By Shirl McArthur, reposted from Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Oct. 2014
During Israel’s July-August onslaught against Gaza, members of Congress eagerly supported Israel’s “right” to slaughter a couple of thousand Palestinians and level much of Gaza’s infrastructure in the name of “self-defense.” At least eight bills and resolutions were introduced, of which four were passed, and no fewer than seven letters were sent to President Barack Obama or U.N. officials.
Bills supporting Israel’s “right” to “defend” itself
Legislatively, measures passed specifically supporting Israel’s “right” to “defend itself” included H.Res. 657, introduced July 8 by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and passed July 11 with 167 co-sponsors; S.Res. 498, introduced July 10 by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and passed July 17 with 80 co-sponsors; and S.Res. 526, introduced July 29 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with 8 co-sponsors, and passed the same day. Similar measures introduced included S.Res. 517, introduced July 24 by Graham with seven co-sponsors, and S.Res. 537, introduced by Graham on Aug. 1 with one co-sponsor.
Bills condemning Hamas “use of human shields”
Measures condemning Hamas’ alleged use of “human shields” were H.Con.Res. 107, introduced July 16 by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and passed July 30 with 103 co-sponsors, and S.Con.Res. 41, introduced July 24 by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) with 1 co-sponsor. Also, on July 10 Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), with 35 co-sponsors, introduced H.Res. 665 “condemning the murder of Israeli and Palestinian children in Israel.” While the title refers to Palestinian children, the text refers only to the three Israeli “children” who were kidnapped and murdered.
(Three bills were introduced July 9 directing the secretary of state to offer a reward of $5 million for information on the kidnapping and murder of one of the three settler “children,” U.S.-Israel dual citizen Naftali Fraenkel. Cruz introduced S. 2577 and S. 2579, and H.R. 5041 was introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) with seven co-sponsors.)
Letters included the July 23 letter to Obama signed by Sens. Graham, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) expressing their belief that “any viable cease-fire in Gaza must remove the threat to Israel posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels.” Similarly, on July 31, 149 representatives, led by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), signed a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging that the U.N. make removal of Hamas’s rocket arsenal a top priority, saying that “Hamas’s massive stores of rockets…are an absolute barrier to any long-term peace.”
Accepting at face value Israel’s claim that Palestinian civilian casualties resulted from Hamas using them as “human shields,” two letters were sent to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling on the U.N. to denounce the use of human shields. The House letter, originated by Reps. Israel and Ros-Lehtinen, was signed by 106 representatives. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a similar letter to Pillay on July 18.
After Ban had the nerve to call Israel’s destruction of a U.N. school in Gaza an “atrocious action,” five senators, led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), wrote to Ban on July 24 protesting his statement and claiming that an important fact is that “one side is trying to protect civilians while the other is deliberately trying to kill them.” On July 31, 35 senators, led by Boxer, signed a letter to Ban protesting the decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish a Commission of Inquiry into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.
More responsibly, on July 17 six representatives, led by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), wrote to Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry commending their efforts to facilitate a cease-fire agreement and calling on them to use “all diplomatic leverage to work vigorously with U.S. allies to urge for an end to the violence.”
Additional Iron Dome Funding Passed, With Heavy Israeli Involvement
H.J.Res. 76, appropriating $225 million in FY ’14 supplemental funds to the Defense Department “to assist the government of Israel with procurement of the Iron Dome defense system,” was passed by both the House and Senate on Aug. 1 (the day Congress left on its summer recess) and signed by Obama on Aug. 4. Behind those seemingly simple facts, however, was a series of maneuvers demonstrating Israel’s control over the U.S. Congress.
Previously, on July 23, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced S. 2648 to provide supplemental funds for Iron Dome as well as for several U.S. domestic purposes, including fighting wildfires and responding to the immigration crisis on the Mexican border. But it was blocked in the Senate by Republicans claiming that the funds were not offset by cuts elsewhere (thus leaving dealing with wildfires and the border situation unfunded). So on July 29 Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) with 21 co-sponsors introduced H.R. 5235, a “clean” bill to provide the Iron Dome funding. But his bill went nowhere, because congressional leaders had decided on a different path.
Meanwhile, tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu increased after White House and State Department spokesmen openly criticized Israel’s tactics in Gaza, especially the massive use of indiscriminate artillery fire, which was responsible for much of the civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza (and which had nothing to do with “human shields”). The White House and State Department were then surprised, and infuriated, to learn that a lower level Defense Department official had “routinely” approved Israel’s request to replenish its munitions, including artillery shells and Hellfire missiles, from “emergency” stocks pre-positioned in Israel. Obama then ordered that every request from Israel for U.S. arms be reviewed individually by higher level officials.
It has long been clear that Netanyahu doesn’t much care about good relations with Obama, because he feels he can rely on his many allies in Congress and the influential Zionist-American community to overcome any problems with the Obama administration. So, to thumb his nose at Obama and provide an overwhelming show of congressional support for Israel, Netanyahu dispatched Israeli officials to work to get the Iron Dome funding before the congressional recess, even though many experts believe Israel doesn’t need immediate Iron Dome replenishment.
The result was the decision by congressional leaders to adopt as a vehicle H.J. Res. 76, originally passed by the House in October 2013 as the “National Security Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution.” The Senate amended the measure by stripping it of its entire text, including the title, and inserting the Iron Dome provisions. Both the House and the Senate passed the amended version before leaving on their vacation. The House vote was 395-8, with 29 not voting. Voting “no” were Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Ellison, Walter Jones (R-NC), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jim Moran (D-VA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), and Mark Sanford (R-SC).
In a floor statement, Graham made it clear that Congress’ goal in approving the money quickly was to send a message to the administration to stop complaining to Israel about civilian casualties.
Boxer Introduces Revised U.S.-Israel Partnership Bill
As reported in previous issues, S. 462, introduced in March 2013 by Boxer, the Senate’s companion bill to the House-passed H.R. 938, the “U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership” bill, met resistance because of its provision that Israel be included in the visa waiver program. First, it would water down the key requirement of granting full reciprocity to U.S. citizens (Israel routinely refuses entry to Arab Americans and others thought to be sympathetic to the Palestinians). Second, it would relax the requirement for a low nonimmigrant refusal rate. Too many Israelis travel to the U.S. on tourist visas and then stay beyond the permitted time.
So, on July 28, Boxer introduced S. 2673, a revised “U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership” bill with a modified visa provision, which only partially meets the previous objections. It addresses the first objection by requiring that Israel grant full reciprocity to U.S. citizens and nationals “without regard to the race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity” of such persons. However, it still includes a provision allowing for a waiver of the requirement for a low nonimmigrant refusal rate. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pointed out that the provision would set a precedent for other countries. But the revised bill quickly gained co-sponsors, and now has 81, including Boxer.
One new pro-Israel bill was introduced. On May 30 Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) introduced H.R. 4776 “to prohibit an institution of higher education that participates in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia from receiving funds from the U.S. federal government.” This expands on the previously described H.R. 4009, introduced in February by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL), aimed at the American Studies Association for its decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which has made no progress.
Congress Still Obsessed With Iran Negotiations
Two new bills were introduced that would provide for congressional veto over any agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program. The most comprehensive is S. 2650, the “Iran Nuclear Negotiations” bill, introduced by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and 10 co-sponsors on July 23. In the House, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and 10 co-sponsors introduced H.R. 4967, the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Accountability” bill, on June 25. Both bills would establish a congressional review process, resulting in votes on a joint resolution of disapproval.
On July 9, 344 representatives signed a letter to Obama, originated by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Engel, urging him to consult with Congress regarding any agreement with Iran. It could be read as implying that any nuclear deal with Iran should also include non-nuclear issues. And on July 23 Franks, with nine co-sponsors, introduced H.Con.Res. 109 regarding the extension of the interim agreement with Iran. It would, among other things, request that the administration “begin immediate substantive consultations with Congress concerning what an acceptable comprehensive agreement must include.”
Also, on July 16, 28 Republican senators signed a letter to Obama originated by Ayotte expressing “serious concern” about Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and saying that “we believe the administration should not conclude any nuclear accord with Tehran without addressing the threat that Iranian missiles could pose to our nation.”
Two bills were introduced that would restrict or eliminate presidential waiver authority regarding Iran sanctions. S. 2667, the “Iran Sanctions Relief Certification” bill, was introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) with 11 co-sponsors on July 24. On July 28 Cruz introduced S. 2672, the “Sanction Iran, Safeguard America” bill.
One new Iran sanctions bill was introduced. On July 10 Kirk with two co-sponsors introduced S. 2585, the “Iran Human Rights Accountability” bill. It would “impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran to protect against human rights abuses in Iran.” Meanwhile, the previously described far-reaching and problematic S. 1881, introduced in December by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), has made no progress, and still has 60 co-sponsors, including Menendez.
Measures Targeting Hezbollah, PA And U.N. Get Some Attention
While Congress was mostly preoccupied with the coming elections and events in Gaza and Iran, other pro-Israel measures did get some attention. The previously described H.R. 4411, introduced in April by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), “to prevent Hezbollah and associated entities from gaining access to international financial and other institutions,” was passed by the House on July 22. When passed, it had 322 co-sponsors, including Meadows. This far-reaching bill is intended to shut down Hezbollah’s global logistics and financial network. Its companion bill in the Senate, S. 2329, introduced in May by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), now has 55 co-sponsors, including Shaheen.
One new anti-Palestinian, and anti-U.N., bill was introduced. On July 31 Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cruz introduced S. 2766, “to combat terrorism and promote reform in the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations.” In a press release Rubio said its purpose is to “combat PA and U.N. support for terrorism.” It would designate the PA as “Hamas-controlled,” enact far-reaching certification requirements to cut off U.S. funding to UNRWA and the UNHRC, and redirect to Israel any planned U.S. funding to the PA, UNRWA and UNHRC.
The previously described H.Res. 542, introduced in April by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), has gained another co-sponsor and now has 11, including Yoho. It would express “the sense of the House of Representatives that U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority should be suspended until Palestinian Authority Government resolutions relating to providing a monthly salary to anyone imprisoned in Israel’s prisons as a result of participation in the struggle against Israeli occupation are repealed.”
House Passes Bill to Limit U.S. Military Activities in Iraq
On July 25 the House passed an amended H.Con.Res. 105, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) on July 11. As passed it would prohibit “the president from deploying or maintaining U.S. Armed Forces in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific statutory authorization enacted after the date” of this measure. As introduced, the measure would have required the president to remove U.S. Armed Forces from Iraq, other than those required to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities. But, considering efforts to counter the threat of the self-designated “Islamic State,” the measure was amended, adding, among other things, the key (and ambiguous) word, “sustained.” When passed the measure had 10 co-sponsors, including McGovern. It was sent to the Senate on July 28, but has not been acted on. Also, on June 19 Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) introduced H.R. 4912 “to limit Department of Defense funds to support U.S. or Iraqi combat activities in or around Iraq.” It has no co-sponsors.
Separately, H.R. 4608, introduced in May by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), “to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force” act passed by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, has gained 3 co-sponsors, and now has 20, including Lee.
And the two previously described bills to “repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” have also gained co-sponsors. H.R. 3852, introduced by Lee in January, has gained 9 co-sponsors and now has 35, including Lee. S. 2395, introduced by Menendez in May, has gained five co-sponsors and now has eight, including Menendez.
Bill Introduced to Prohibit U.S. Military Aid to Egypt
On June 17 Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced S. 2477, the “Egyptian Military Coup” bill. It would suspend the provision of specified defense articles and services to Egypt until the U.S. president certifies that democratic elections have taken place in Egypt. Also, on July 23 Graham and six co-sponsors introduced S. 2649 “to provide certain legal relief from politically motivated charges by the Government of Egypt.” It would declare that, for purposes of U.S. law, “no verdict, order, warrant, or writ” issued by the Cairo Criminal Court on June 4 against 43 staff members of international nongovernmental organizations shall be considered valid.
Also, on July 24 retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) with 15 co-sponsors introduced H.R. 5194, the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation” bill. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. This bill would legislatively treat it as one. ❑
Shirl McArthur is a retired U.S. foreign service officer based in the Washington, DC area.
They Dared to Vote No These eight House members voted against additional Iron Dome funding:
Justin Amash (R-MI)
Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Walter Jones (R-NC)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Thomas Massie (R-KY)
Jim Moran (D-VA)
Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)