Legislative Round-up: May 13, 2021 (a day early this week)

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

Shameless plugs:

 

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

(SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAEL) H. Res. XXX: On 5/12, Rep. Gimenez (R-FL) announced, on Twitter and on the House floor, that he was introducing a resolution “to not only condemn Hamas for these acts of terrorism but for Congress to signal its unwavering support to our strategic partner Israel and to the Jewish people.” AIPAC tweet welcoming the resolution is here. As of this writing (5pm on 5/13) the resolution has not been introduced.

(NO BACKSIES ON RECOGNITION OF GOLAN) S. XXX & HR XXXX: On 5/13, the Jewish Insider reported that Sen Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Gallagher (R-WI) are introducing (this very same day) a bill in both the House and Senate aimed at blocking any “de-recognition” by the United States of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. As of this writing (5pm on 5/13) the resolution has not been introduced. Notably, the Biden Administration has not suggested any plans to reverse Trump’s recognition of the Golan as part of Israel, underscoring the fact that this bill is an exercise in straw-man point-scoring. Also notably: Congress has no authority when it comes to US recognition with respect to the status of foreign countries — as validated only a few years ago by the US Supreme Court, ironically enough in the context of a case (backed by many members of Congress) that sought to force the Executive to treat all of Jerusalem as part of Israel.

(CUT OFF HEZBOLLAH’S FINANCIAL NETWORK) S. XXX: On 5/11, Blackburn (R-TN) announced the introduction of the “Hezbollah Money Laundering Prevention Act of 2021.” As of this writing (DATE) the bill does not appear to have been formally introduced (it is not yet in the Congressional Record). For details see Blackburn’s press release; also see: Sen. Blackburn moves to cut off funds for terrorists targeting Israel (Fox News). As of this writing (5pm on 5/13) the resolution has not been introduced.

(ANTI-BDS RIDER ON CHINA BILL) S. 1260: On 5/12, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing to consider (among other things), S. 1260, the “Endless Frontiers Act.” During the hearing, the committee adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Cruz (R-TX), described by Cruz as “facilitating cooperation with our close friends and allies-Israel, Taiwan, and Five Eyes nations-and excluding nations that engage in discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanctioning (BDS) efforts against the State of Israel and Jews living anywhere in Israel.” As of this writing (at 5pm on 5/13), the text of the amendment is not yet available, but given that aside from the Arab League Boycott of Israel (compliance with which is already illegal under US law) NO countries engage  in BDS against the sovereign state of Israel, it seems clear that the target of this amendment is NOT boycotts/divestment/sanctions against the state of Israel itself, but rather the mere act of differentiation between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories (as required by international law). Indeed, as with previous Congressional efforts in this same vein (including two trade bills signed by President Obama, and various iterations of the deceptively named “Israel Anti-boycott Act,” the real goal of this amendment is to coerce the entire world into treating the West Bank and Israeli settlements in it as part of Israel. Also see: Jewish Insider breaking the story of the amendment (before it was offered);  Cruz Tweet announcing the amendment; Cruz press release celebrating adoption of his amendment.

(RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN TURKEY) HR 3056: Introduced 5/7 by Maloney (D-NY) and 9 cosponsors (bipartisan), “To oppose violations of religious freedom in Turkey by the Government of Turkey and to safeguard the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Also see: Maloney press release.

 

Letters

(OPPOSE FORCED DISPLACEMENT OF PALESTINIANS) Newman et al letter to Blinken: On 5/12, Rep. Newman (D-IL) led a letter to SecState Blinken, cosigned by 24 House Democrats, expressing deep concern about Israel’s imminent plans to forcibly displace nearly 2000 Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. The letter calls on the State Department to “exert diplomatic pressure to prevent these acts from taking place.” The 24 cosigners of the letter are: Pocan (D-WI), Jayapal (D-WA), McCollum (D-MN), Tlaib (D-MI), Grijalva (D-AZ), Omar (D-MN), Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Connolly (D-VA), Huffman (D-CA), Carson (D-IN), Welch (D-VT), Garcia (D-IL), Bush (D-MS), Chu (D-CA), Lowenthal (D-CA), Escobar (D-TX), Speier (D-CA), Pressley (D-MA), Rush (D-IL), Johnson (D-TX), Eshoo (D-CA), Pingree (D-ME), Dingell (D-MI), and Johnson (D-GA).

(SANCTIONS RELIEF FOR IRAN = SUPPORT FOR HAMAS) Rubio et al letter to Biden: On 5/12, Sen. Rubio (R-FL) led a letter to President Biden, cosigned by 43 Republican colleagues, arguing that Iran is responsible (at least partly) for Hamas firing rockets against Israel, and arguing that “In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran. This is especially important as Iran is supporting terrorist activity against the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel.” The letter suggests, in effect, that sanctions relief for Iran is tantamount to funding Hamas: “The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel. As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks.” Press release is here; Rubio tweet is here; Free Beacon article here; Washington Examiner article here; Breitbart article is here. [Note: it seems like almost every signer of this letter issued a statement or tweeted about it- check their websites/Twitter for more]. Also, running contrary to the theme of this letter, see: Israel: No intelligence showing ‘direct connection of Iran’ in rocket attacks (Washington Examiner)

(NO DOING BUSINESS WITH IRAN!) Cruz et al letter to international business community: On 5/12, Sens. Cruz (R-TX) and Cotton (R-AR), along with 14 Republican colleagues, sent a letter to the international business community warning them against resuming business with Iran if U.S. sanctions are lifted by the Biden Administration. As was the case with the infamous Cotton-led letter to Iranian officials in 2015, with this new letter Republican senators are seeking to directly challenge/undermine the authority and legitimacy of the president of the US in the foreign policy arena, arguing: “Any attempt by the Biden administration to broker a JCPOA-like deal or offer sanctions relief to the Iranian regime will be fleeting. The original Iran deal was never submitted to the United States Senate and ratified as a legally binding treaty. Any agreement that does not receive the broad and bipartisan support of Congress will not survive if a Republican is elected president in 2024. Any sanctions relief will also be severely limited if Republicans win back majorities in Congress in 2022.” Press release is here.

(MOVE ANTI-HAMAS BILL) Mast letter to Pelosi & Meeks: On 5/11, Mast (R-FL) sent a letter to House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and HFAC chair Meeks (D-NY) urging that they expedite consideration of legislation introduced by Rep. Mast, HR 261, “The Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2021.” Mast Tweet on the letter is here. That bill was introduced 1/11/21 and has 23 cosponsors. On 5/12, Mast issued a press release slamming the House Foreign Affairs Committee for not scheduling HR 261 for a vote next week, accusing House Democrats of siding with Hamas against Israel. Also see: Delay in Passing Hamas Sanctions Bill Is ‘Inexcusable,’ Says Rep (Free Beacon)

(VIOLENCE IN JERUSALEM) Watson Coleman letter to Blinken: On 5/11, Rep, Watson Coleman (D-NJ) sent a letter to SecState Blinken expressing her “deep concern at the disturbing reports coming out of Jerusalem. The horrific violence on display in Sheikh Jarrah and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex is completely unacceptable and runs counter to any efforts towards peace.” She goes on: “Mr. Secretary, you have an obligation to use the diplomatic tools at our disposal to help deescalate the situation and prevent any further acts of violence from taking place. I ask the Department of State and the Biden administration to swiftly address the issue of accountability and our goals in pursuit of peace in Jerusalem. We must also hold responsible those who violate the rights of peaceful protestors and worshipers. The attempts by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah follows an ongoing effort to forcibly displace Palestinians from the city. The escalating conflict leading to violent encounters between the Israeli military forces and Palestinian protestors and worshippers has resulted in the devastation of injuries, hospitalizations and even death. Israel should immediately cease its actions against Palestinians and end the evictions of Palestinians from their homes. As a long supporter of both Israel’s right to defend itself against violence as well as a 2-state solution, the current situation directly contradicts our path towards a peaceful resolution. A peaceful resolution must ensure the religious rights and security of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem. This includes the right to worship peacefully. The violence reported in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound over the last few days go against the very nature of the Biden administration’s commitment to international human rights. A proactive approach is needed before further violence erupts. However, while occupation and de facto annexation continue in violation of international law, tensions will continue to escalate. You have a responsibility to promote international peace and security and I ask you to uphold the dignity and human rights of all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion.” Press release is here.

(BRIEF CONGRESS RE: ISR-PAL SITUATION) Dingell letter to Blinken: On 5/10, Rep. Dingell (D-MI) sent a letter to SecState Blinken to “request a briefing with the Department of State to Members of Congress to discuss steps that the Biden administration is taking to deescalate tensions and promote a peaceful resolution to the violence in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and southern Israel that has occurred the past several days.” The letter goes on: “In recent days, there has been an increase in violence in the region following attempts by Israeli settlers to evict and displace Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, that is part of a unilateral attempt to force Palestinians out of the city. Following postponement of an Israeli judicial decision on this matter, there were multiple encounters over the weekend where Israeli police used heavy-handed tactics against Palestinian protestors and worshippers in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. These were followed by additional clashes that resulted in numerous injuries and hospitalizations.Following these events, there has been an increase in violence in Gaza and southern Israel, with a resumption of Hamas rocket attacks against nearby towns and civilians. The Israeli military has since responded with airstrikes against targets in the Gaza Strip, and this is a very dangerous situation for both sides that threatens to escalate further given the existing tensions between the two sides.It is important that the United States play a constructive role in resolving this escalating situation through strong diplomatic engagement with Israelis and Palestiniansto both prevent further violence and address the underlying drivers of the conflict, including continued settlement expansion and efforts to forcibly remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem. With this in mind, please provide a Congressional briefing as soon as practicable with Members of Congress to discuss actions that the United States is taking to address these developments and promote peace, dignity and security between Israelis and Palestinians.” Dingell press release is here.

(TARGETING JOHN KERRY) Cruz et al letter to Menendez: On 5/10, Sens. Cruz (R-TX), Young (R-IN), Barrasso (R-WY), and Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to SFRC Chair Menendez (D-NJ) urging a hold on $2.5 million in funding for the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (John Kerry), until the State Department responds to a list of demands with respect to investigating Kerry over his alleged disclosure of covert Israeli actions against Iranian interests in Syria to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Press release is here.

(RE-OPEN PLO MISSION & US MISSION IN EAST JERUSALEM) Van Hollen et al letter to Blinken: On 5/10, Jewish Insider reported: “A group of Democratic senators is urging President Joe Biden to follow through on commitments to reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem and the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, D.C. — both of which were closed under the Trump administration.” The article notes: “The senators lay out their request in a letter to Biden obtained by Jewish Insider, which has been circulating since mid-April and will close for signatures on Friday. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) organized the letter, which has also been signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

(ATTACKING YET ANOTHER BIDEN NOMINEE) On 5/10, the Free Beacon published an article with the headline, “Lawmakers Demand State Dept. Revoke Security Clearance for Appointee Tied to Iranian Regime.” According to the article, Reps. Van Drew (R-NJ), Perry (R- PA), and Herrell (R-NM) sent a letter to the White House last month to demand that security clearance of Ariane Tabatabai, a senior adviser to the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, be revoked — based on allegations that she has (in the words of the Free Beacon), “troubling ties to Iran’s hardline, anti-American government.” The article notes that “Tabatabai’s hiring first sparked controversy in March, when a group of Iranian dissidents outed her as an Iranian regime sympathizer whose family has close ties to the ruling theocratic regime, as the Washington Free Beacon first reported in March.

 

2. Hearings & Markups

May 26: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, The State Department’s Foreign Policy Strategy and FY22 Budget Request.

May 25: The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, A Review of the FY22 State Department Budget Request. The sole witness will be SecState Blinken.

May 12: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving a Global, Whole-of-Society Response to Climate Action.” The sole witness at the hearing was John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, U.S. Department of State. Predictably, a great deal of the hearing ended up being devoted to Republicans attacking Kerry and grandstanding with respect to Kerry’s alleged disclosing intelligence about Israel operations in Syria to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. For more on this, see reporting in Politico; also see – Responsible Statecraft: GOP Congressman shocked to think Iran’s Zarif would lie about John Kerry. Video is here.

 

3. On the Record

Members On The Record…

…re: Israel-Palestine Escalation

There are simply too many Congressional statements and tweets to cover in this Round-Up (and that is not including the Democrats’ dueling floor speeches taking place today, May 13). Suffice to say that it feels like almost every member of Congress has felt the need to weigh in (some of them multiple times) on the escalating violence in Israel-Palestine. If you want to see what a specific member said (or didn’t say), check on their websites and on Twitter.

That said, in what has proven to be one of the most miserable tasks I have ever assigned myself, I have spent the past week tracking tweets and statements by Members of Congress in three different twitter threads. These are:

  • Thread 1 – Members of Congress speaking out in concern/defense of Palestinains with respect to the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mt, etc;
  • Thread 2 – Members who said nothing with respect to the violence around Sheikh Jarrah, the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mt, etc, but only spoke up after Hamas started firing rockets (and who reserve all of their concern/defense from Israel); and
  • Thread 3 – Members of Congress who spoke up only after Hamas rockets started flying, but are expressing concern about not just Hamas actions but also actions by Israel.

Having gone through this miserable exercise (which I have officially ended midday today), I offer here some observations about how the current violence is playing in Congress so far. I caution that it is far too soon to draw any conclusions with respect to longer-term trends in Congress.

Observation 1: A surprising large number of members of Congress are expressing concern for Palestinians and criticizing  – directly or implicitly – Israeli actions (see Threads 1 & 3). Among them are not just members who are clearly identified as sympathetic to Palestinians, but also a fair number who are seen as solidly supportive of Israel. This is especially seen with members whose statements fall into thread 3 — suggesting that for some members, it might have been politically more palatable to “balance” their expressions of concern for Palestinian rights with statements of support for Israel and against Hamas. In many if not most cases, too, members’ statements appear to reflect a surprising level of knowledge, especially about what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (also evident in the text of letters from some of these members covered in Section 1, above).

Observation 2: All that being said, the number of members finding it in themselves to express any degree of support for Palestinians or to criticize Israel is dwarfed by the number of members issuing statements of support for Israel – and only Israel (see Thread 2).

Observation 3: A common theme running through statements in Thread 2 (and the like) is that  the current crisis/escalation started with Hamas rockets. Nothing that happened before — none of Israel’s provocations during Ramadan (like its shenanigans at Damascus Gate), or its efforts to displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, or its extraordinary use of force on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mt (including Israeli forces entering Palestinian places of worship and stun grenades inside them) — matter in the slightest. It is as if none of it happened. And notably, this is BIPARTISAN.

Observation 4: Another common theme in Thread 2 statements, especially among Democrats who are averse to criticizing Israel, is the “balancing” of full-throated support for Israel (and ONLY Israel) with recitations of the mantra of support for peace and a two-state solution, in many cases embracing the a-historical argument (directly or indirectly) that if only Hamas would stop sending rockets and the Palestinians would return to negotiations then – presto! – there would be peace.

Observation 5: In addition, the evolution of Thread 2 statements over the past few days strongly suggests that, while no doubt some of the statements reflect genuine concern for Israel, many of them are more a performative exercise of getting on the record. Likewise, the morphing of the tone/content of statements – sometimes over the course of just a few hours – suggests that there is an opportunistic partisan echo chamber in play.

Observation 6: Most notably: what were initially statements of solidarity with Israel have to a great extent morphed into: condemnations of Biden’s response to the crisis (criticizing him either for doing nothing or for doing something wrong); blaming Biden for Hamas rockets (because Hamas would not have dared do this under Trump!); accusing Biden and Democrats of endangering Israel (because Israel was safe when Trump was in office!); blaming Biden for squandering the Abraham Accords and the strides toward peace achieved by Trump (because, obviously, Trump achieved historic progress toward regional peace!);  accusing Biden of actively supporting and emboldening terrorists (by restarting aid to the Palestinians and negotiating with Iran), etc.

Observation 7: The Rubio letter (see Section 1, above) and statements around it are the icing on the cake – directly linking Hamas rockets to Iran in order to argue that if the Biden Administration continues pursuing a nuclear agreement with Iran it is tantamount to Biden supporting Hamas rockets against Israel.

Observation 7: A final point looking at Thread 2 statements: there have been numerous statements from Republicans attacking Democrats who have expressed criticism of Israel and/or concern for Palestinians. Curiously – or perhaps not curiously at all – while a relatively large number of Democrats fall into that category (as pointed out earlier), virtually ALL the criticism has been aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and at the “Squad,” including in vitriolic terms implying that their statements of concern for Palestinains or criticism of Israel equals support for Hamas — exemplified by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green’s (R-GA) tweet dubbing them the “Jihad Squad,” and Cruz (R-TX) tweeting that Omar is “acting as the press secretary for Hamas.” This phenomenon has been so pronounced that one non-female, white Democrat who  been critical of Israel (Pocan, D-WI) was moved to comment – “I’m seeing a lot of right-wing extremists criticize my wonderful colleague,@IlhanMN , because she rightly condemned the murder of Palestinian children & Israel’s violence against Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrar & at Al-Aqsa. I did the same, wonder why they’re not criticizing me?”

 

Selected Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

(again, way to much to even try to cover them all this week)

Jewish Insider 5/13: This NY congressman says Democratic socialism and support for Israel don’t contradict [“

Breitbart 5/12: Ted Cruz Wallops Joe Biden for Bungling Gas and Border Crisis, Middle East War, and Inflation

Washington Examiner 5/12: Tensions rise among House Democrats over far-left criticism of Israel amid surging violence with Hamas in Gaza

Washington Examiner 5/12: Rashida Tlaib: Freedom of our black and brown ‘brothers and sisters’ in America ‘interconnected’ with plight of Palestinian people

Jewish Insider 5/12: Moderate congressional Democrats criticize far-left over Gaza tweets

Washington Times 5/12: Cruz calls Israeli-Palestinian clash a ‘direct result’ of Biden’s ambiguous stance

World Israel News 5/12: Congressional ‘Jihad Squad’ slammed for supporting Jerusalem terror

Middle East Monitor 5/11: US congressman implores Biden to broker Israel-Palestine cease-fire

JTA 5/11: In a sign of greater willingness to criticize Israel, Democrats blame both Israel and Hamas for current conflict

Algemeiner 5/11: US Senators, Representatives Voice Support for Israel as Conflict With Hamas Escalates

Washington Time 5/11: Ted Cruz accuses Ilhan Omar of acting as ‘press secretary for Hamas’ after she rips Israel

Washington Examiner 5/11: Greene slams Omar and the Squad over defense of Hamas, says terrorist supporters don’t belong in Congress [calls them the”Jihad Squad”]

Arutz Sheva 5/11: Democrats blast Israel’s Gaza retaliations, call to cut aid

The National Interest/JINSA 5/10: By Renewing Palestinian Aid, America Is Funding Terrorism

Jerusalem Post 5/10: Rashida Tlaib: US tax dollars shouldn’t support Israeli apartheid

Jewish Insider 5/10: What explains Tom Carper’s recent approach on Israel?

Al Jazeera 5/8: ‘Not $1’: US lawmaker urges end to complicity in Israeli abuses