As Congress tackles urgent issues of reopening government and setting the budget for the country, it takes the time to prioritize a foreign country: H.R.648 contains assurances that Israel will receive $3.8 billion for arms, and funding for refugee resettlement; the bill also includes threats to de-fund the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and any future state of Palestine–if US demands (dictated by the Israel lobby) are not met.
By Kathryn Shihadah
On January 23, the House of Representatives passed an appropriations act billed to ““reopen the government and pay our federal employees.” But buried inside the bill are diverse financial allotments and perks for a foreign country: Israel.
The legislation contains paragraphs and sections far removed from the shutdown, committing billions of dollars in payments to Israel – without the robust debate that usually accompanies big-ticket spending.
The bill has now been placed on Senate Legislative Calendar.
Its sponsor, Nita Lowey (D-NY), was handpicked to be House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman because of her staunch pro-Israel leanings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who appointed Lowey, asserted, “We have people very well paced to share our values” during a speech at the annual conference of the Israeli-American Council (slogan: “Building a coast-to-coast community with Israel in its heart and Israeliness in its spirit”).
It is not unusual for US legislators to advocate for Israel as soon as a new session begins.
A glance through previous years’ appropriations records indicates that the US Congress has for years included issues related to Israel among the earliest legislation of each session. The Senate’s very first bill of 2019, S.1, “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East,” would authorize assistance and weapons transfers to Israel – which the Consolidated Appropriations bill would then authorize Congress to spend.
Lowey’s House bill, which scarcely mentions any other country by name, contains assurances that Israel will receive money for refugee resettlement and arms, as well as threats to de-fund the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and any future state of Palestine–if US demands (dictated by the Israel lobby) are not met.
Below are the sections of the bill that discuss Israel, followed by an analysis of each:
Israel: Migration and Refugee Assistance (Title III)
The bill text states: “$35 million shall be made available to respond to small-scale emergency humanitarian requirements [throughout the world], and $5 million shall be made available for refugees resettling in Israel.”
The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act was passed in 1962 to deal with unexpected and urgent needs of refugees, displaced persons, conflict victims, and other persons at risk around the globe.
Israel is the only refugee assistance beneficiary named in the bill.
It’s unclear why Israel is to be is in the recipient of 14% of the US refugee aid, given that Israel is the sixth wealthiest country in the Middle East-Asia-Pacific region, and therefore would appear to be able to shoulder this itself.
Also, it’s unclear why Israel the U.S. would give Israel so much aid for refugee settlement, given Israel’s unfriendly policies toward refugees.
AFRICA: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently reported on Israel’s practice of detain and deport for African refugees : of an estimated 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in Israel, the state recognized only eleven as refugees between 2009 and 2018. The rest bear the label “infiltrator,” and face possible expulsion to countries where their safety is questionable at best.
SYRIA: Syria shares a border with Israel; Syrian refugees, the largest single refugee group in the world today. Yet Israel’s former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israel “will not accept any Syrian refugee to our territory.”
It is also unclear why Israel is to receive U.S. refugee aid when it is the cause of the longest refugee crisis in the world today: Israel prohibits the return of millions of Palestinian refugees families awaiting their UN-mandated right to return, to their land.
Nuclear nonproliferation (Title IV)
The bill text states: “For necessary expenses for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, de-mining and related programs and activities, $864.55 million, to remain available until September 30, 2020…funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] unless the Secretary of State determines that Israel is being denied its right to participate in the activities of that Agency.”
The IAEA promotes the use of atomic energy for “peace, health, and prosperity throughout the world” and works to prevent its use “to further any military purpose.”
Israel’s association with the IAEA has always been problematic, as Israel insists on a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities. Israel cites its “unique security needs” as justification for its ongoing refusal to either declare itself a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) or sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In spite of its silence, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is universally recognized. According to the Arms Control Association, Israel is believed to have at least 80 nuclear warheads; some estimates place the number at 400.
In addition to its unacknowledged nuclear capabilities, Israel practices the “Begin Doctrine,” a policy of counter-proliferation and preemptive strikes.
Arms Export Controls Act (Title IV)
The bill text states: “For necessary expenses for grants to enable the President to carry out the provisions of section 23 of the Arms Export Control Act, $5.9 billion…[for] the provision of assistance to foreign countries and international organizations…[O]f the funds appropriated under this heading, not less than $3.3 billion [55% of the total] shall be available for grants only for Israel which shall be disbursed within 30 days of enactment of this Act…Provided further, That funds appropriated or otherwise made available under this heading shall be nonrepayable…
The Arms Export Control Act was put in place to ensure that weapons the US sent abroad would be used for legitimate self-defense. Some countries, including Israel, enjoy assistance in the form of grants; others receive loans.
This year’s $3.8 billion in aid–well over half of the total budget for the entire world–is a record in US military support of Israel, and occurs in the context of Israel’s numerous breaches of international and humanitarian law, including occupation, collective punishment, settlements and annexations, the Separation Wall, the unresolved refugee crisis, the blockade of Gaza, and infringement of dozens of UN resolutions.
Regarding the above clause, “shall be disbursed within 30 days,” Congressional Research Service (CRS) explains:
Israel gets all of its aid money at the start of each year, rather than in quarterly installments like other countries. This is significant: It means that Israel can start earning interest on the money right away – interest paid by the US since Israel deposits these funds into an interest-bearing account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. In addition, because the US government operates at a deficit, it must borrow money in order to give it to Israel and then pay interest on it all year. Together these cost US taxpayers more than $100 million every year.
Loan guarantees (Title VII, Section 7033)
The bill text states: “Extension of Loan Guarantees to Israel—Chapter 5 of title I of the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003 (Public Law 108–11; 117 Stat. 576) is amended under the heading “Loan Guarantees to Israel”— [giving Israel a 4-year extension].
Jewish Virtual Library explains loan guarantees to Israel in simple terms:
Loan guarantees are essentially the explicit agreements between two people – or two nations – that if one defaults on a loan the other is obligated to pay it back…ideally, the United States will never have to pay out even a single dollar.
The United States is accepting responsibility from international creditors for any loans the Israeli government takes out…the U.S. could be hit with up to a $3.8 billion bill, plus interest, if Israel defaults on their loans…
Congressional Research Services (CRS) adds that money borrowed must not be used for military purposes or settlements.
However, as CRS points out, “U.S. officials have noted that proceeds from the issuance of U.S.-guaranteed debt that are used to refinance Israeli government debt free up domestic Israeli funds for other uses.”
Boycott (Title VII, Section 7035)
The bill text states: [T]he Arab League boycott of Israel…is an impediment to peace in the region and to United States investment…[The boycott] should be immediately and publicly terminated.. all Arab League states should normalize relations with their neighbor Israel; the President and the Secretary of State should continue to vigorously oppose [the boycott – for example by refusing to sell weapons to boycotting countries…and encourage allies to enact anti-boycott laws].
The Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement explains its existence in the context of seventy years of Israeli denial of Palestinian rights and noncompliance with international law:
Governments fail to hold Israel to account, while corporations and institutions across the world help Israel to oppress Palestinians. Because those in power refuse to act to stop this injustice, Palestinian civil society has called for a global citizens’ response of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
The bill, Combating BDS Act, encourages states to adopt the very same anti-boycott laws that two federal courts blocked on First Amendment grounds. 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.
Palestinian statehood (Title VII, Section 7036)
The bill text states: “None of the funds appropriated under titles III through VI [e.g. global health programs, disaster assistance, economic support funding, peacekeeping operations] of this Act may be provided to support a Palestinian state unless the Secretary of State determines and certifies [that the Palestinian governing body is committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel, fighting terrorism, renouncing belligerency, etc.,]
None of the funds appropriated under the heading “Economic Support Fund” in this Act may be made available for assistance for the Palestinian Authority, if [Palestinians become full members as a state in the UN or any of its agencies – without direct negotiations with Israel, or] Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.
Israel has officially stated that no Palestinian state should be created apart from direct negotiations with Israel. It views Palestinian efforts at international legitimacy as an attempt by Palestinians to “force their will on Israel through international pressure [which] harms true peace.”
While insisting on negotiations, Israel refuses to participate in talks that include democratically elected Hamas, and calls on Palestinian leadership to “say the simple words: ‘Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.’”
Palestinians also point to UN Security Council Resolution 242, in which they were called upon to recognize Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” which does not obligate them to acknowledge Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
In addition, Palestinians reference the 1993 Letters of Mutual Recognition – in which they recognized the existence of Israel – as sufficient recognition.
These issues have caused a deadlock in any negotiations, prompting Palestinians to seek out statehood through other means.
Regarding the International Criminal Court, US leaders have claimed that Palestinians bringing a case to the ICC is “not productive” and the US “prefers a negotiated peace process between Israel and Palestine.”
No to Palestinian agency in Jerusalem (Title VII, Section 7037)
The bill text states: “None of the funds appropriated under titles II through VI of this Act may be obligated or expended to create in any part of Jerusalem [a venue for conducting official US Government business with the Palestinian Authority or any Palestinian governing entity].
When President Trump, at the behest of donor Sheldon Adelson, announced the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, he signaled recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; Palestinians and most of the world reject this, as East Jerusalem is widely considered occupied, and is the intended capital of a future Palestinian state.
No to “Martyrs’ Fund” (Title VII, Section 7037)
The bill text states: “The Secretary of State shall reduce the amount of assistance made available by this Act…[if a Palestinian governing body pays for] acts of terrorism by individuals who are imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for acts of terrorism and by individuals who died committing acts of terrorism…”
Israeli academic Ilan Pappe is one of many who take issue with the notion of a “fair trial” for Palestinians: he describes Israeli military courts as a “humiliating charade” which create the illusion of a fair trial. Pappe insists that the military courtroom houses “a sinister process” and “a bureaucratic self-justification for the system to do what it wants to do.”
Palestinians are prosecuted and judged by Israeli military officials who boast a 99% conviction rate.
The so called “Martyrs’ Fund” or “pay-to-slay” system in the Palestinian territories is actually a fairly typical social safety net, which assists families of Palestinians who are injured or killed in the course of resistance against the Israeli occupation. It also helps to offset the frequent, illegal Israeli practice of demolishing the homes of convicted “terrorists,” a form of collective punishment.
UN Human Rights Council (HRC) (Title VII, Section 7048)
The bill text states: “None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available in support of the United Nations Human Rights Council unless the Secretary of State determines…[that the UNHRC] is taking significant steps to remove Israel as a permanent agenda item…”
The UNHRC created a permanent discussion point for Israel on its agenda in 2007, one year after the council was formed. The United States officially opposes “Agenda Item 7: Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” claiming it illustrates an anti-Israel bias: “The continued existence of this agenda item is among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council.”
The United States withdrew from the HRC in 2018 in solidarity with Israel; PM Netanyahu praised the move and called the organization “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization.” Then-Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused the body of having a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel.”
H.R.648, “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019,” is the spending bill Congress needs to pass in order to extricate the US from its damaging government shutdown and pay federal employees. As Congresswoman Lowey stated, other issues would be addressed at a later date.
But the House has prioritized both monetary and policy issues related to Israel, pledging U.S. taxpayer dollars that address Israel’s interests at the expense of Americans.
Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs at Palestine Home.