APN Legislative Round-Up: Weeks Ending 2/8/13 & 2/15/13

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Leahy on the PA, UNESCO, and Timbuktu Antiquities
3. AIPAC Memo on Iran to the Hill - Foreshadowing Policy Conference Focus?
4. Hearings
5. Members on the Record
6. From the Press


APN 2/13: Obama's Upcoming Visit to Israel: A Game-Changer
APN in the Forward 2/7: Who Did the Jewish Settlers Vote For?

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(ISRAEL VISA WAIVER) S. 266:Introduced 2/7/13 by Sens. Wyden (D-OR) and Hatch (R-UT), "A bill to provide for the inclusion of Israel in the visa waiver program, and for other purposes." Referred to the Judiciary Committee. For details of the history of this effort and the House version of this legislation (HR 300), see the 1/8/13 edition of the Round-Up.

(EGYPT) Griffin (R-AR) et al letter: On 2/6/13 Rep. Griffin (R-AR) and 38 cosigners - all Republican - sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary Kerry urging them to delay the transfer of F-16 aircraft and military assistance to Egypt "until we are sure of Egypt's government, its alliance with the U.S. and respect for Israel and its people." Griffin's press release on the letter is available here. Ros-Lehtinen's press release touting her signing of the letter is available here.

(IRAN ENVOY) Lee (D-CA) Dear Colleague: On 2/13/13 Rep. Lee (D-CA) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosponsors on a bill she intends to introduce, "the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act." The bill would require President Obama to appoint a high level Special Envoy to Iran to engage in sustained, comprehensive negotiations to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. The bill is an updated version of HR 4173 from the 112thCongress.

(EU-Hizbollah) Waxman (D-CA) Dear Colleague: On 2/11/13 Rep. Waxman (D-CA) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on letters to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Cathy Ashton, urging the EU to designate Hizbollah as a terrorist organization, and to the Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, supporting Bulgaria on their findings and on their next steps.

(IRAN - IMPRISONED AMERICAN) Franks (R-AZ)-Waxman (D-CA) letter: On 2/12 Reps. Franks and Waxman, along with 82 cosigners (unusually, composed of both House members and Senators) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to "exhaust ever possible option" to secure the release of American citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran for evangelizing. More here.

2. Leahy on the PA, UNESCO, and Timbuktu Antiquities

Last year's U.S. move to pull all funding from UNESCO, as punishment for that body voting to grant the Palestinians full status and consistent with archaic U.S. anti-Palestinian legislation, went largely unnoticed in this country (aside from the Daily Show's sharp coverage of the issue - seeAmerica's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 1America's Problem with UNESCO Pt. 2). This is not surprising, given that UNESCO doesn't have much of a U.S. domestic constituency. The situation would no doubt have been different if the Palestinians had been admitted to WIPO or the IAEA, or some other UN body that has a natural U.S. domestic constituency, for example in the private sector or the arms control community.

This week, Senator Leahy (D-VT) spoke up on the Senate floor to remind fellow senators and the America people that the U.S. decision to cut funds to UNESCO does, in fact, have consequences, and to issue a plea:"...It is time we recognize that a law that might have seemed sensible to some people years ago has had unintended consequences that run directly counter to our interests, and should be amended or repealed."

Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) on the Senate floor, 2/7/13 - Timbuktu Antiquities (Full text)

Mr. President, there was a lot of attention recently on the French military's operation to repel Islamic extremists and Tuareg nationalist rebels who had terrorized the local population of northern Mali, including in the ancient city of Timbuktu. That operation was widely welcomed by local Malian citizens and the international community. Many of the rebels are believed to be hiding out among the local population until the French soldiers leave, so whether they are ultimately vanquished remains to be seen. It will depend in large measure on the longer term capability of a multinational force of African troops supported by the United States and others.

Besides terrorizing, torturing, mutilating, and slaughtering innocent people, the rebels destroyed ancient tombs, shrines, and manuscripts dating to a period many centuries ago when Timbuktu was a crossroads for commerce and a center of intellectual pursuits in northern Africa. I mention this not only to inform those who may be unaware of Mali's ongoing cultural importance, but also to call attention to the fact that Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, has already pledged to reconstruct the damaged mausoleums. As she was quoted in the New York Times on February 4, 2013, "This is the record of the golden ages of the Malian empire. If you let this disappear, it would be a crime against humanity."

There are also little known heroes in this otherwise humanitarian and cultural disaster. Malian residents, particularly Ali Iman Ben Essayouti, who knew the importance of priceless manuscripts preserved in a library funded by international donors, including the Library of Congress and Department of State, managed to carefully move some of them to another location where the rebels did not find them. As a result, although the rebels burned the library, only a small portion of the manuscripts were destroyed.

The other point of this is that, as many Senators are aware, the United States, once the largest contributor to UNESCO, including under President George W. Bush, was forced to sever its support last year due to a 1990s law that prohibits U.S. funding to any United Nations-affiliated agency in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO, obtains the same standing as a member state. After UNESCO's members voted, against the advice of Ms. Bokova, to grant the PLO that standing, the law was triggered and U.S. funding abruptly ended.

This is illogical and self-defeating. First, although the PLO was a terrorist organization in the 1990s, it is no longer. Second, by cutting off our contribution to UNESCO we not only empower its other members, including Russia, Iran, and Syria, we also make it impossible to assist the organization in the kind of cultural preservation activities it is now undertaking in Mali, which are clearly in the national interest of the United States. There are many other examples, including World Heritage Sites like the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO designates and protects today without the support of the United States. Finally, if U.S. funding is not restored before the end of this fiscal year, we will lose our vote in the organization. Ironically, despite PLO membership in UNESCO, Israel has paid its dues through 2014. Presumably, Israeli officials recognize, as we should, that their interests are far better served by participating in a U.N. agency, not by watching from the sidelines.

Mr. President, regardless of what one may think about Palestinian President Abbas' effort to obtain U.N. membership for the PLO, and I am among those who regard it as an unhelpful distraction, cutting off U.S. funding to UNESCO and thereby weakening our influence and empowering our adversaries makes no sense. It is time we recognize that a law that might have seemed sensible to some people years ago has had unintended consequences that run directly counter to our interests, and should be amended or repealed.

3. AIPAC Memo on Iran to the Hill - Foreshadowing Policy Conference Focus?

This week AIPAC circulated a policy memo to Hill offices entitled, "New Iran Sanctions Must Be Enforced." With AIPAC's next Washington Policy Conference scheduled for early next month (March 3-5), this memo is expected to foreshadow an Iran-related legislative initiative that will be the focus of AIPAC lobbying around the conference. The memo is not available online on the AIPAC website, but can be viewed here.

4. Hearings

As noted in last week's Round-Up, on 2/5/13 the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, under the chairwomanship of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), held its inaugural hearing, entitled "The Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects." Opening statements and video of the hearing are availablehere.

5. Members on the Record

2/14: Cloture vote to end filibuster on Hagel nomination as Secretary of Defense (failed by a vote of 58-40). In floor discussion before the vote, Leahy (D-VT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Reed (D-RI), and Levin (D-MI) defended Hagel's pro-Israel credentials, while Graham (R-SC), and Inhofe (R-OK) again attacked them. Following the vote, Vitter (R-LA) stated that he opposed the nomination "on its substance in light of Senator Hagel's long history of troublesome votes and comments regarding the defense of Israel and related Middle East issues."
Levin (D-MI) and Reed (D-RI) 2/13: Defending Hagel's record on Israel.
Schakowsky (D-IL) 2/14: Marking the 10th anniversary of the "Malta Conferences" - "the only platform where scientists from 15 Middle East countries are collaborating and cooperating on scientific issues as well as developing professional and personal relationships with each other. The common language of science is used for science diplomacy, which serves as a bridge to peace, tolerance and understanding in the Middle East and improves the relationships between the Muslim countries and the U.S., and between the Arabs, Iranians and Israelis."
Roskam (R-IL) 2/8: Statement on Visa Waiver for Israel Act
Nadler (D-NY) 2/6: Press release: Progressive Brooklyn and Citywide Elected Officials Respond to Steps Taken by Brooklyn College to Resolve Controversy Over Co-sponsorship of Anti-Israel BDS Event, Send Follow Up Letter to President Karen Gould
Gohmert (R-TX) 2/6: Another lengthy rant, this time focused on the ever-looming Jihadist threat and bashing John Brennan for allegedly failing to grasp this threat and for various related sins, including having the effrontery to have ever employed the Arabic name for Jerusalem (Gohmert stops just short of suggesting that knowing even a word of Arabic is a sign of having crossed over to the dark side).
Waxman (D-CA) 2/5: Statement on Hezbollah Responsibility in July Bulgarian Bus Bombing
Engel (D-NY) 2/5: Statement on Bulgarian Report Implicating Hezbollah for the Terrorist Attack Killing Israeli Tourists, Bulgarian Citizen
Radel (R-FL) 2/5: Press release: Congressman Radel Sends Letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Encouraging Them to Vote NO on Hagel Nomination
Nadler 1/31: Press release: Progressive Brooklyn and Citywide Elected Officials' and Leaders' Letter Regarding Brooklyn College Endorsement of Anti-Israel BDS Event
Bilirakis (R-FL) and Deutch (D-FL) 1/7: MEDIA ADVISORY: Reps. Bilirakis and Deutch Launch Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance

6. From the Press

The Forward, 2/14: Frank Lautenberg Won't Seek Reelection
CQ News 2/14: Dropping Holds, Lawmakers Clear Path for Palestinian Aid
JewishPress.com 2/12: Kerry at Odds with Congress on PA Funds
JNS.org 2/12: Congress members break down the Middle East at annual breakfast
Global Post 2/7: Hagel hearings reinforce congressional support for whatever Israel does
The Hill (blog) 2/6: Bias against Palestinians on display at hearing (by PLO representative to U.S.)