Rep. Denham lobbies for Chinese-owned video game company: Monday’s Daily Digest [Fort Worth-based Elbit Systems of America, a US affiliate of the Israeli defense electronics company, has hired J.A. Green and Company to lobby on ‘issues related to radar repair/training and DPA (Defense Production Act) applications’ and the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022. Lobbying for Elbit are firm founder Jeffery Green, a former staff director to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, and Andrew Tabler, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs (Senate).”