Congress on Sanctions and Settlements

by Lara Friedman

As we have over the past two years, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by the inimitable Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now about what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran.

Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

This weekend is AIPAC’s annual Washington Policy Conference,and right on schedule, this week saw the introduction of a number of pieces of legislation for AIPAC conferees to lobby when they are on the Hill next week. As of this writing AIPAC’s website has not yet been updated to endorse any of these bills, but there is no doubt which ones will be the main focus of AIPAC efforts.

For a discussion AIPAC’s policy conference and lobby agenda in 2017, see this report from the JTA. That report notes that AIPAC is:

  • “helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region”;
  • “will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel”; and
  • “will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion)”.
  • JTA notes: “Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.”

(MAKING IT US LAW THAT SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL) HR 1697 and S. 720: Introduced 3/23 in the House by Roskam (R-IL) and Vargas (D-CA) (along with Zeldin, R-NY, and Sherman, D-CA), and in the Senate by Cardin (D-MD) and Portmen (R-OH), “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act.” A joint House-Senate press release from the 4 key sponsors of this legislation is here; a pdf of the bill text is here. Some analysis/observations:

  • It should be recalled that the 4 legislators leading on these new bills are the same ones have lead on most of the major legislation of the past two years working to exploit concerns about BDS in order to legislate a conflation between settlements and Israel, and thereby legislate U.S. support for and defense of settlements (as comprehensively reported in previous editions of the Round-Up) – a full accounting of such efforts in Congress thus far is available here.
  • This new legislation is part and parcel of this same approach, but now on steroids. This time around, other than the almost comically misleading headline in the press release and deceptive bill title, there is almost zero pretense that the effort is about anything other than legitimizing settlements and Israeli settlement policy in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  • The bills use recent a decision by the Human Rights Council to push harder for differentiation between Israel and settlements as their hook – a move guaranteed to mobilize support, given universal hatred of the UNHRC in Congress.
  • The bills declare the UNHRC’s initiative (which is explicitly focused on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights) to be “reminiscent” of the Arab League Boycott of Israel (which U.S. law bars US companies from participating in).
  • For those who argued that previous pro-settlements bills (the TPA and Customs bill) didn’t matter, these new bills demonstrate again why you were wrong: the new bills specifically cite these previous laws – both of which were passed by Congress and signed by Obama – to bolster the legal case for this new broader conflation legislation (yippee!).
  • Again, dropping any pretense this legislation is about anything other than defending settlements, this new pro-settlements-legislation-on- steroids includes a Statement of Policy stating that when it comes to UN policies explicitly targeting settlements and the occupied territories, Congress, “views such policies as actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” And thus, in U.S. law, the Green Line is erased.
  • But it gets better! Forging ahead with this settlements=Israel definition, the bill goes on to amend core U.S. law regarding foreign boycotts (herehere, and here) to make it illegal for U.S. companies to boycott or otherwise discriminate against settlements based on calls by the UN or the EU (these two sources are explicitly named in the legislation).
  • The bills go on to amend U.S. law regarding the Export-Import Bank, to add differentiation between Israel and settlements to the list of things preclude Ex-Im loans.
  • Indeed, in the final section of the new bills, they specifically state: “The term ‘actions to boycott, divest  from,  or  sanction  Israel’  has  the  meaning given  that  term  in  section 102(b)(20)(B)  of  the  Bi-partisan   Congressional   Trade   Priorities   and   Accountability Act of 2015 (19 U.S.C. 4201(b)(20)(B))”

(New Iran Sanctions bills): S. 722 and HR 1698Introduced 3/23 in the Senate and House, there are two new pieces of bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation. Backers of each bill insist their initiative doesn’t violate the JCPOA, even if undermining the JCPOA has long been the goal of many of these same lawmakers since that agreement was reached. And whether or not U.S. allies or Iran will agree that these bills are consistent with the spirit and letter of the JCPOA remains to be seen (NIAC argues compellingly that the answer will be “no” – see:New Senate Sanctions Risks Killing JCPOA, Putting US on War Path. For excellent reporting on this issue, see Congress takes aim at Iran’s ballistic missiles and Congress races to craft Iran sanctions bills ahead of AIPAC conference (Al-Monitor, 3/23 and 3/20).

  • (NEW IRAN SANCTIONS – BALLISTIC MISSILES, HUMAN RIGHTS, TERROR) S. 722Introduced 3/23 by Corker (R-TN) and Menendez (D-NJ) and 12 bipartisan cosponsors, the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017.” Press release is here; a pdf of the bill is here. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • (NEW IRAN SANCTIONS – BALLISTIC MISSILES) HR 1698: Introduced 3/23 by Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY) and 3 bipartisan cosponsors, “The Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act.” Royce’s press release is here; a pdf of the bill is here; his section-by-section summary of the bill is here. Referred to the following committees: Foreign Affairs; Financial Services; Judiciary; Ways and Means; Oversight and Government Reform. 

(US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) S. Res. 90 H. Res. 218:  Introduced 3/21 in the Senate by Purdue (R-GA) and 9 bipartisan cosponsors, and in the House by Lieu (D-CA) and 36 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations & the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively. Lieu press release is here – notes that the bill has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Jewish Committee, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, J Street, Jewish Federations of North America. Senate press release is here. 

(US $$ for DHS-ISRAEL CYBERSECURITY COOPERATION) S. 719:  Introduced 3/23 by Whitehouse (D-RI) and 4 bipartisan cosponsors, “A bill 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.” Referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. 

(US GULF ALLIES VS IRAN) HR 1619: Introduced 3/17 by Ruiz (D-CA), “To authorize assistance and training to increase maritime security and domain awareness of foreign countries bordering the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, or the Mediterranean Sea in order to deter and counter illicit smuggling and related maritime activity by Iran, including illicit Iranian weapons shipments.” Short title, the “Stop Iran From Smuggling Weapons to Terrorists Act.” Referred to House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

(IRAN LEADERSHIP – LAYING GROUNDWORK FOR MORE SANCTIONS) HR 1638: Introduced 3/20 by Poliquin (R-ME) and no cosponsors, the “Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act.” Referred to following committees: Financial Services; Foreign Affairs. 

(SUPPORTING US EFFORTS TO PROMOTE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE) H. Res. 226: Introduced 3/23 by Lee (D-CA) and Conyers (D-MI), “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding United States efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

(US ARMED FORCES IN THE SINAI) S.704: Introduced 3/23 by Cornyn (R-TX) and Klobuchar (D-MN), “A bill to provide that members of the Armed Forces performing services in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt shall be entitled to tax benefits in the same manner as if such services were performed in a combat zone.” Referred to the Committee on Finance. NOTE: In 2016 Cornyn previously introduced this bill in the Senate (S. 3732) and McCaul (R-TX) introduced a version in the House (HR 5924). 

(IRAN-NORTH KOREAN COOPERATION) HR 1644: Introduced 3/21 by Royce (R-CA) with 3 bipartisan co-sponsors, the “Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act.” Referred to the following House committees: Foreign Affairs; Ways and Means; Financial Services; Transportation and Infrastructure; Oversight and Government Reform; and Judiciary. The bill requires an annual report on cooperation between Iran and North Korea, including a determination whether Iranian conduct in this regard violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. 

(SYRIA SANCTIONS) HR XXX: On 3/22, Engel (D-NY) issued a press release announcing the reintroduction of “legislation that would impose new sanctions on Syria’s Assad regime and its supporters, encourage negotiations to end the six-year old crisis, and prompt investigations into the eventual prosecution of war criminals. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named for the former Syrian military photographer known as ‘Caesar’ who documented Assad’s horrific brutality, would also single out human rights violators, authorize transition assistance, and evaluate the potential for a no-fly or safe-zone over Syria.” As of this writing the bill does not appear to have been formally filed (not in the Congressional Record, no bill number or any other official record available) – stay tuned. Extensive details of the bill are included in the press release; also see this report in Al-Monitor

David Friedman confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel

On 3/23, the Senate voted to confirm David Friedman as the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel by a vote of 52-46.

All Senate Democrats – except for Menendez (D-NJ) and Manchin (D-WV) voted no.

A number of Democrats spoke on the Senate floor, urging their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to oppose this divisive nominee: Schatz (D-HI), Udall (D-NM), Franken (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Van Hollen (D-MD), and Cardin (D-MD).

Some ther Democrats issues statements following the vote: Carper (D-DE), Feinstein (D-CA)Warner (D-VA) 

Some GOP members issued press releases applauding the confirmation: Inhofe (R-OK), Moran (R-KS)Perdue (R-GA)


3/29: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled,“Testing the Limits: Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program, Sanctions, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”Scheduled witnesses are: Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service; Michael Eisenstadt, WINEP; and Elizabeth Rosenberg, CNAS. 

3/29: The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Greater Middle East.” The scheduled witness is General Joseph Votel, Commander, US Central Command. 

3/28: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The View from Congress: U.S. Policy on Iran.” Scheduled witnesses are: Michael Singh, WINEP; and Martin Indyk, Brookings. 

3/22: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing entitled, “Anti-Semitism Across Borders.” Witnesses were: Paul Goldenberg, Secure Community Network (“The national homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America & the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations”) (statement); Rabbi Andrew Baker, OSCE (statement); Mark Weitzman, Simon Wiesenthal Center (statement); and Stacey Burdett, ADL (statement). Chairman Smith’s (R-NJ) statement is here. And as expected, a theme running through this hearing was the conflation of criticism of Israel/Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. Video of the hearing is here.

3/21: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “America’s Role in the World.” Witnesses were Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (statement) and Former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley (statement). Video of the hearing is here.

On the Record

Rubio (R-FL) 3/20: Rubio Concludes Official Trip To Middle East With Visit To Israel
Lankford (R-OK) 3/20: Senator Lankford Returns from Middle East Intelligence Committee Trip (GOP members only) 
Rubio (R-FL) 3/19: Rubio Visits Jordan to Evaluate Efforts Abroad
Rohrabacher (R-CA) 3/17: Rohrabacher Cites Wide Public Support for Bill to Save Mideast Christians

Lara Friedman

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.