U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (c) delivers a speech during a special sitting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem on May 1, 2023, during his visit to the country with a congressional delegation. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 2023, pp. 24-25
By Julia Pitner
ON MARCH 19, 2023, the Biden administration harshly criticized an Israeli law passed in the Knesset that repeals the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the northern occupied West Bank, calling it a “provocation” and a violation of commitments Israel made to the U.S. The law allows Israeli citizens to enter and reside in the area between the cities of Jenin and Nablus, which Israeli settlers evacuated in 2005. The law could dramatically increase the potential for friction between settlers and Palestinians in the most sensitive and volatile area of the occupied West Bank. The events that followed and continue to transpire, covered in this issue, have proven the case.
On April 13, a letter led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and co-signed by Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), André Carson (D-IN), Summer Lee (D-PA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jesús Garcia (D-IL), and Delia Ramirez (D-IL) was sent to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The letter outlined their “deep concern regarding the rapidly escalating violence in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the alarming actions of the new extreme right-wing Israeli government.” They urged immediate action to deescalate and requested that the administration “undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land and denial of Palestinian rights.”
At the end of March, in response to escalating global conflict, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) introduced, H.R. 1801, with 23 cosponsors (all Democrats) “to enhance the consideration of human rights in arms exports,” aka the “Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports Act of 2023.” A few days later, on March 29, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), with 7 cosponsors (all Democrats), introduced its sister bill S. 1025, in the Senate. In the House, the bill was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Rules Committee, and in the Senate to the Committee on Foreign Relations. As summarized in the press release issued by Menendez, this legislation would “bolster Congress’ role in the review of proposed arms sales and exports to prevent the United States from contributing to or facilitating future human rights abuses” by reforming the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 “to guarantee that protection and promotion of human rights is an integral consideration of the export of arms and defense services to foreign countries.”
On May 10, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hosted a roundtable event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba in the Capitol rotunda. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy tried to cancel the event, but only managed to cancel the dinner that was to follow. A few days later, on May 15, the United Nations hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nakba for the first time in its history. The event featured speakers and cultural activities, with 45 countries refusing to attend, including Israel, the United States, the UK and Ukraine.
A frustrated McCarthy let it be known that he would do everything in his power to celebrate the state of Israel, thus setting the agenda for what has followed in draft legislation and in the annual budget (NDAA) negotiations.
“WE LOVE ISRAEL” MANTRAS
The fight against BDS reappeared as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reintroduced the Combatting BDS ACT, S. 1637 with six all-Republican cosponsors. It is “a bill to provide for nonpreemption of measures by state and local governments to divest from entities that engage in certain boycott, divestment, or sanctions activities targeting Israel or persons doing business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories, and for other purposes.” It was referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The Senate bill follows a new House version, H.R. 3016, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced by Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY) with five cosponsors.
Making good on the promise of more joint U.S.-Israel activities, on May 17 Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-FL) and 14 all Republican cosponsors, introduced H.R. 3393, U.S.-Israel Cooperation Expansion Act, “to support security and law enforcement training and cooperation between the United States and Israel.” It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
On the same day, Rep. Gimenez together with 17 all Republican cosponsors, introduced H. Res. 409 “Condemning the acts of terrorism committed by Iranian military proxies, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, against the people of the state of Israel.” It’s been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution’s resolved clauses are a listing of congressional “we love Israel” mantras, resolving that Congress “condemns the acts of terrorism committed by Iranian military proxies, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, against the people of the state of Israel” and “recognizes Jerusalem as the legitimate capital city of the state of Israel” and “supports Israel’s efforts of self-determination and collective security against external forces” while also “reaffirms support for policies and initiatives combatting anti-Semitic behavior around the world.”
On May 25, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) and cosponsored by Reps. Dan Bishop (R-NC) and Josh Brecheen (R-OK) introduced H.R. 3685, the United Nations Voting Accountability Act of 2023, “to prohibit United States assistance to foreign countries that oppose the position of the United States in the United Nations.” It’s been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
AROUND THE REGION
On April 28, Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) together with 30 bipartisan cosponsors introduced H.R. 3033—and in the Senate as S. 1390 on May 2 by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) with five bipartisan cosponsors—“to repeal the sunset provision of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, and for other purposes,” aka, the “Solidify Iran Sanctions Act.” It’s been referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Judiciary, Ways and Means and Oversight and Accountability. Another “snap-back” bill is being prepared ahead of the JCPOA September expiration deadline.
On May 11, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) together with 45 bipartisan cosponsors, introduced H.R. 3202, “to prohibit any official action to recognize or normalize relations with any government of Syria that is led by Bashar al-Assad,” and for other purposes. It was sent to the House Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. It passed out of the House Foreign Relations Committee by voice vote.
Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Menendez introduced S. 2006, “a bill to foster Tunisia’s democratic institutions, to limit funds until Tunisia restores checks and balances and to authorize the creation of a fund to support democratic reforms.” It’s been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. While on June 21, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), together with three all Democrat cosponsors, introduced S.Res. 260 which is, “A resolution recognizing Tunisia’s leadership in the Arab Spring and expressing support for upholding its democratic principles and norms.” It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
On June 23, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) together with 8 bipartisan cosponsors introduced H.Res. 554, “Affirming the nature and importance of the support of the United States for the religious and ethnic minority survivors of genocide in Iraq.” It’s referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
SOME POSITIVE NEWS
On June 21, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) circulated for co-signers a letter addressed to U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and cc’d to the State Department’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt. The letter commends the Biden administration for its new national strategy to counter anti-Semitism and applauds the administration for its “decision not to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in this strategy and to instead look to several definitions of anti-Semitism.” It also encourages the ambassador to pursue the administration’s more nuanced strategy with the U.N. and its members.
Julia Pitner is a contributing editor of the Washington Report. She lives in the Washington, DC–
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