While America struggles with crises in health care, hunger, and homelessness, Congress has found the time to entertain over four dozen bills and resolutions that cater to a wealthy, heavily-armed state: Israel.
by Kathryn Shihadah
On January 3rd, 2019, freshly-elected United States Senators and Representatives took the oath of office before beginning their work of legislating for their country. One phrase of the oath includes the promise to “defend the Constitution.” How odd, then, that the first order of business for the new Senate was not a call to end the government shutdown, boost the economy, or improve health care.
The Senate’s first bill of the year focused on the interests of a foreign country, advancing policy that is costly to US taxpayers – and unconstitutional.
Our Senators chose to prioritize the State of Israel.
S.1, the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019,” proposes legislation that would authorize $38 billion in aid to Israel over the next ten years, and protect the Israeli government from boycott.
Three additional bills supporting Israeli interests came up that first day, all in the House, and a total of at least eleven in Congress’ first month. In under a year, 47 of our 535 legislators (9%) have penned well over fifty pieces of favorable legislation about Israel.
In that same time, two bills addressing Palestinian needs have been proposed in the House; the Senate has heard none.
For the sake of comparison, consider Saudi Arabia, another close ally of the United States – so close that our governments maintained friendly relations despite the fact that nearly all of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi nationals. In 2019, our Congress introduced about sixty bills and resolutions about Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of which criticized its government’s policies.
For example, a number of bills expressed disapproval of arms sales to Saudi Arabia; others rebuked the kingdom for its human rights abuses, violence against journalists, and failure to uphold freedom of the press; still others called for the US to exit the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.
Israel, on the other hand, was the subject of dozens of supportive, even complimentary pieces of legislation – although Israel, like Saudi Arabia, is guilty of human rights abuses, has committed hundreds of violations against Palestinian journalists, and is violently engaging with its neighbors.
While the Saudi kingdom finances its own actions, Israel is accomplishing its brutality with the help of $10 million per day in US military aid.
The sheer quantity – and expense – of the advocacy work that our Congress has done in 2019 on behalf of this pariah state are staggering: consider the hours spent in meetings, negotiation, research, and floor debates, the trips and calls to Israel, to name a few.
But nothing is as stunning as a perusal of the legislation itself.
Below are brief descriptions and background on the two pieces of legislation addressing the Palestinian issue, and some of the many Israel-centric bills under consideration in 2019. (One bill has become law; several resolutions have been passed – these are noted. Others are in committee as of this writing. Click on the bill’s number to find out if the status has changed.)
If Americans Knew will soon offer detailed information on the Israel-related performance of those legislators who are up for re-election in 2020 (including how they voted on each piece of legislation below). Let the constituents then choose what is to be done.
Palestine remembered (in the House)
One House bill has been introduced that addresses the Palestinian issue straightforwardly; one resolution indirectly. No one has introduced similar legislation in the Senate – even presidential candidates Sanders and Warren, who claim to promote Palestinian rights, have failed to raise the subject.
H.R.2407 (Rep. Betty McCollum [D-MN-4], 4/30/19), “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” nicknamed “No Way To Treat A Child,” seeks to protect Palestinian children from incarceration and torture by Israel using US aid money. It does not seek to end the practice, only American complicity in the practice. (Read more about the bill here.)
H.Res.496 (Rep. Ilhan Omar [D-MN-5], 7/16/19), “Affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,” recalls that “Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad,” and (without mentioning Israel) “opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad.”
In other words, this bill supports the right of Americans to take part in a political practice long used by Americans across the political spectrum, and does not mention Israel or Palestine.
The Zionist Organization of America denounced this bill too, as did other groups. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA-3) called the legislation “clearly anti-Semitic: and “a disgrace to our nation and one of its closest allies.” Higgins demanded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publicly condemn the resolution (she did not.)
This is the full list of bills and resolutions that seek a modicum of justice for a people who have endured 70+ years of marginalization, 50+ years of illegal occupation, and 12+ years of illegal blockade.
US-Israel “security cooperation” legislation
On the subject of “security cooperation” (largely a euphemism for bills that support Israel militarily using American taxpayer money), our House currently is considering eleven Israel-friendly bills and resolutions; the Senate has entertained one (S.1, mentioned above).
H.R.2488 (Rep. David Cicilline [D-RI-1], 5/2/19), the “US-Israel Cybersecurity Center of Excellence Act,” calls for a “report on potential benefits and impact to the United States of establishing a joint United States-Israel cybersecurity center of excellence” and seeks to “leverage the experience, knowledge, and expertise of institutions of higher education, private sector entities, and government entities in the area of cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure” (the Senate has a twin bill, S.2309 – Sen. Jacky Rosen [D-NV], 7/29/19).
What troubles some experts about H.R.2488 and S.2309 is the fact that Israel can not be considered a trustworthy ally with which to share cybersecurity secrets. Israel’s history includes spying on the US, infringing on the decisions of our President, and attacking an American warship.
H.R.1837 (Rep. Theodore Deutch [D-FL-22], 3/21/19 – passed House), the “US-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act,” authorizes the Department of State to work with Israel on research and development of directed energy capabilities (i.e. laser weapons). H.R.1795 (Rep. Ted Lieu [D-CA-33], 3/14/19) similarly authorizes the Department of Defense (more here).
H.R.1837 also authorizes US-Israeli cooperative projects to address challenges in third world countries – for example, challenges related to water resources.
At the same time that Israel nobly helps needy countries manage their water resources better, it is perpetrating a water catastrophe in the Palestinian territories. For example, Israel forbids Palestinians from digging wells or running water pipes on their own land (although the Israeli government provides running water to illegal settlements); instead, Israel sells water to Palestinians – at some of the highest prices in the world. In August 2018, Israeli warplanes destroyed a water and sanitation system in Gaza – a breach of international law. These are just a few of many incidents in which Israel has used water as a weapon.
Section 2 of H.R.1837 would give the President authority to send Israel an unlimited quantity of arms in the event of “existing or imminent military threat to Israel.” There would be no Congressional oversight – the only condition would be that the President notify Congress after the transfer has been made.
H.R.4156 (Rep. Mark Meadows [R-NC-11], 8/2/19), the “America Stands With Israel Act,” essentially repeats Section 2 of H.R.1837, giving the President carte blanche in transfer of military goods and services to Israel whenever he determines Israel needs it, without permission from Congress.
The bill is particularly troubling in that the bill also would explicitly authorize the President “to use force and introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances,” after which he must inform Congress. In other words, Americans in the military to defend their country may be put in harm’s way for a foreign country – without the declaration-of-war checks and balances spelled in the Constitution.
H.R.1459 (Rep. Mark Meadows [R-NC-11] 2/28/19), the “U.S.-Israel Cooperation Expansion Act,” is legislation about cooperative security and law enforcement training between the US and Israel. Its objective is to “promote security against terrorism, peaceful resolutions to community disputes, and the protection of spaces for civil society,” and to share “best practices relating to anti-terrorism, community policing, and managing mass casualties.”
According to deadlyexchange.org,
Thousands of the highest ranking police officials and law enforcement executives across the country have participated in the exchange programs…
In these programs, “worst practices” are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing practices that already exist in both countries, including extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.[D]espite their branding as top-tier counter-terrorism experts, Israeli police and security agents regularly violate civil rights, and implement racist and deadly policies.
Amnesty International reports that “since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).” It goes on to announce that the trainings “U.S. law enforcement employees in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years.”
Members of the Ferguson, Missouri police department attended training (sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League) in Israel three years before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown that led to the 2014 riots.
In 2011, the ADL assembled leaders from some of America’s largest police departments, along with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the weeklong training. The instruction included members of the Israeli National Police, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and other Israeli intelligence organizations.
Michael Brown was neither the first nor the last Black victim of Israeli-trained American police. According to journalist Domenica Ghanem, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was also killed by an Israel-trained Chicago police officer; the Baltimore officer who killed 25-year-old Freddie Gray was similarly trained.
H.R.1459 would extend this training.
S.1 (Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL] 1/3/19 – passed Senate), the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019” (mentioned above), seeks “[t]o make improvements to certain defense and security assistance provisions and to authorize the appropriation of funds to Israel, to reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015, and to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, and for other purposes.”
The brief phrase, “to authorize the appropriation of funds to Israel,” refers to a ten-year military aid package that will amount to a minimum of $38 billion (for more on this aid package – which is not generally reported on in mainstream media – read here and here).
Those “other purposes” mentioned in the legislation include the sabotage of First Amendment rights, the protection of unconstitutional state laws, and the conflation of “Israel” with “Israeli-controlled territories” – that is, illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land (more about the “Combating BDS Acts” below).
Sen. Rubio explained that the bill would “empower state and local governments in the United States to counter the…discriminatory economic warfare against the Jewish state.”
In other words, the bill would empower local governments to interfere with Americans’ right to boycott entities they wish to change; a traditional civil strategy used by Americans across the political spectrum – one that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.
More than half of US states have unconstitutional anti-BDS laws in place; this legislation would, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “encourage states to create the very laws that three federal courts have blocked on free speech grounds.” Elsewhere the ACLU declared, “The legislation, like the unconstitutional state anti-boycott laws it condones, sends a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government.”
The bill also mandates that NASA work with Israel’s space agency, despite charges of Israeli espionage.
H.R.3186 (Rep. Mikie Sherrill, [D-NJ-11], 6/10/19), the “U.S.-Israel Indirect Fire Protection Act of 2019,” ”authorizes the Department of the Army to procure two Iron Dome batteries by September 30, 2020.” Iron Dome is “an air defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells.”
Wording in the bill includes,
The Iron Dome system is now a fielded, battle-tested capability in Israel…Chief of Staff of the Army General Mark Milley stated, “The Iron Dome is a very capable system. It has basically a 100 percent track record in combat. We clearly need it to protect our formations, and we are buying the two batteries.”
The words “battle-tested” and “combat” refer to Israel’s use of the Iron Dome against largely homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip – a tiny area under complete land, air, and sea blockade by Israel. In addition to its Iron Dome defensive strategy, Israel also employs sharpshooters against unarmed demonstrators, airstrikes that kill civilians indiscriminately, marine attacks on Gazan fishermen, and land invasions. Since the rockets began in 2001, they have killed about 50 Israelis; Israel has in the same time period killed over 7,000 Palestinians in Gaza alone.
There is also some question as to whether the Iron Dome is effective – or cost-effective, and why the US should pay for the system after it invested at least $5.5 billion in its development. Philip Giraldi, former CIA counterterrorism specialist, suggests, “the two batteries should be freely provided to the U.S. Army as a thank you from the grateful people of Israel for the unprecedented financial aid totaling $134 billion since 1948.” (Read more about US aid to Israel here.)
H.R.5063 (Rep. Josh Gottheimer [D-NJ-5], 11/13/19), the “U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act,” seeks to increase efforts by the two countries to improve on anti-drone weapons – specifically for use against Iran.
Israel, as the world’s eighth most powerful country, already has first-rate anti-drone capabilities. It has targeted Iranian forces on numerous occasions, including last August, when it reportedly foiled a “killer drone” attack on Israel. PM Netanyahu invoked the Talmud to defend the preemptive move: “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first” – a directive that violates international law. H.R.5063 would enable Israel to improve these already lethal drone capabilities.
Israel also uses drones to drop tear gas grenades on Gazan demonstrators (Israel profits from selling this “battle tested” technology on the international market), to surveil occupied Palestinian neighborhoods, and to assassinate Palestinian leaders – such as Ahmed Jabari, who was close to signing a permanent truce agreement with Israel. In the words of one Israeli mediator, “Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.”
H.R.5063 would bankroll Israel’s already lucrative development of cyberweapons, which would then, as a matter of course, be tested on Palestinians and sold around the world – including to human rights violators and enemies of the U.S.
2019 also saw five pieces of legislation addressing the issue of terrorism – a word that means different things to different groups. What Israel considers terrorism is, to Palestinians, resistance against illegal occupation; what Israel considers military action, Palestinians see as state terrorism.
Since supporters of Israel authored all of these bills, they favor Israel’s definition.
S.2132 (Sen. James Lankford [R-OK], 7/16/19), the “Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019” (and parts of H.R.1837, discussed above) would, to quote a recent If Americans Knew article,
impose US court jurisdiction on Palestine so that American citizens (and their lawyers) can target the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) with potentially devastating lawsuits for suicide attacks in the early 2000s…
To escape certain bankruptcy, Palestine would need to resign from institutions that give it legitimacy in the world, such as its memberships in UNESCO and the International Criminal Court…stepping down from membership in the International Criminal Court would bar Palestine from pursuing war crimes claims against Israel.
H.Res.727 Rep. Josh Gottheimer [D-NJ-5], 11/21/19), “Affirming US support for the State of Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorist attacks” condemns Hamas rockets (see H.R.3186 above), expresses “strong concern with the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza” (without condemning Israel for its 12-year blockade of the enclave that brought on the crisis), and upholds Israel’s right to “defend itself” from said rockets – implicitly approving of the airstrikes that have in recent weeks killed dozens of Gazan Palestinians, and hundreds in the past 21 months including children, medics, disabled individuals, and journalists.
(It is important to remember that Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza only began firing rockets after Israel forces had perpetrated violent attacks on the area, destroying entire neighborhoods.
H.R.1850 (Rep. Brian Mast [R-FL-18], 3/21/19 – passed House) and S.2680 (Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL], 10/23/19), the “Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Acts of 2019”; and H.R.4411 (Rep. Ted Budd [R-NC-13], 9/19/19), the “Iron Dome Reinforcement Act of 2019,” all seek to sanction individuals and states that deal with Hamas.
H.R.4411 would also bar aid to the PA, unless it can be certified that none of the money would go to the so-called Martyrs’ Fund – a program that provides for families who have lost their breadwinner in the Palestinian resistance against occupation, whether to death, injury, or prison. (The money would instead go to Israel to fund its Iron Dome.)
H.R.4411 defines “act of terrorism” as an action that “appears to be intended to”:
intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; or impair Israel’s existence as a Jewish, democratic state within its current territorial boundaries.
While some within the Palestinian population have committed acts that fall under this description, the Israeli government and military have engaged in such acts openly, consistently, and on a large scale – as state policy. A few examples:
- Israel incarcerates and tortures children
- Israel intimidates civilian populations through collective punishment and the destruction of homes (both practices violate international law)
- Israel tries to coerce the Palestinian Authority through withholding of funds and detention of legislators
- Israel conducts mass destruction in Gaza through bombings and incursions
- Israel carries out assassinations and kidnappings
The acts carried out by Palestinians are in comparison, minor; the possibility that they could “impair Israel’s existence” is zero. (The issue of Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state” is addressed here.)
Legislation addressing the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement
As discussed above, S.1 has an anti-BDS component; several other pieces of legislation from 2019 address the boycott movement. Dozens of similar bills have been entertained in the past. (On the state level, 27 states have adopted anti-BDS laws – some of which are being challenged in court.)
BDS is an international nonviolent movement in which financial pressure is used to push Israel to end its apartheid system and violations of human rights. The movement is based on “the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”
S.Res.120 (Sen. Benjamin Cardin [D-MD], 3/25/19), “A resolution opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global BDS Movement targeting Israel.” (The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) offers an excellent analysis of the nuances of this resolution.)
H.R.336 (Rep. Michael McCaul [R-TX-10], 1/8/19), “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019),” addresses the issues of security assistance for Israel, defense cooperation with Jordan, possible sanctioning of Syria, and protection of state and local governments wanting to pass anti-BDS laws (even though such laws are unconstitutional – more on BDS below).
H.Res.314 (Rep. Lee Zeldin [R-NY-1], 4/10/19) attempted to push H.R.336 through without the usual protocol, and limit the discussion time of that bill to one hour. H.Res.348 (Rep. Lee Zeldin [R-NY-1], 5/2/19) was another attempt to rush through H.R.336; it included a request to “solicit the views of Israel, our regional partners, and other…nations in the fight against al Qaeda and ISIS.”
H.R.397, the “Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act of 2019,” almost (but not quite) became another piece of pro-Israel, anti-BDS legislation when Rep. Brian Mast [R-FL-18] called for an amendment that would deny pension loans to businesses that support BDS. (Rep. Mast served in the IDF and often works for Israeli interests; it is unknown if he has Israeli citizenship.) He said, “[BDS] has no place in managing retirement pensions…let us agree, let us plant our bipartisan flag that anti-Semitism and BDS will have no home here in Congress.” As many Jewish (and non-Jewish) Americans have explained, opposing human rights violations by a foreign country is not “anti-Semitism.”
Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) responded to Mast, “We have an opportunity to pass legislation addressing a national emergency, the multiemployer pension crisis that threatens the financial security of Americans across the Nation,” and called Mast’s effort “a cynical, partisan gimmick, continuing a dangerous effort to make Israel a wedge issue.” The amendment failed, 200-232, but the bill passed, 264 – 169. (Schneider’s comments are not indicative of any sympathy with the Palestinian cause, as his resolution, H.Res.246, illustrates.)
H.Res.246 (Rep. Brad Schneider [D-IL-10], 3/21/19 – passed), “Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global BDS Movement targeting Israel,” couches the condemnation of the BDS movement in language supportive of other boycott efforts and of free speech – claiming that the BDS movement “is not about promoting coexistence, civil rights, and political reconciliation but about questioning and undermining the very legitimacy of [Israel] and its people.”
However, the reverse is true: as the BDS website explains,
The BDS movement challenges the way in which Israel is singled out for unprecedented support from the international community. Western governments in particular shield Israel from being held to account for its war crimes against Palestinians…The BDS movement is working to end this exceptionalism and calls for Israel to be held to account according to the standards of international law.
Legislation regarding the “two-state solution” and various annexations
H.Res.326 (Rep. Alan Lowenthal [D-CA-47], 4/25/19 – agreed to in House) and 518 (Rep. Alan Lowenthal [D-CA-47], 7/24/19), and S.Res.234 (Sen. Jeff Merkley [D-OR], 6/5/19) oppose the annexation of parts of the West Bank and endorse the ongoing quest for a negotiated two-state solution.
The so-called “two-state solution” is, in the eyes of many Palestinian (and non-Palestinian) strategists fundamentally implausible and undesirable. In brief, under this scenario Israel would likely maintain full control over all aspects of the tiny (approximately 15 percent of the area) state of Palestine, which would be splintered due to the presence of Israeli settlements – which are too entrenched to move. Israel would also insist that the Palestinian state be demilitarized; land swaps would almost certainly be unfavorable to the Palestinians. All told, little would change, except that the situation would be permanent.
The current trend to support the two-state solution is often based on either a lack of information about what those states would look like or simply habit (or for some Palestinians, the belief that this is the best that could be achieved, despite its lack of justice or fairness). The Washington Post reminds readers that this solution is older than the state of Israel itself – the Peel Commission (1937), and then the UN (1947), proposed partitions when both populations were smaller and would have been simpler to work with (Palestinians rejected both plans as fundamentally unjust, a foreign entity giving away a large portion of their land).
Even granted the oversimplification and outdatedness of the plan, it is worth studying the two-state solution legislation to get an idea of their writers’ possible motives.
Significantly, the original language of H.Res.326 included (emphasis added),
Whereas the United States has long sought a just and stable future for Palestinians, and an end to the occupation, including opposing settlement activity and moves toward unilateral annexation in Palestinian territory…
The reference to “the occupation” was removed early in the consideration of the bill.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5) attempted to add an amendment opposing any attempt by Palestinians to gain recognition as a state prior to a final negotiated peace agreement, spelling out the need for the eventual Palestinian state to be “demilitarized.”
Foxx’s amendment did not survive, but one from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) did: it reiterated the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from President Obama, promising Israel $38 billion over the next ten years. The intention of this amendment, according to analyst Lara Friedman, was to “force pro-two-state Democrats to go on the record, in effect, opposing any possible move to use U.S. assistance to Israel as leverage” – a justice-minded strategy that has been gaining popularity among presidential candidates.
According to the International Court of Justice, territorial acquisition by force (annexation of land) is illegal. Members of Congress and the Trump administration must be aware of this fact, but many seem to be ignoring it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on November 18th that
calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace…we will no longer recognize Israeli settlements as per se inconsistent with international law is based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.
S.567 (Sen. Ted Cruz [R-TX], 2/26/19), “Clarifying that it is United States policy to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” supports President Trump’s reversal of policy that had been in place since 1967.
The Golan has been considered by the US (and still is considered by the international community – though not covered accurately in mainstream media) to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel. S.567 would treat the territory as part of Israel “in any existing or future Act of Congress.”
The House version of the bill, H.R.1372 (Rep. Mike Gallagher [R-WI-8], 2/26/19) asserts, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria will be an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.”
In essence, 1372 consents to Israel’s breach of international law because Israel is not expected to ever conform.
Various legislation kowtowing to Israel and its supporters
Several bills and resolutions from 2019 appear to serve no other purpose than to genuflect at the altar of Israel partisanship and tap into the billions of dollars of pro-Israel campaign funding available. The Israel Lobby is one of the most powerful and influential lobbies in Washington.
Presented on the first day of the new House, H.Res.12 (Rep. Joe Wilson [R-SC-2], 1/3/19), “[Affirms] the historical connection of the Jewish people to the ancient and sacred city of Jerusalem and condemning efforts at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to deny Judaism’s millennia-old historical, religious, and cultural ties to Jerusalem.”
UNESCO did not in reality deny Judaism’s ties to Jerusalem – it merely acknowledged that Muslims and Christians also have ties. In recent years, UNESCO has passed various resolutions critical of Israeli aggression, the curtailing of religious freedoms of Muslims in Jerusalem, and other actions. In 2016 and 2018, it passed measures acknowledging the Palestinian connection to Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem – while in no way denying their Jewish connection.
S.Res.153 (Sen. James Lankford [R-OK], 4/10/19) and H.Res.310 (Rep. Brian Mast [R-FL-18], 4/10/19) acknowledge “the unique collaboration among US NGOs, including faith-based organizations, and the IDF to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrians.” This legislation manages to congratulate Israel for helping Syrians, ignoring truths about Israel’s bombing of Syria, its creation a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, and its policy of prohibiting NGOs that support BDS from entering Israel.
It is notable that dozens, if not hundreds, of NGOs are present in the Palestinian territories or working for justice from a distance (just a few are listed here, more here, with links here to many more).
H.Res.324 (Rep. Ted Lieu [D-CA-33], 4/18/19),“Recognizing the importance of the US-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation,” “[reaffirms] the importance of the U.S.’s economic relationship with Israel [and] highlights the many ways U.S.-Israel economic cooperation has benefitted both countries, including encouraging technological innovation and scientific advancement.”
Israel’s population is 2.7% of the US; its geographic area is .2%. With minimal natural resources and a GDP 1.8% of the United States, Israel has little to offer, other than spying and military technology – much of which was developed with US funding. The American government meanwhile gives Israel billions in no-strings-attached aid and perks too numerous to list. In all, the “economic cooperation” between the counties has been essentially a one-way street.
H.R.1820 (Rep. Lois Frankel [D-FL-21], 3/18/19), the “US-Israel International Development Cooperation Act of 2019,” authorizes projects involving the US, Israel, and developing countries “to support local solutions to sustainability challenges.” The bill stipulates that Israel may work with the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
That organization was in the news in April 2018, when an Israeli sniper killed Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja. USAID had vetted Murjata’s media company and he was slated to receive funding. After his death, the Israeli government made unsubstantiated claims that Murjata was a high-ranking Hamas official, although they had earlier cleared him as part of USAID’s vetting process.
Murjata was shot in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest that clearly identified him as Press.
Several resolutions applaud Israel’s improved relations with its neighbors: H.Res.138 (Rep. Alcee Hastings [D-FL-20] 2/19/19) commends “Arab and Muslim-majority states that have improved bilateral relations with Israel”; H.Res.258 (Rep. Gerald Connolly [D-VA-11], 3/27/19) and S.Res.121 (Sen. John Boozman, [R-AR], 3/25/19) congratulate Israel and Egypt on the 40th anniversary of their peace treaty (the peace treaty was “purchased” by the United States using massive amounts of taxpayer money).
H.R.28 (Rep. Louie Gohmert [R-TX-1], 1/3/19), the “United Nations Voting Accountability Act of 2019” (another Day One item), states that “United States assistance may not be provided to a country that opposed the position of the United States in the United Nations,” a thinly veiled reference to Israel, which has enjoyed the patronage of the US and consequently the scorn of most of the rest of the world. The bill is also an attempt to politicize the United Nations, implying that every member state’s vote is up for sale.
H.R.2343 (Rep. Brad Sherman [D-CA-30], 4/18/19), the “Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act” is legislation about the alleged failure of the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA to “eliminate all content and passages encouraging violence or intolerance toward other nations or ethnic groups from the curriculum used in their respective schools.”
Michael Brown states that these charges, which have been persistent for years, emanate from the so-called “Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace.” The Center purports “to encourage the development and fostering of peaceful relations between peoples and nations.” The Center’s real purpose, according to critics, is to attack the Palestinian National Authority (more info here).
Notably, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli scholar and academic, studied Israeli textbooks and found that they regularly “marginalize Palestinians, legitimize Israeli military action and reinforce Jewish-Israeli territorial identity.”
Legislation on anti-Semitism and Holocaust Education
S.852 (Sen. Tim Scott [R-SC], 3/14/19) and H.R.4009 (Rep. Doug Collins [R-GA-9], 7/25/19), the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Acts of 2019,” endorses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which is Israel-centric and therefore effectively shuts down most criticism of Israel. This is part of an international effort to change the meaning of anti-Semitism on behalf of Israel.
Palestine Legal states, “in our experience defending civil rights on college campuses we have seen firsthand how the [IHRA definition of anti-Semitism] has been used as a tool to silence students, faculty, and staff who advocate for Palestinian rights.”
A coalition of civil and human rights organizations sent a letter to the House warning that H.R.4009 would enlist the Department of Education “as a government censor.” The Senate received a similar letter.
H.R.221 (Rep. Christopher Smith [R-NJ-4], 1/3/19 – passed House), the “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act” (another Day One initiative), elevates the Special Envoy position (created in 2004) to the rank of Ambassador. Shortly after H.R.221 was passed, President Trump appointed Elan Carr to the post. His work has been more focused on defaming BDS and equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism than on combating the very real problem of actual anti-Semitism.
H.Res.72 (Rep. Lee Zeldin [R-NY-1], 1/23/19), “Rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world,” again conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The resolution also attacks Reps. Tlaib and Omar for their support of Palestine.
H.Res.241 (Rep. Gregory Steube [R-FL-17], 3/14/19) focused its criticism only on the allegedly anti-Semitic comments of Rep. Ilhan Omar from Minnesota.
S.Res.189 (Sen. Ted Cruz [R-TX], 5/2/19 – passed Senate) listed a long litany of what he said were examples of anti-Semitism, including, “False accusations of divided loyalty between the United States and Israel [and] false claims that they purchase political power with money.”
While it may be anti-Semitic to generalize about “all Jews” or “only Jews” having divided loyalty issues, or buying political power, it is not inaccurate to suggest that some Israel supporters do so: examples abound of wealthy Israel supporters – many though not all of them Jewish – making huge donations to politicians and later enjoying huge favors (often in the form of legislation about Israel), or making statements that would call their loyalty into question. Members of some pro-Israel lobbying groups have bragged about their organizations’ influence.
Glenn Greenwald points out that, in states with anti-BDS laws, “citizens are now literally more loyal to Israel than they are to the U.S., insofar as they may say and do things to their own country that they may not engage in vis-à-vis Israel.”
While Cruz’s bill suggests that Jewish Americans are uniquely victimized by bigotry, the sad fact is that other groups – African Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Muslim Americans, to name a few – also suffer. Statistics indicate that as a whole, Jewish Americans have been very successful: according to a Pew study, Jewish Americans are in fact the wealthiest religious group in the US.
H.Res.183 (Rep. Jamie Raskin [D-MD-8], 3/7/19 – passed House) condemned both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, specifically mentioning the “pernicious myth of dual loyalty…in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.” ThinkProgress reported that some House members criticized the resolution because the reference to Islamophobia “diluted” the condemnation of anti-Semitism; Rep. Lee Zeldin wanted the resolution to also condemn discrimination against white people; Liz Cheney protested because it did not rebuke Omar by name.
H.R.943 (Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D-NY-12], 1/31/19) and S.2085 (Sen. Jacky Rosen [D-NV], 7/10/19), the “Never Again Education Acts,” endorse a combination of federal and private funding for Holocaust education, to “improve awareness and understanding of the Holocaust…to raise awareness about the importance of preventing genocide, hate, and bigotry against any group of people.”
Alison Weir from If Americans Knew suggests more inclusive legislation – that would require
full and accurate educational programs about all holocausts that have occurred throughout human history – slavery, past and ongoing genocides aimed at diverse populations, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and many other cases of violence and cruelty around the world.
Legislation that appears to be pro-Palestine, but isn’t
S.Res.171 (Sen. Jeff Merkley [D-OR], 4/11/19) seeks to restore economic assistance to the Palestinians – in the interest of “Israel’s security and stability.” The bill fails to implicate Israel for any of the many policies that have led to the crisis; nor does it mention the US’s decision to cut off all aid. Instead, it accuses the PA of bringing on the crisis by rejecting aid – a Catch-22 actually imposed by the US.
This legislation would “generously” offer economic aid without bringing an end to the programs that caused Palestinians to be in need of aid – thus enabling Israel to continue unchecked in its oppression.
H.R.3104 (Rep. Nita Lowey [D-NY-17], 6/5/19) and S.1727 (Sen. Christopher Coons [D-DE], 6/5/19), the “Partnership Fund for Peace Acts of 2019,” seek to “promote joint economic development and finance ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies and those in the United States and Israel.”
At first glance, this sounds positive, but comments from supporters of the legislation clarify its basic assumptions. Rep. Coons claimed that “job creation is the best way to turn people away from violence” – implying that unarmed Palestinians – not Israel, the 8th most powerful country in the world – are the violent party, and that employment – not freedom or self-determination – is the solution.
Rep. Lindsey Graham declared that the plan would “promote economic opportunity to people who have been systemically abused by their leadership for decades.” While the PA is dysfunctional and ineffective, it is certainly not the main cause of Palestinians’ hardship. (Read more about the legislation’s Israel bias here.)
Legislation with Israel looming in the background
H.J.Res.37 (Rep. Ro Khanna [D-CA-17], 1/30/19 – passed House), “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,” includes a totally unrelated section condemning anti-Israel sentiment around the world, as well as the statement, “[n]othing in this joint resolution may be construed to influence or disrupt any military operations and cooperation with Israel.” S.J.Res.7 (Sen. Bernard Sanders [I-VT], 1/30/19), a similar bill originating in the Senate, and lacking the section on anti-Israel sentiment, passed both houses of Congress, but was vetoed by the president.
H.R.914 (Rep. Tom Malinowski [D-NJ-7], 1/30/19), the “Responsible Withdrawal from Syria Act,” requires decision-makers on Syria to submit reports on how a US withdrawal might threaten the security of Israel, and what could be done to counter such threats.
S.919 (Sen. Ted Cruz [R-TX], 3/27/19), the “Space Frontier Act of 2019,” primarily addresses issues of commercial space flight, but includes the statement, “[n]othing in this section or the amendments made by this section shall affect the prohibition on the collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel under section 1064 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.” (Israel has at least six spy satellites circling the Earth.)
Legislation in which Israel plays a smaller role
S.1039 (Sen. Tom Udall [D-NM], 4/4/19) and H.R.2354 (Rep. Anna Eshoo [D-CA-18], 4/25/19), “Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Acts of 2019,” includes the statement, “Missile tests by Iran have led to escalating tensions with Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Nations.”
S.Res.243 (Sen. Christopher Murphy [D-CT], 6/10/19) requests “information on Saudi Arabia’s human rights practices in Yemen”; the legislation requires a report about “any impact or adverse effect to Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
H.Con.Res.50 (Rep. Will Hurd [R-TX-23], 6/27/19) and S.Con.Res.21 (Sen. Tom Cotton [R-AR], 6/27/19) discuss the Houthi movement’s slogan (“God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”) early in the bill – long before they mention the 24 million Yeminis in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, and 7.4 million malnourished (of which 2 million are children under the age of 5).
As is the case in most or all Islamic countries, the Houthis’ ideology, while troubling, is anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic: they loathe the actions of the “Jewish State,” especially the seizure of Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam. With millions of Yemeni children in need, and a death toll in Yemen over 100,000, it is curious that anti-Zionist sentiment is such a high priority for American lawmakers.
H.Res.302 (Rep. James McGovern [D-MA-2], 4/10/19), “Embracing the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” recognizes the danger of nuclear weapons and calls for the US to “lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war.” Recommended actions include “actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states” to denuclearize; Israel is listed among the states in possession of nuclear weapons. (Previously, Israel’s nuclear capabilities were neither confirmed nor denied, and were nicknamed “Israel’s worst-kept secret.”) It remains to be seen, in the event of the advancement of this resolution, whether a pro-Israel amendment will appear.
S.1102 (Sen. Robert Menendez [D-NJ], 4/10/19) and H.R.2913 (Rep. Theodore Deutch [D-FL-22], 5/22/19), the “Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Acts of 2019,” spell out a strategic alliance with Israel, Cyprus, and Greece that includes energy, arms, military training to counter Turkish and Russian threats.
H.R.2280 (Rep. Raul Ruiz [D-CA-36], 4/10/19), the “Stop Iran From Smuggling Weapons to Terrorists Act,” would provide $50 billion for “assistance and training to increase maritime security” to Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar in order to deter Iran from smuggling weapons (the portion for Israel would be in addition to the $3.8 billion it already receives in military aid from the US each year).
S.J.Res.59 (Sen. Mitch McConnell [R-KY], 10/22/19) expresses Congress’ sense that rushing to exit Syria and Afghanistan would be bad policy, and reprimands Turkey for actions against the Kurds. One reason it gives for these positions is the recognition that “an unbroken chain of Iranian-controlled territory across Syria poses a significant threat to Israel.”
H.R.3723 (Rep. Mike Levin [D-CA-49], 7/11/19), “To promote desalination project development and drought resilience, and for other purposes,” addresses the issue of aiding drought-stricken areas of the US. Projects would be prioritized for assistance if they meet certain criteria, one of which is “demonstrably leverag[ing] the experience of international partners with considerable expertise in desalination, such as the state of Israel.”
The irony of Israeli experts coming to the US to assist with desalination projects is simple: Gaza (under de facto Israeli occupation) has been suffering from a water catastrophe for years. 97% of Gaza’s freshwater supply is unsuitable for human consumption. The EU recently spent over $10 million building a desalination plant in Gaza, but it fills only a fraction of the need – especially since power to operate the plant is limited to just 4 hours a day.
Meanwhile, just 5 miles up the coast, in Israel, is the closest of five desalination plants – for Israelis only.
In about ten additional pieces of legislation – mostly bills about the budget – Israel is one of many countries listed – in some cases it is described as a recipient of $3.8 billion in military aid, or as an ally, or a “stable, democratic country in a region often marred by turmoil.”
The Israel lobby appears to be working overtime with this Congress, and Congress in turn is lining up to present legislation that prioritizes Israel’s agenda.
American constituents who disapprove of this arrangement have an obligation to make their voices heard in the 2020 elections – and in conversations, op-eds, letters to Congress members, and any other mode of communication at their disposal.
May Congress have better vision in 2020.
Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs at Palestine Home.