Obama and Congress Square Off on Israeli Settlements

by Lara Friedman

The campaign to legitimize Israeli settlements – through U.S. legislation conflating settlements and Israel – continues. In tandem with this campaign is a steady stream of reports about U.S. policy vis-à-vis settlements and the West Bank since 1967. Many of these reports – either out of incompetence or a deliberate effort to mislead – misrepresent the facts (to say the least). In response to the latest round of factually incorrect reports, on 2/16 APN published: Setting the Record Straight (again) on U.S. Labeling Policy – which includes both analysis and links to all the relevant U.S. government original source documents.

Bills & Resolutions

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – TRADE POLICY) HR 644: As noted in the last round-up, on 2/11 the Senate finally voted on the conference version of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, aka the Customs Bill, passing it by a vote of 75-20.  The conference version (i.e., the text agreed to by House and Senate representatives in a joint conference to iron out differences between their respective versions of the bill) was passed before the winter recess and had been sitting at the Senate desk awaiting a vote since that time. What happened next is the following:

  • On 2/23, when Congress returned to session after a week in recess, HR 644 was signed by the Speaker of the House and sent to the president.
  • AIPAC’s statement praising Congress for passing the measure (which, unsurprisingly, omits any mention of the settlements-related elements in the provision, portraying the provision, simply as an effort to “combat harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices,” is here).
  • On 2/24, HR 644 was signed into law by President Obama.
  • The chief advocates of the settlements=Israel language in the House and Senate – Roskam (R-IL) and Portman (R-OH) – issued statements (here and here, respectively) celebrating the signing the faux-anti-BDS provisions of the bill into law.
  • As long predicted (by this writer), when he signed HR 644, President Obama issued a signing statement saying, in effect, that the settlements=Israel provision of the law was unconstitutional and would not be implemented. For full analysis and commentary on that signing statement, see here or Section 2, below.
  • Speaker Ryan’s statement closed with an explicit threat to compel the Administration to enforce the settlements=Israel provision: “We will use our oversight capacity to ensure these measures are faithfully enforced.” It is worth noting that Roskam staffer Michael Shapiro recently made the move to Speaker Ryan’s office (opening para of the linked article: “Michael Shapiro was galvanized into pro-Israel work after witnessing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel at Columbia University, where he was studying in a joint program with Jewish Theological Seminary. Lobbying trips to Washington solidified his decision to move to Washington and work on his foreign policy passions through a conservative lens.”

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – TRADE POLICY) HR 4555: Introduced 2/12 by Lamborn (R-CO) and having 18 all-GOP cosponsors, “A bill to clarify the application of section 304 of the Tariff Act of 1930 as it relates to articles from areas of the West Bank and Gaza that are not administered by Israel.” The purpose of the bill is to retroactively make it U.S. policy that settlement goods are labeled as “made in Israel.” Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. Lamborn press release touting the bill is here.  Lamborn argues in that press release that, “this legislation is needed to clarify the labeling guidelines, as they were never intended to apply to Israeli controlled territory within the West Bank or Gaza, and were subject to final status negotiations.” This argument is entirely without foundation, as laid out in excruciating detail (with links to the relevant original U.S. government documents), here.

(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) H. Res. 551: Introduced 12/3 by Lieu (D-CA) and having 92 cosponsors, “Recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” Marked up by the Committee on Foreign Affairs 2/23 and reported out by unanimous consent. Lieu’s press release issued when the resolution was introduced is here – notably, in that press release there is no mention of BDS. Now, the resolution, while not amended in any way, is now being re-branded as a response to BDS, including in a Free Beacon article presenting the months-old resolution as a new initiative (and as a Free Beacon scoop). It was also portrayed this way in a report on the settler media outlet Arutz Sheva (a report derived from the Free Beacon article), entitled “Congress moves to ‘boost Israel ties, hammer BDS’” –  apparently pleased ith this re-branding, that article was re-posted on Lieu’s own website. In addition, Rep. “and-that’s-just-the-way-it -s” Poe (R-TX) weighed in with his support for the measure, here.

(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) S. Res. 383 (Senate version of H. Res. 551): Introduced 3/1 by Perdue (R-GA) and having 4 cosponsors as of this writing, “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.

(JEWS FROM ARAB LANDS + IRAN) HR 4664: Introduced 3/2 by Nadler and 15 cosponsors, the “Displaced Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran Act.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This bill, which requires the issue of Jewish refugees to be resolved as part of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, is a new iteration of H. Res. 185, passed back in 2008, updated to include Jews from Iran, and with some binding elements added. Aside from the addition of the issue of Jews from Iran (it is not clear how Congress expects that issue to resolved in the context of ARAB-Israeli peace efforts), what was true about H. Res. 185 is also true here: while other efforts in Congress have sought to make resolution of claims of Jews from Arab countries a condition for Israeli-Palestinian peace, this bill ties resolution of these claims to comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace efforts. As noted with respect to H. Res. 185, “This represents a significantly more responsible approach — i.e., one that does not create a new obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace by holding Israeli-Palestinian peace hostage to multilateral negotiations between Jewish refugees and the countries against which they may wish to lodge claims.”  The same analysis applies to HR 4664 – although, bizarrely, the new formulation now appears to hand Iran (a country that is an adversary not only of Israel but of many of Arab regimes) veto power over any comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace. Nadler et al press release on the bill is here.

(AUMF AGAINST HAMAS & HIZBALLAH) H. J. Res. 84: Introduced 3/2 by Perry (R-PA) and Salmon (R-AZ), “To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against organizations that support Islamist extremism, and for other purposes.” Consistent with the Netanyahu worldview, the resolution explicitly equates Hamas and Hizballah with ISIS and other groups, noting: “The list of organizations described in this subsection are the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Nusrah Front, the Haqqani-Network, the Taliban, Houthi’s [sic], Khorasan Group, Hamas, Hezbollah, and any substantial supporters, associated forces, or closely related successor entities to any of such organizations.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(SYRIA WAR CRIMES) H. Con. Res. 121: Introduced 3/1 by Smith (R-NJ) and 3 cosponsors, “Expressing the sense of the Congress condemning the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict in Syria, and asking the President to direct his Ambassador at the United Nations to promote the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes could be addressed.Marked up 3/2 in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and reported out by Unanimous Consent.

(AMERICANS HELD IN IRAN) H. Res. 148: Introduced 3/10/15 by Deutch (D-FL) and having 34 cosponsors, “Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States hostage in our Nation’s history.” Marked up in and reported out by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs 2/24. Brought to the floor under suspension of the rules 2/29 and passed by voice vote. Floor consideration 2/29 is here (statements from Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL; Smith, R-NJ; and Deutch, D-FL). Deutch press release on committee passage of the bill is here. Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) statement here.


(VISA WAIVER PROGRAM & DUAL NATIONALS) Durbin et al letter: On 2/12, Senator Durbin (D-IL) and 12 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seeking guidance on the issuance of waivers for individuals who are dual nationals of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program and Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. The letter states, “Notably, the prohibition on dual nationals [passed as part of recent legislation] applies to individuals who were born in VWP countries and have never traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, but who are nationals of one of these countries solely because of their ancestry.  We support reforming the VWP, but singling people out based on their national origin does not make us safer, is inconsistent with American values, and invites discrimination against American citizens who are dual nationals.” Press release on the letter is here.

(CONFIRM ADAM SZUBIN) Senate Banking Committee Dems letter: On 2/22, all 10 of the Democrats on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs sent a letter urging Chairman Shelby (R-AL) to stop obstructing President Obama’s nominees for critical Administration positions related to financial oversight, national security, export financing, and public transportation safety, including Adam Szubin. The letter notes, “The nominees include Adam Szubin, who was appointed in April 2015 to serve as Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes at the Treasury Department. Szubin is currently serving in the position in an acting capacity. The post is essential to enforcing U.S. sanctions laws against countries like North Korea, Iran, and Russia, as well as to choking off funding to ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations.”

(US FUNDING FOR ETHIOPIAN CITIZENS OF ISRAEL?) Hastings/Murphy letter: This week, Reps. Hastings (D-FL) and Murphy (D-FL) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to the Appropriations Committee ForOps Subcommittee chair and ranking member – Granger (R-TX) and Lowey (D-NY), respectively. The letter asks them to include in the FY17 ForOps report language (accompanying the ForOps bill) a recommendation that the State Department provide $12 million in ESF funding “for the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) and its mission of advancing the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society.” The U.S. does not provide ESF to Israel (which ranks 33rd on the list of wealthiest countries), so these funds would come out of the small pot of un-earmarked ESF funding available in the annual ForOps bill.

With Obama Signing Statement, the Conflation Campaign Must Stop

Following President Obama’s issuance if his signing statement on HR 644, APN published my analysis/commentary on February 26:

On February 24th, Congress sent HR 644, known as the “Customs Bill,” to President Obama’s desk. As we has been reporting for the past year, this bill includes a provision that, while ostensibly about countering the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, is in truth about legitimizing settlements and for the first time in history legislating U.S. support for and defense of Israel’s settlement enterprise and the occupation that enables it. The provision achieves this by conflating Israel and the occupied territories, in effect requiring the U.S. to treat both as sovereign Israel.

As long predicted by APN, when President Obama signed HR 644 into law shortly after it reached his desk, he issued a signing statement [text of statement is here] observing (correctly) that the conflation of Israel and settlements contradicts longstanding U.S. foreign policy and violates the Executive’s constitutional foreign policy prerogative, and declaring that this conflation would not be implemented.

Like President George W. Bush, who in 2002 issued a similar signing statement in response to a Congressional effort to change longstanding U.S. foreign policy regarding Jerusalem, President Obama deserves credit for defending the Executive’s prerogative in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy. This prerogative was confirmed emphatically and to a degree unprecedented in U.S. history by the Supreme Court last year. The Court did so, ironically, in its ruling on the Jerusalem law that President Bush declared unconstitutional.

These two cases – Congress seeking to legislate a change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem and now on settlements –highlight why the drafters of the Constitution vested foreign policy in the hands of the executive, where it is to a greater degree insulated from reckless efforts that, for the purposes of grandstanding and populist point scoring, would move U.S. foreign policy in a direction that is anathema to U.S. national security interests.

APN has followed, reported on, and vociferously opposed the “settlements=Israel” provision in the Customs Bill since its inception, along with similar provisions in other legislation. APN has also repeatedly raised concerns about AIPAC and other Jewish community groups who advocated and lobbied for this provision, and their consistently dishonest or disingenuous insistence that it is merely about BDS.

The fact that AIPAC and its fellow travelers have actively sought to obscure the real intent of these legislative efforts, hiding behind false claims that these measures are merely about stopping BDS, underscores their own awareness of the fact that openly advocating for settlements would find little support among the same American Jews they claim to represent. Indeed, such a campaign would likely divide the American Jews to a degree unseen since the early 1990s, when AIPAC opposed then-Prime Minister Rabin’s efforts, backed by President Clinton, to launch the peace process with the Palestinians.

Looking ahead, it is clear that advocates of the settlements plan to continue to try to exploit concerns about BDS against Israel to legislate the “settlements=Israel” conflation wherever they can. Numerous pieces of legislation are pending in Congress, including measures that are expected to be key “asks” in next month’s AIPAC policy conference. Likewise, numerous states are considering, and some have already passed, their own “settlements=Israel” measures.

It’s not too late for AIPAC and other groups to desist from this dishonest campaign and cease efforts to hijack concerns about BDS against Israel in order to legitimize settlements. It’s not too late for them to recognize that by refusing to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories, they are only making common cause with and strengthening the BDS movement. They are, in effect, advocating for a mirror image of the outcome sought by many in BDS movement: a zero-sum goal of one nation, Greater Israel or Palestine, extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Failing that, AIPAC and others backing this campaign, both at the federal and state level, must come clean to legislators and the American people about the real purpose of these efforts: not combating BDS but legitimizing settlements and the occupation. At least, then, Americans and American Jews who care about Israel – including elected officials – could have an honest debate about what is being proposed and what is at stake.

APN will continue to track, report on, and vociferously oppose all such measures. APN will likewise continue to both oppose BDS against Israel and support boycotts and other activism targeting settlements and the occupation.

This article appeared originally on the website of Americans for Peace Now and is reposted here with permission.

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.



  1. A superb, and extremely worrisome, overview by Ms. Friedman. Parsing words, lawfare, distraction/diversion, skillful spreading of an evil-initentioned agenda through a broad swath of the fabric of “legislators”: the Zionists, led here by AIPAC, are masters of their trade. If only the lawfare frenzy to further the Zionist enterprise were “diverted” to crucial domestic infrastructural et al needs, the dysfunction of our “legislature” and our country would lessen overnight.

    As an absolute minimum, Ms. Friedman and other intellectuals should generate their own “frenzy” to require AIPAC’s registration as an agent of a foreign government (FARA) rather than posturing merely as a “domestic” lobbying group among the many Beltway Bandits holding sway over the awful reality of (Israel-occupied) WashDC

  2. Is it fair to say American news media in effect encourage Israel to violate international law, by deliberately failing to report the story accurately? Is foolishness by American politicians fostered by news media?

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