Legislative Round-Up- April 5, 2024

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

1. Bills, Resolutions
2. Letters
3. Hearings & Markups
4. Selected Media & Press releases/Statements

ICYMI – 2 new reports of interest from the Congressional Research Service


1. Bills & Resolutions

(MORE US AID FOR/COOPERATION WITH ISRAEL) HR 7866 [bill text]: Introduced 4/2/24 by Wilson (R-SC) and 5 bipartisan cosponsors, To amend the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 to improve cooperation between the United States and Israel on anti-tunnel defense capabilities” aka, the “United States-Israel Anti-Tunnel Cooperation Enhancement Act.” The bill would increase funding for anti-tunnel cooperation from $50 million (as currently approved) to $80 million. Referred to the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Also see: press release – Wilson, Gallego, Lamborn, Schneider, Bacon, Moulton Introduce United States-Israel Anti-Tunnel Cooperation Enhancement Act; media – Lawmakers call to nearly double U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling funding (Jewish Insider 4/3/24)


2. Letters

[BAR AID TO UNRWA IN GAZA & LEGISLATE IHRA DEFINITION IN SFOPS] This week Rep. Gottheimer was circulating a letter [letter text], addressed to House appropriations leaders, asking them to include in the FY25 SFOPS bill two new, politically extreme, provisions, analyzed in detail below. Also see:Hawkish Democrat Quietly Seeking To Extend U.S. Ban On U.N. Aid To Palestinians (Huffington Post 4/4/24)

The first would bar all funding for UNRWA activities in Gaza (and only Gaza), unless the Secretary of State certifies that “UNRWA has submitted to the Department of State all available identifying information of its employees, contractors, and beneficiaries and does not obligate funds to any employees, contractors, and beneficiaries until the Department confirms that such persons have cleared anti-terror vetting.” Some things to note:

  • UNRWA already provides the names of all employees for vetting [“UNRWA shares the names, employee numbers, and functions of all staff members every year in all five areas of operations with the host authorities (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority) and, for the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, with Israel as the occupying power.  This means that at all times, host states and Israel are fully informed and aware of the details of all staff members working for UNRWA. Other UN Member States also receive these lists upon request“]. Given this fact, which Gottheimer surely knows by now, it is clear that the actual point of this language is the NEW demand for anti-terror vetting of every beneficiary of UNWRA’s activities.
  • The demand that UNRWA obtain US clearance in advance for every single UNRWA beneficiary is totally impracticable. Techically/bureaucratically, it would force the US government to carry out anti-terror vetting at an unprecedented scale, requiring massive financial investment in new vetting capacity (and anyone who is familiar with the myriad problems with the name check/vetting systems used by the US government in the context of applications for US visas, in particular in connection with Arabic names, will immediately understand that the idea that the U.S. could do this vetting efficiently and accurately beggars disbelief).  On the UNRWA side, this demand would require advance vetting of every  men, women, and children served by UNRWA in Gaza before UNRWA could provide them food, medical care, etc. — amounting to more than 1 million people BEFORE the current war, with that number massively higher since the start of that war as nearly the entire population of the Gaza Strip has become displaced and desperate. Implementing this requirement would force UNRWA to vital humanitarian assistance by denying humanitarian assistance, including food and medical care, to anyone who has not been pre-cleared by the U.S. (including, for example, newborn babies who have not yet been submitted for vetting; sick and injured who have not been previously served by UNRWA).
  • Moreover, in the current circumstances of a ever-expanding humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions in Gaza — in which more than 2 million people fall into 1 or more of the following categories: displaced (sometimes multiple times), homeless, injured, starving, sick, separated from family members, totally destitute with no belongings (including identity documents), orphaned, and of course the new category of people created by this war, “WCNSF,” which means “wounded child, no surviving family”; and which, even if the war ended today, will require urgent emergency humanitarian intervention for many years, given Israel’s mass destruction of homes, infrastructure, schools, medical facilities, agriculture, etc, and the desperate state of the entire population — this demand for anti-terror vetting of every single beneficiary of UNRWA humanitarian aid boils down to a permanent ban on UNRWA funding for Gaza, delivered with the legislative equivalent of snark and a nasty smirk.

The second provision offered by Gottheimer would bar US funding to, or in support of US participation with, any international organization that violates the IHRA’s non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, “including holding the State of Israel to a double standard, declaring Zionism or the State of Israel to be racist, or accusing Zionism or Israel of apartheid.” With respect to this second provision:

  • There have been efforts to put the IHRA’s “non-legally binding” definition of antisemitism, and its very problematic examples, into U.S. law since 2016 (see this table tracking these efforts). All of these efforts have been rejected by Congress. Yet, with this language, it appears that Gottheimer is seeking to capitalize on anti-UNRWA attitudes to quietly slip the IHRA definition into law.
  • Where past efforts to legislate the IHRA definition have focused on U.S. academia, this provision would, in effect, make the conduct of US foreign policy and the provision of US foreign assistance — two activities that are central to the promotion and protection of US national security — subordinate to the goal of quashing criticism of Israel/Zionism. And the omission of a national security waiver underscores the fact that this is subordination is a feature, not a bug, of this effort. If this provision were to become law, it would almost certainly result in the cut-off of most if not all funding related to the UN, as well as making impossible US funding to or cooperation with almost any international humanitarian or aid groups (most of which have criticized Israel and Israeli policies/actions in ways that people like Gottheimer reject).
  • Finally, two notes about the examples Gottheimer provides with respect to what violates the IHRA definition. First, critics of the IHRA definition have long observed that the objective of those promoting the IHRA definition is NOT fighting antisemitism (i.e., hatred, prejudice, discriminiation, threats, violence targeting Jews because they are Jewish) but is instead the suppression and punishment of criticism of Israel and/or Zionism. With his list of 3 specific examples — all of which are exclusively focused on criticism of Israel/Zionism, Gottheimer makes clear that , ’s examples of what would be included under the IHRA definition go further than the actual (very problematic) examples that are part of the IHRA definition — Gottheimer has quite clearly confirmed the validity of this observation.  Second, anyone familiar with the IHRA definition will note that the examples included by Gottheimer in this provision actually go far beyond the (controversial) examples that are actually part of that definition. Indeed, looking at this text it appears that Gottheimer wants to use US law to make the IHRA definition even more strongly and more explicitly focused on defending Israel.

[AID FOR GAZA] 4/3/24: Warren, Merkley, Senators Call on Biden Administration to Supply Desperately Needed Medical Supplies to Gaza [letter text]. Also see: Senate Democrats press Biden to do more on Gaza ‘medical crisis’ (The Hill 4/4/24)

[IRAN SANCTIONS] 4/4/24: Following Release of Additional Iran Sanctions Waivers, Scott Leads Republicans in Demanding Transparency from Biden Administration [letter text]. Also see, Senate Republicans blast administration over latest Iran sanctions waiver (Jewish Insider 4/4/24); GOP Senators Demand White House Explain ‘Unfathomable’ Decision to Waive Iran Sanctions (Free Beacon 4/4/24)

[BORDER SECURITY] 4/3/24: Homeland Republicans Demand Answers on CBP’s Policy Regarding Apprehended Individuals on Terrorist Watchlist After Alarming Mayorkas Testimony [letter text] – excerpt: “The Committee is concerned with DHS’s current practices in processing and releasing known or suspected terrorists encountered at the Southwest border. This concern is amplified following the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 11, 2024, where he stated that he is ‘very concerned’ about a human smuggling network with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

[CONDEMN HOUTHI TREATMENT OF LGBTQ+ PEOPLE]Gottheimer X-post 4/4/24 – I’m leading a bipartisan letter to urge @uncsecgen Guterres to condemn the oppression and brutally murder of members of the LGBTQ+ community in Yemen. There is no place in our world for hate, persecution, and murder based solely on who someone loves.” [letter text, dated 4/2/24]. Also see: Gottheimer leads bipartisan letter to U.N. Secretary-General Guterres urging condemnation of Houthi treatment of LGBTQ+ people (WRNJ Radio 4/4/24); Lawmakers call on U.N. to condemn Houthi human rights abuses (Jewish Insider 4/3/24)

[AID FOR GAZA & MORE] 4/2/24: Multi-Member Letter to Speaker Johnson re Humanitarian Aid – Also see: Scoop: Johnson faces new pressure from Democrats on foreign aid (Axios 4/4/24). Excerpt from letter: ” In Gaza, where at least a quarter of the population faces an imminent risk of famine. The situation has grown so desperate that the United States has resorted to using air drops and construction of a temporary port to facilitate aid off the coast of Gaza to avert starvation— costly, unsustainable interventions that are less effective than on-the-ground distributions with trusted partners. We are now seeing documented cases of acutely malnourished children in Gaza succumbing to starvation, dehydration, and easily treatable diseases.” And also: ” In Lebanon, where 100,000 fewer Lebanese and 110,000 fewer Syrian refugees are projected to receive food assistance, despite growing needs.” And: “These populations and others around the globe face unimaginable hardship. Our responsibility to act is not just a moral one; it is also strategic: by abdicating this responsibility, our nation would allow unstable areas around the world to grow even more volatile—fueling threats to our security, as well as to the security and stability of our strategic allies and partners. We look forward to working with you to ensure that the United States meets these commitments around the world through urgently needed supplemental appropriations.”

[AID FOR GAZA] 4/2/24: Tuberville Questions Biden About Dangerous Gaza Pier Construction Plans [letter text]

[US DIPLOMACY WITH IRAQ IS ANTI-ISRAEL] 4/2/24: Sens. Rick Scott & Tom Cotton in Letter to Biden: Hosting Iraqi Prime Minister is Inappropriate, Undermines Israel [letter text]

[TARGETING AARON BUSHNELL FOR CARING ABOUT PALESTINIANS] 4/1/24: Van Orden Urges Secretary of Defense to Address Left-Wing Extremism in the Military [letter] – excerpt: “On February 25th, Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, broadcasted himself engaging in an act of self-immolation outside the Israeli Embassy here in Washington, D.C. Prior to committing this act, Aaron Bushnell repeatedly identified himself as an ‘anarchist.’ An ideology wholly incompatible with that of our constitutional republic and entirely inappropriate for a member of the United States Military who had taken an oath to defend it at all costs. This act, motivated by his stated desire to protest Israel in what he described as complicity in injustice, demonstrates the potential for ideologically driven behaviors to undermine the values, discipline, and safety of our military community, irrespective of the political orientation of those ideologies. Given your prior work in confronting extremism within the ranks, we are confident that you recognize the importance of a comprehensive approach to this challenge. It is imperative that our efforts to identify and mitigate extremist influences encompass all forms of ideology that threaten the cohesion and effectiveness of our armed forces. Our military must continue to exemplify the highest standards of professionalism and unity, standing ready to defend our nation against any threat, and we demand you do the same. By identifying left-wing extremism with the same determination applied to your previous efforts, we further ensure the strength, integrity, and readiness of our armed forces…


3. Hearings & Markups

April 10, 2024: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “FY2025 UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT BUDGET REQUEST.” The sole witness will be USAID Administrator Samantha Power.
April 10, 2024: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “USAID’s Foreign Policy and International Development Priorities in the Era of Great Power Competition.” The sole witness will be USAID Administrator Samantha Power.
April 11, 2024: The House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations will hold a hearing entitled, “Budget Hearing – Fiscal Year 2025 Request for the United States Agency for International Development.” The hearing has not yet been posted on the committee website, but it is a safe bet that there will be one witness: USAID Administrator Samantha Power.
April 16, 2024: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider a long list of State Department nominations, as well as to markup a number of bills, including:
  • S. 1829, Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum Act of 2023
  • S. 3874, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2024
  • S. 2626, MAHSA Act [also see: In reversal, Senate Foreign Relations to take up MAHSA Act Iran sanctions (Jewish Insider 3/29/24)
  • S. 2336, Making Iran Sanctions Stick In Lieu of Expiration of Sanctions Act
  • S. Res. 505, A resolution condemning the use of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war by the terrorist group Hamas against the people of Israel.
April 17, 2024: The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold a hearing entitled, Columbia in Crisis: Columbia University’s Response to Antisemitism. Witnesses (so far) will be: Dr. Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, President, Columbia University; Ms. Claire Shipman, Board of Trustees Co-Chair, Columbia University; and Mr. David Greenwald, Board of Trustees Co-Chair, Columbia University. Also see: Columbia University leaders to get grilled by Congress at antisemitism hearing (CNN 3/12/24); Columbia University leaders to testify before Congress on campus antisemitism (Jewish Insider 3/12/24); Columbia university president to testify about campus antisemitism (Jewish News Syndicate 3/13/24) NOTE: The decision by officials of Columbia University to voluntarily subject themselves to what will be another grandstanding, anti-academia witch hunt is just mind-boggling.  Truly. Though to get a sense in advance of how this hearing may go, Columbia student engaged in activism in support of Palestinian rights report this week that they are facing a crackdown at the hands of the Columbia University administration [also see: Four Columbia students suspended, evicted from University housing following unauthorized ‘Resistance 101’ event (Columbia Spectator 4/5/24); Columbia Suspends 6 Students Amid Crackdown on Palestinian Solidarity Activism (Democracy Now 4/5/24); Shafik confirms suspensions following ‘Resistance 101’ event as Columbia works to identify protest participants (Columbia Spectator 4/5/24)

4. Selected Media & Press releases/statements

Recess Travel to Israel & Middle East
NOTE: Many, many members of Congress traveled to Israel during the Easter recess. Check the websites and social media accounts of specific members to see if they took part and if so, what they had to say about it.

NOTE: Want to follow which candidates/incumbents major pro-Israel orgs are backing and what they are spending in this election cycle? All that info is available to the public! See: United Democracy Project (aka AIPAC’s Super PAC); Democratic Majority for Israel (aka DMFI PAC); AIPAC PAC; JStreetPAC; Republican Jewish Committee (RJC) PAC

Israel Kills 7 World Central Kitchen Staff in Gaza

A relatively small number of members of the House and Senate weighed in with press releases and social media posts. Some were openly critical of Israel’s actions and demanding change. Most stuck with expressing grief/concern, endorsing/applauding Israel’s commitment to an investigation, and in many cases using the killings as a hook to demand the release of Israeli hostages and to implicitly blame Hamas for everything that Israel is doing in Gaza. See:

Also see:

More US Weapons for Israel (for and against)

Unconditional Support  for Israel & Its War on Gaza (including calling to nuke it, then kinda taking it back)

Varying Degrees of Criticism of Israel/Bibi & Support for Palestinians (& Blowback for Criticism of Israel)

Other stuff related to hating/dehumanizing Palestinians & anyone who supports Palestinian rights