Published on April 23rd, 2016 | by Lara Friedman1
Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia on the Hill
by Lara Friedman
[As we have over the past few months, 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.]
Shameless plug: APN’s Lara Friedman in the New York Times 4/10: Israel’s Unsung Protector: Obama
(NOTE: This article was referenced by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson in the HFAC hearing 4/13, at 46:25 in the video)
Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
(SUPPORTING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE) H. Res. 686: Introduced 4/18 by Yarmuth (D-KY) and currently having 6 cosponsors, “Expressing support for efforts to enhance Israeli security and create the conditions for progress toward a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. J Street is strongly supporting this resolution, which was introduced in conjunction with its conference this week inWashington. According to House staff, AIPAC is actively lobbying against the resolution. On 4/21, in an unusual move, Rep. Lowey (D-NY) – who along with Granger (R-TX) led the recent letter regarding action at the UN which was supported by both AIPAC and J St – circulated a Dear Colleague letter to other House offices rejecting any link between her letter and H. Res. 686, stating her opposition to H. Res. 686, and explicitly discouraging colleagues from cosponsoring it.
(NO UNSC ACTION OF ANY KIND, PAST OR FUTURE, ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE!) H. Con. Res. 128 & S. Con. Res. 35: Introduced in the House 4/15 and in the Senate 4/19, “Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should continue to exercise its veto in the United Nations Security Council on resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” The House version was introduced by Lamborn (R-CO) and Graham (D-FL); the Senate version was introduced by Rubio (R-FL) and Manchin (D-WV), and since introduction has added 5 more GOP cosponsors (and no Democrats). The identical resolutions are premised on the statement that “the United States Government should continue to uphold its practice of vetoing any United Nations Security Council resolution that inserts the Council into the peace process, unilaterally recognizes a Palestinian state, makes declarations concerning Israeli controlled territories, or dictates terms and a timeline for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” Unfortunately for the drafters, this statement is demonstrably inaccurate: since 1967, the U.S. has voted in favor of or abstained on numerous UNSC resolutions concerning “Israeli controlled territories” and otherwise inserting the Council into the peace process, including under President Reagan, Bush I and Bush II (as noted in this New York Times op-ed). Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations. As of this writing, it appears that both resolutions are likely to have a strongly partisan tilt (and as of this writing, neither resolution appears on AIPAC’s website). Rubio’s press release is here; Lamborn’s press release is here.
(NO ACCESS TO US $$ OR FINANCIAL MARKETS FOR IRAN) HR 4992: Introduced 4/19 by Royce (R-CA) (and since then Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, and Costello, R-PA, have come on as cosponsors), “To codify regulations relating to transfers of funds involving Iran, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. Royce’s press release touting the bill states that the purpose of the bill is, “to prevent the Obama administration from allowing Iranaccess to transactions involving the U.S. dollar as long as the Iranian regime continues to engage in illicit activities, including the development of ballistic missiles and terrorism.” The bill, like other similar bills introduced recently on this same subject, appears to be having trouble attracting support from Democrats, as highlighted in this report from Al Monitor: Fight over Iran’s access to dollars takes partisan turn
(NO ACCESS TO US $$ OR FINANCIAL MARKETS FOR IRAN) HR 4995: Introduced 4/19 by Roskam (R-IL), Pompeo (R-KS) and Zeldin (R-NY), the “Preventing Iran’s Access to United States Dollars Act of 2016” (aka – I kid you not, this is the text of the actual link of Roskam’s press release – “No Dollars for Ayatollahs”). Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services. This is the companion bill to S. 2752, introduced 4/6 by Rubio (R-FL) and Kirk (R-IL), and having a total of 6 all-GOP cosponsors (including Rubio and Kirk). The bill, like other similar bills introduced recently on this same subject, appears to be having trouble attracting support from Democrats, as highlighted in this report from Al Monitor: Fight over Iran’s access to dollars takes partisan turn
(US-ISRAEL COOPERATIVE PROGRAMS IN NDAA) HR 4909: Introduced 4/12 by Thornberry (R-TX), the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.” While the bill text (as of this writing) does not specifically mention US-Israel cooperative military programs, this is the bill that authorizes that annual funding. During a 4/21 markup of the bill in the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Subcommittee Chairman Rogers (R-AL) delivered anopening statement laying out his funding priorities in the bill, ending with the following: “…And, most significantly to me, we have recommended to the Chairman…full funding of the request of our allies in Israel, $600.7 million, for co-development and co-production of Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow 3.” NOTE: This funding is separate from and in addition to Israel’s regular $3.1 billion in annual military aid (FMF provided under the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill). Also note: keep an eye on HR 4909; floor action on the NDAA has become an annual ritual of Middle East/Iran-focused grandstanding amendments.
(LIMIT MUNITIONS TO KSA) H. J. Res. 90: Introduced 4/20 by Lieu (D-CA) and Yoho (D-FL), “A joint resolution to provide limitations on the transfer of certain United States munitions from theUnited States to Saudi Arabia.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
($5 BILLION IN ANNUAL MILITARY AID TO ISRAEL) Jolly-Graham letter: On 4/20, Reps. Jolly (R-FL) and Graham (F-FL) sent a letter, signed by a bipartisan list of 51 cosponsors, urging President Obama to increase military assistance to Israel from the current $3.1 billion a year to a whopping $5 billion a year. This is the amount Netanyahu has reportedly requested (with a total population of around 7 million citizens, this works out to the equivalent of an annual subsidy of $714 for every Israeli man, woman, and child). It is worth noting that $5 billion is more than the total amount of military assistance appropriated by Congress in FY16 for the entire world [FY16 funding for worldwide Foreign Military Financing (FMF) was $4,737,522,000]. Which means, apart from whether this amount actually reflects the security needs of Israel, funding it would require effectively zero-ing out every other military assistance program in the world and/or massively increasing overall FMF annual funding (at a time when Congress is cutting funding in most accounts, including core domestic programs).
(MAKE HUMAN RIGHTS A PRIORITY WITH KSA) Rubio-Durbin letter: On 4/19, Senators Rubio (R-FL), Durbin (D-IL), Johnson (R-WI), Leahy (D-VT) and Risch (R-ID) sent a letter to President Obama expressing, “concern regarding the Government of Saudi Arabia’s continued treatment of human rights advocates, particularly the documented prosecutions of non-violent activists who are engaging in freedom of expression.” The letter warns that “unless you make these issues a priority during your trip, human rights abuses will continue to occur with impunity and the full potential of the U.S.-Saudi relationship will continue to be impeded.” Press release is here.
(DEFEND ISRAEL BY…BARRING $$$ FOR INTL CLIMATE CHANGE EFFORTS) Barrasso et al letter: In the most brazenly opportunistic and cynical exploitation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by members of Congress in memory, on 4/18 Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) and 27 GOP colleagues sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he stop all U.S. funding to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and all related entities (in effect, all or virtually all international bodies dealing with climate change), and stating that if Obama fails to do so, he will be violating U.S. law.
- The law in question is the legislative anachronism that requires the U.S. to cut off funding to any UN body that recognizes the Palestinians as a state – and, indeed, on March 17, 2016, the State of Palestine officially became a member of the UNFCCC (a right automatically given to the Palestinians when the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state back in November 2012).
- This is the same legislative anachronism that required the U.S. to pull all funding from – and give up influence in – UNESCO – a body, which, coincidentally, this week outraged Israelis by passing a resolution recognizing historic and religious sites located in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “Palestinian”; one wonders if the resolution might have looked different had the U.S. been in a position to play a leadership role in its shaping and political course (for more background, check out the Daily Show’s incredibly entertaining and politically incisive treatment of the UNESCO debacle: America’s Problem with UNESCO Pt. 1; America’s Problem with UNESCO Pt. 2).
- With respect to the current issue, Barrasso is an avowed climate change skeptic, and most of the co-signers of the letter are likewise climate change skeptics or outright climate change deniers – but the letter pretends that this is not the issue at all, professing with transparently false sincerity only outrage over Palestinian actions and concern about Israeli-Palestinian peace, including: “The accession of the Palestinians to the UNFCCC and its efforts to secure full membership in other UN affiliated organizations undermine those negotiations and make achieving a comprehensive peace agreement more difficult.”
- Wicker’s (R-MI) press release in support of the letter is here. Barrasso made the same arguments this week in an oped on FoxNewsand a floor statement, here.
- Ironically, Israel is a leading voice in the international community when it comes to recognizing the threat of climate change; back at the Climate Change Conference in December 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called climate change on of the “pivotal issues of our time” (the Israeli MFA’s backgrounder on the event is here).
- For more on this effort to hijack supposed support for Israel for ulterior political motives, see: Senate Republicans Want To Cut Funding For UN Climate Change Agency, Because Palestine – Two birds, one stone.
(ANTI-SEMITISM ON CAMPUS) Bipartisan Taskforce letter: On 4/15, members of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism sent a letter to Secretary of Education King raising the alarm about anti-Semitism on campus. The letter warns that “The Department’s policies must continually evolve to meet the changing manifestation of certain biases to avoid new elements of prejudice. For example, anti-Semitic intimidation, harassment, and discrimination are manifested not only in easily recognizable anti-Semitic slurs but also in anti-Semitism masked as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment.” The letter closes with a list of questions about how the Department of Education is dealing with this issue. A number of members issued press releases on the letter, including: Deutch (D-FL), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Lowey (D-NY), Engel (D-NY)
4/19: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a joint hearing entitled [I kid you not], “Israel Imperiled: Threats to the Jewish State.” And it went exactly as one might have expected. Witnesses were: Michael Rubin, AEI (testimony), Johnathan Schanzer, FDD (testimony), David Makovsky, WINEP (testimony) and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brookings (testimony). Video is here. Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) statement is here. The Israel Project’s “The Tower” report on the hearing: Former Treasury Official: Same Network That Funded Hamas in U.S. Backs Boycotts of Israel
4/19: The Senate Banking Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal.” Scheduled witnesses were: Mark Dubowitz (FDD), Matthew Levitt (WINEP), Michael Elleman IISS), and Elizabeth Rosenberg (CNAS). The hearing was POSTPONED, with the new date not yet announced.
4/19: The Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Capitol Hill entitled, “Anticipating and Preventing Deadly Attacks on European Jewish Communities.” Witnesses were: Rabbi Andrew Baker (AJC and OSCE – testimony); Jonathan Biermann (Belgian Jewish community – testimony); John Farmer (Rutgers University – testimony); and Paul Goldenberg (Secure Community Network – testimony). Video of the hearing is here; transcript is here.
On the Record
Rubio (R-FL) 4/21: Floor statement on the need for Obama to make human rights a central focus of his visit to Saudi Arabia (echoing the Rubio-Durbin letter, discussed in Section 1, above)
Corker (R-TN) 4/21: Corker Talks to Syrian Opposition Leader as Geneva Peace Talks Appear to Collapse
Ryan (R-WI) 4/21: Is Secretary Kerry about to give Iran access to the dollar this Friday?
Gohmert (R-TX) 4/21: Another classic Gohmert rant (with Massie, R-KY, chiming in along the way) against the JCPOA (insisting yet again that it is a treaty and demanding a Senate confirmation vote) and Obama (among other things suggesting Obama is ignorant about Islam and taking this opportunity to school him on the truth), and for good measure defending North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law (excerpt: “Some day it will be written in the ‘Rise and Fall of the United States’ that the greatest, freest, and most powerful country in the history of the world showed symptoms of insanity when it reached the pinnacle of its greatness and success–and this will be one of the symptoms that was written about–that they thought they were so much smarter than civilization for most of our history of the world that a difference was recognized between men and women for purposes of facilities. It is a sad day for the country.”)
Jones (R-NC) 4/20: “Jones calls on Obama not to bow to Saudi king”
Brown (D-OH): “…The bottom line is Republicans in Congress need to stop holding our national security apparatus hostage to political demands. We need to allow Adam Szubin and other national security nominees to be approved. The Senate needs to do its job.”
Donnelly (D-IN) 4/20: “…At a time when our sanctions regimes are critical to countering Iran’s ballistic missile program, North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, and Russia’s renewed aggression, and at a time when U.S. military personnel are serving in harm’s way in locations around the world, combatting ISIS and Al Qaeda and their affiliates, the Senate is undermining the ability of one of our Nation’s top counter-terrorism officials to do his job. By failing to act on the nomination of Mr. Szubin, who people on both sides of the aisle agree is the perfect person for the job, we are undermining his credibility with the very countries we need on our side to effect these sanctions and to cut off funding flows to terrorists.”
Cotton (R-AR): “…until President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Lew publicly and conclusively renounce any intent to allow Iran to dollarize a foreign transaction, I will object to this nomination.” (Translation: He will not permit the Senate to confirm Adam Szubin until the Obama Administration, in effect, reneges on the JCPOA)
Heitkamp (D-ND) 4/20: “If we are serious about enforcing sanctions against Iran and defeating terrorist organizations such as ISIL and Al Qaeda, we have to stop the financing of terrorism. That means we need Adam Szubin to be able to do his job at the U.S. Department of Treasury.”
Statements applauding the Supreme Court’s ruling on U.S. victims of Iran-backed terror 4/20:Roskam (R-IL), Kirk (R-IL), Whitehouse (D-RI), Menendez (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Engel (D-NY), Pompeo (R-KS), Cook (R-CA), Ryan (R-WI), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Hoyer (D-MD)
Boozman (R-AR) 4/20: Weekly column – The Obama Administration’s Iran Deal Two-Step
McCarthy (R-CA) 4/19: Iran Shouldn’t Have Access to the U.S. Dollar
Cornyn (R-TX) 4/19: Making the case for passage of S. 2040, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, and criticizing the Obama Administration for opposing the bill to protect Saudi Arabia (something he implies is bad), while also in effect criticizing the Obama Administration for sacrificing Saudi Arabia in favor of the JCPOA (which he implies is also bad) – a two-fer!
Cotton (R-AR) 4/19: Cotton Delivers Weekly Republican Address (including attacking the Obama Administration over the JCPOA)
Statements condemning the Jerusalem bus bombing 4/18-4/19: Engel (D-NY), Hastings (D-FL),Cicilline (D-RI), Frankel (D-FL), Israel (D-NY), Nadler (D-NY), Donovan (R-NY), Meeks (D-NY),Rangel (D-NY), Lieu (D-CA),
Gohmert (R-TX) 4/19: A typically meandering Gohmert floor speech attacking the Obama Administration, mainly over the JCPOA and related Iran policies, including recent moves to address the issue of state-level sanctions that may be in conflict with the JCPOA (and quoting an article in PJ Media that specifically cites the Israel Project’s Omri Ceren, who – as noted in the last Round-Up – is sending daily talking points and selected background materials to journalists to drum up the case against the Obama Administration’s ongoing JCPOA-related policies).
MacArthur (R-NJ) 4/18: MacArthur Calls for Aegis Ashore Site to Protect East Coast from Ballistic Missiles(citing Iranian threat, among others)
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/18: Despite U.S. Engagement At UNESCO, Disgraced Body’s Executive Board Adopts Measure Dismissing Jewish Ties To Temple Mount, Jerusalem [ironic given her adamant insistence on no flexibility about the US de-funding UNESCO – a move that vastly undermined U.S. influence in that body].
Ryan (R-WI) 4/18: From the Speaker’s Blog (signed by Michael Shapiro) – “The Administration Should Rule Out Additional Concessions to Iran” (same talking points as new Royce Bill – HR 4992 – seeking to block Iranian access to US dollars and US financial markets)
Zeldin (R-NY) 4/15: Statement Condemning Growing BDS Movement on College Campuses Across America
Pompeo (R-KY) 4/15: Pompeo Criticizes Visit by Iranian Banker with History of Terrorism Support and Scandal