APN Legislative Round-Up: Sept 19, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  Hearings 
3.  Members on the Record
4. From the Press

Congress is out of session next week, so no Round-Up!  And to all who are celebrating, Shana Tovah!

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(US-ISRAEL BEST-ALLIES-WITH-BENEFITS) S. 2673:  Introduced (actually, re-introduced) 7/28 by Boxer (D-CA) and having 80 cosponsors, “United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.”  Agreed to in the Senate 9/18 by Unanimous Consent, with an amendment.   For background on the 1.5-year saga of this bill, as well as an analysis of the text of this version of the legislation, see the 8/2/14 edition of the Round-Up

Notably, S. 2673 was amended before it was passed, with an amendment offered by Boxer herself.  That amendment replaced the (much-improved) language in S. 2673 regarding Israel’s potential inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program with a simple declarative statement:  “It shall be the policy of the United States to include Israel in the list of countries that participate in the visa waiver program under section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1187) when Israel satisfies, and as long as Israel continues to satisfy, the requirements for inclusion in such program specified in such section.” 

The language in the bill, before it was amended, called for a waiver of the refusal rate requirement (to enable Israel to join the program), and specifically required that Israel “has complied with all other requirements of the Visa Waiver Program, including extending the reciprocal privileges described in section 217(a)(2)(A) of such Act to citizens and nationals of the United States without regard to the race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity of any such citizen or national.”  The latter language reflects longstanding concerns over Israel entry policies that profile/discriminate against American citizens of Palestinian or Arab origins – concerns that had been heightened by the original version of the bill, which appeared to exempt Israel from this requirement.  In addition, as reported previously in the Round-Up, some Senators had expressed concerns relaxing the rules of the Visa Waiver program; at the same time, some people (inside and outside Congress) were apparently unhappy with language implying that Israel is guilty of discriminatory policies.   The amendment appears to have been drafted to resolve both concerns.

(GOING AFTER UNRWA, YET AGAIN)  HR 5647: Introduced 9/18 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 3 cosponsors, “To promote transparency, accountability, and reform within the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(CONGRESS *HEARTS* JORDAN) HR 5648:  Introduced 9/18 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and no cosponsors, “To improve defense cooperation between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(GOING AFTER THE UNHRC, YET AGAIN) HR 5649:  Introduced 9/18 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 3 cosponsors, “To promote transparency, accountability, and reform within the United Nations Human Rights Council, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(GOING AFTER PA AID, AGAIN)  HR 5668:  Introduced 9/18 by Yoho (R-FL) and an all-GOP (heavy on Tea Partiers) line-up of 10 cosponsors, “To suspend the provision of United States foreign assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(INCREASED US-ISRAEL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY COOPERATION) HR 5666:  Introduced 9/18 by Weber (R-TX) and Smith (R-TX), “To strengthen United States-Israel science and technology cooperation.” Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

(SANCTION PLO/PA, UN, & UNRWA)  S. Amdt. 3898 to S. 2410:  Offered 9/18 by Rubio (R-FL), an amendment – to the bill FY15 National Defense Authorization Act – that would add a lengthy section entitled “Palestinian and United Nations Anti-Terrorism Act of 2014.”  This new section would effectively bar any Palestinian unity under any terms; bar U.S. assistance to any government including or approved by Hamas; require withholding of U.S. funds to the UN, linked to reform of the UN Human Rights Council; and impose additional conditions on U.S. assistance to UNRWA.  It should be noted that this amendment is 100% non-germane to the underlying bill (all of the funds in question come under the Foreign Operations Authorization and Appropriations bills, not Defense Authorization).

(CONDEMNING ANTI-SEMITISM) H. Res. 707:  Introduced 7/31 by Nadler (D-NY) and having 173 cosponsors, “Condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and rejecting attempts to justify anti-Jewish hatred or violent attacks as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere.”  Passed 9/18 (no roll call vote).  Nadler’s press release on passage of the resolution is here; his floor statement is here.

(TITLE VI REFORM TO PREVENT ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVITIES IN CAMPUS)  Various bills:  On 9/17, a coalition of right-wing, primarily Jewish organizations launched a campaign pushing “to provide lawmakers with solutions to prevent misuse of federal funds under HEA Title VI.”  The headline of the press release makes the goal of the campaign clearer: “Groups to Congress: No Taxpayer Funds for Biased, Politicized Middle East Studies - Higher Education Act Reform Title VI Must Include Accountability to Stop Misuse of Funds, Strengthen National Security.”  This is not the first effort to amend Title VI in this manner.  Back in 2004, the House passed HR 3077 (included a controversial plan to create an oversight body whose purpose, as explained in comments made in the Congressional Record comments, was to establish government oversight over teaching of Israel- and Middle East-related issues (for more details, see this enthusiastic post by Campus Watch).  That bill died in the Senate. In 2005, a similar effort failed in both the House and Senate, with HR 509 and S. 1614.  That same year, similar language was included in S. 1932, but was stripped out before that bill was passed into law.  In 2006, there was another effort, with HR 609 (died in the Senate).

The organizations supporting this new campaign are: Accuracy in Academia; AMCHA Initiative; American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; Endowment for Middle East Truth; The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law; Middle East Forum (Daniel Pipes’ organization); Scholars for Peace in the Middle East; the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations; and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Quotes from these organizations again make the goal of the campaign clearer, for example: “’The Simon Wiesenthal Center will be calling upon leading Members of Congress to press the Department of Education to do its job, which means to demand those who receive Title VI funds guarantee that the funds will not be used to stifle the free speech of Israel advocates or to foment anti-Semitism on campus,’ said Rabbi Meyer H. May, the Center's executive director.” 

Further reading:

JTA 9/18: Coalition bidding for ban on federal funding for anti-Israel activity on campus
Free Beacon 9/17: U.S. Government Funding Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic, Anti-American School Programs
Campus Watch 9/17: Groups to Congress: No Taxpayer Funds for Biased, Politicized Middle East Studies

(NO FMF FOR COUNTRIES THAT HELP ISIL)  HR 5463 : Introduced 9/15 by Collins (R-GA), “to suspend military assistance to countries that harbor persons that provide material or financial support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.


(IRAN-IAEA CONCERNS) Royce-Engel letter:  This week, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Royce (R-CA) and ranking member Engel (D-NY) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to President Obama regarding Iran’s failure to meet a recent deadline in the ongoing IAEA investigation of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear activities.  Given the atmosphere in Congress, the letter could be far worse than it is; that said, it still raises some concerns, as laid out in this letter to Royce and Engel, signed by a number of organizations engaged on this issue (including APN).  AIPAC’s talking points in support of the Royce-Engel letter are available here.


2.  Hearings

9/18: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing entitled, “Threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qa'ida, and other Islamic extremists.”  Witnesses were General (Ret.) James Mattis (statement); Ambassador (Ret.) Ryan Crocker (statement), and Dafna Rand, CNAS (statement).  Chairman Rogers’ (R-AL) opening statement is here; ranking member Ruppersberg’s (D-MD) is here

9/18: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Administration’s Strategy for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).” Witnesses were Secretary of Defense Hagel and Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Director for Operations, J-3, the Joint Staff.  Their joint statement is available here; video of the hearing is available here.

9/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “The ISIS Threat: Weighing the Obama Administration’s Response.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry (statement here).  Chairman Royce (R-CA) statement (slamming Turkey and Iran, among other things) is here; Ranking member Engel’s (D-NY) opening statement is here.

9/17: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “United States Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”  Panel 1 witness was Secretary of State Kerry (statement).  Panel 2 witnesses were Ambassador (retired) Robert Ford, MEI (statement) and Ben Connable, Rand (statement).  Video of the hearing is here.

9/16: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria and the Threat Posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”  Witnesses are were Secretary of Defense Hagel (statement) and General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (no statement posted).  Video of the hearing is available here.


3.  Members on the Record

Note: As previously indicated, the Round-Up will NOT be providing comprehensive coverage of ISIS (or ISIL, or IS)-related developments on the Hill.  That said, this week’s floor debate over legislation to fund for the Syrian opposition involved numerous floor statements related to U.S. relations with a range of countries in the region, including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.  Those wishing to see that debate can do so via the following links:

House floor discussion 9/16

Further House floor discussion 9/16

House floor discussion 9/17

Further House floor discussion 9/17

Senate floor discussion 9/17


Paul (R-KY) 9/18: Arguing against increased U.S. intervention in Syria and Iraq, in part because, with respect to the people we will be helping, “When they win, will they defend American interests? Will they recognize Israel? If we want to have a good question, why don't we ask the vetted moderate Syrians how many will recognize Israel. I am guessing it is going to be a big goose egg. There is not one of those jihadists--there is not one of those so-called moderate rebels that will recognize Israel. And if they win, they will attack Israel next. Several of the leaders have already said they would. Will they acknowledge Israel's right to exist? Will they impose Sharia law?”

McClintock (R-CA) 9/17: Five steps to fight the Islamic State [#5: “we must assure that our only reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel, has all the equipment and supplies and assistance it may need in coming years, and that it will have the unqualified support of the United States when it must take action for its own security.”]

Murphy (D-FL) 9/16: Condemning anti-Semitism around the globe

Wolf (R-VA) 9/16: The rise of anti-Semitism around the world [among other things equating with opposition to Israeli policies, PC-USA settlement/occupation boycott, etc…]

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 9/17: During floor statements on legislation authorizing assistance to Syrian opposition, criticizing diplomacy with Iran – “Even though I will vote for the McKeon amendment, we still won't be approaching this situation in a comprehensive manner that is required. We were successful in isolating Iran with sanctions until we unraveled that with these nuclear negotiations. We can do the same in Syria. I am afraid that this misguided negotiations approach in Iran will preempt many to acquiesce and take a deal that will undermine our national security and leave Iran with enrichment capabilities. That, Madam Speaker, is a real and present danger in the Middle East: a nuclear Iran. This could be a calamity for the region and U.S. national security interests, such as the safety and the security of our strong ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel.”

Bachmann (R-MN) 9/17: Raising, among other things, the ISIS/ISIL threat to Israel

Lamborn (R-CO) 9/16: During floor statements on legislation authorizing assistance to Syrian opposition, stating “Iran does not seem to be slowing its efforts to destroy Israel.”

McGovern (D-MA) 9/16: Calling on Egypt to release political prisoners (who are currently on hunger strike)

Kirk (R-IL) 9/14: Kirk Emphasizes Importance of Greek & Israeli Partnership


4.  From the Press

Al-Monitor 9/18: IS threat prompts effort to boost Middle East arms deliveries
The Nation 9/18: The Saudi Lobbying Complex Adds a New Member: GOP Super PAC Chair Norm Coleman
Examiner.com 9/16: NLG seeks to charge Obama, Congress for helping Israel build Iron Dome
ABC News 9/16: Top Syrian Warns Congress 'Moderate' Rebels May Sell Weapons
Lobelog 9/15: A Poison Pill For AIPAC
San Diego Reader 9/15: A congresswoman’s wartime vacation [Susan Davis, D-CA]