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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2005, pages 28-29

Congress Watch

Domestic Issues Keep Congress From Meddling in the Middle East

By Shirl McArthur

The September hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the filling of two Supreme Court positions, and the criminal indictment of then-House Speaker Tom DeLay (R-TX) have distracted most members of Congress to the extent that they have paid little attention to the Middle East.

Congress has been working to offset the costs of the Katrina and Rita recovery and reconstruction efforts without busting the budget too badly. This has led to squabbling between and within the parties over where and how much to cut. The fiscally conservative Republican Study Group (RSG) on Sept. 21 released a comprehensive list of proposed cuts, but this list immediately came under attack from other Republicans as well as from Democrats. The only cut affecting the Middle East in the RSG list was $400 million over five years in aid to Egypt. In addition, the Israeli press has quoted Israeli officials as saying that it is unlikely that Israel will receive all of the $2 billion it wants from the U.S. to pay for the Gaza withdrawal. (Although widely reported, the $2 billion has not been formally requested from Congress.)

Until this “budget reconciliation” effort is completed, which probably won’t happen until mid-November, it is unlikely that much progress will be made on the to-be-completed appropriations bills. The foreign aid and the State Department appropriations, especially, will almost certainly be folded into a catch-all “omnibus” appropriations bill, probably around Thanksgiving.

However, a few, relatively innocuous bills have been introduced.

Criticizing Israel Is Anti-Semitism

As described in the August issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on May 18 the House passed H.Res. 282 regarding anti-Semitism at the United Nations. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced the identical S.Res. 184 in the Senate on June 29. Then on Sept. 15, with 17 co-sponsors, Santorum updated the resolution and reintroduced it as S.Res. 240 “expressing the sense of the Senate regarding manifestation of anti-Semitism by U.N. member states and urging action against anti-Semitism by U.N. officials, U.N. member states, and the Government of the U.S.” The Senate passed it by voice vote the same day.

“The U.N. was founded to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening again.”

This resolution is only marginally about anti-Semitism and very much about Israel’s treatment at the U.N. It specifically equates anti-Israel actions with anti-Semitism. Of the 13 “whereas” clauses, seven describe anti-Israel actions or statements. As in H.Res. 282, the final “whereas” clause says, “the viciousness with which Israel is attacked and discriminated against at the U.N. should not be allowed to continue unchallenged.” And one of the “resolved” clauses says “the President should direct the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. to continue working toward further reduction of anti-Semitic language and anti-Israel resolutions.”

In the House, Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ), along with 32 of the usual suspects, on Sept. 14 introduced H.Res. 438, a more honest resolution in that it openly gives as its title “Urging member states of the U.N. to stop supporting resolutions that unfairly castigate Israel and to promote within the U.N. General Assembly more balanced and constructive approaches to resolving conflict in the Middle East.” It includes 15 “whereas” clauses relating to the U.N. and Israel (including the remarkable statement that “the U.N. was founded to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening again”) and concludes with a “resolved” clause that simply repeats the Resolution’s title.

Continuing in the “let’s stick up for poor little Israel” vein, House Middle East subcommittee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) managed to get H.Res. 38, supporting Israel’s accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, reported favorably by the full International Relations Committee on Sept. 15. As mentioned in the April issue of this magazine, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the resolution in January. It has gained eight co-sponsors and now has a total of 42, including Ros-Lehtinen.

A new resolution not likely to gain much attention is H.Res. 448, introduced on Sept. 15 by Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) with no co-sponsors, “Recognizing the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians and acknowledging the sacrifices made in the interest of peace by the Israeli settlers who left the Gaza Strip voluntarily.” This balanced resolution’s 11 “whereas” clauses include three praising the Israelis, with the rest praising the Palestinian Authority and the governments of Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan, as well as the European Union, the U.N., and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn. The 11 “resolved” clauses “honor” the leaders of those countries and conclude by urging “all peace-loving nations to advocate and support the ”˜two-state’ solution.”

“Iran Freedom Support” Bills Finally Slow Down

The “Iran Freedom Support” bills, H.R. 282, introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in January, and its companion, S. 333, introduced by Santorum in February, may have reached the peak of their support. The former has gained seven co-sponsors in addition to those previously named, and now has 323, including Ros-Lehtinen. The Senate version has gained no co-sponsors, and still has 31, including Santorum. The bills say that U.S. sanctions, controls and regulations relating to weapons of mass destruction with respect to Iran shall remain in effect until the president certifies that Iran has permanently and verifiably dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programs; amend and expand the AIPAC-authored Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA) to eliminate provisions respecting Libya, expand the sanctions and reporting provisions, and eliminate the sunset provision; and authorize the president to provide assistance to support democracy in Iran. New co-sponsors of H.R. 282 are Reps. John Boehner (R-OH), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Butch Otter (R-ID), Michael Oxley (R-OH), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).

The relatively mild H.Con.Res. 162, expressing the “sense of Congress that the ongoing nuclear efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a threat to the national security of the U.S. and to international peace and security,” introduced in May by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), has gained Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) as co-sponsor, and now has 29, including Saxton. The resolution says that “the President should urge the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran’s noncompliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to the U.N. Security Council in the event that negotiations fail between Iran and the European Union.”

The even milder H.Con.Res. 177, introduced by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) on June 14, would express “the sense of Congress that the crisis regarding the Iranian nuclear program should be primarily resolved through diplomatic means.” It now has 12 co-sponsors, a gain of seven: Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA), Thad McCotter (R-MI), Jim Moran (D-VA), and Curt Weldon (R-PA).

Bills Targeting Egypt, Saudi Arabia Make Slow Progress

H.Res. 413, “expressing the concern of the House of Representatives regarding the amount of United States foreign assistance provided to Egypt over the past 25 years without meaningful political reforms by the Government of Egypt,” has gained two co-sponsors, for a total of ten. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) on July 28, begins by listing Egypt’s alleged transgressions and then lists seven specific actions that the government of Egypt should take to rectify them. It then says the U.S. government should try to negotiate an agreement with Egypt to set a timetable and set of benchmarks “for progress on political and human rights reforms.” If those benchmarks are not met, the U.S. “should reconsider the dimensions and direction of economic assistance to Egypt.” New co-sponsors are Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) and Mark Souder (R-IN).

H.R. 2037, introduced by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) in April “to halt Saudi support for institutions that fund, train, incite, encourage, or in any other way aid and abet terrorism, and to secure full Saudi cooperation in the investigation of terrorist incidents” has gained five co-sponsors, for a total of 47, including Weiner. The companion bill, S. 1171, introduced in the Senate in June by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), has gained one co-sponsor, for a total of 13, including Specter.

Shirl McArthur, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, is a consultant in the Washington, DC area.


Congressional Field Trips to Israel

According to the Sept. 15 edition of Near East Report (NER), the monthly publication of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), 30 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives traveled to Israel in August. “Lawmakers routinely travel to Israel,” NER explained helpfully, “to learn about its unique alliance with the United States.”

The two missions, one for Democrats and one for Republicans, were organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which NER described as “a supporting organization of AIPAC.”

According to Charity Navigator, “AIEF grants funds to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), America's pro-Israel lobbying organization, to be used in supporting educational programs such as policy conferences, internships and campus newsletters. AIEF also funds travel to Israel for students and groups for informational and educational purposes. AIEF works to fund publications by both AIPAC and Near East Research, Inc. which focuses on events affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship, Legislative Updates, and Action Alerts.”

With a $15 million budget, that ain’t hay.

Speaking of money, we thought it might be instructive to see how much money each participant has received from pro-Israel PACs. The results follow:

Republican Delegation
Democratic Delegation
*Roy Blunt (MO),*Steny Hoyer (MD),
Majority Whip
$ 39,850
Minority Whip
$ 92,275
*Eric Cantor (VA),*Robert Menendez (NJ),
Chief Deputy Whip
Caucus Chairman
Robert Bishop (UT)
John Barrow (GA)
Henry Bonilla (TX)
Shelley Berkley (NV)
Jo Bonner (AL)
Russ Carnahan (MO)
John Carter (TX)
Jim Costa (CA)
John Doolittle (CA)
Steve Israel (NY)
Thelma Drake (VA)
James Langevin (RI)
Virginia Foxx (NC)
Michael Michaud (ME)
Bobby Jindal (LA)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD)
Randy Kuhl (NY)
John Salazar (CO)
Dan Lungren (CA)
Allyson Schwartz (PA)
Kenny Marchant (TX)
Henry Waxman (CA)
Tom Price (GA)
Lynn Woolsey (CA)
Deborah Pryce (OH)
Paul Ryan (WI)

Four of the Republican participants—Representatives Jindal, Kuhl, Lungren and Marchant—are freshman members of Congress, three of whom received no pro-Israel PAC contributions for their initial race (somehow, we’re confident that will be rectified). On the other hand, when Democratic Representative Berkley first ran for Congress in 1998, she received $33,459 in pro-Israel PAC contributions. It’s not for nothing that, having amassed $206,955 in four congressional races, she’s now the House of Representatives’ undisputed queen of pro-Israel campaign contributions.

The two separate delegations arrived on either side of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which appeared to be a major focus of their mission. Republican Chief Deputy Whip Cantor, a longtime Israel-firster who knows whereof he speaks, observed that the withdrawal’s relative lack of violence made it seem the process was moving “by a different set of rules.” No kidding.

The visiting Americans were prepped on other Israeli priorities as well. “The lawmakers were also impressed by Israel’s vulnerability to external adversaries,” NER reported. The visit seemed to involve a lot of peering: After inspecting recently occupied Gaza from an overlook, the U.S. legislators visited the currently occupied Golan Heights, “where the congressmen were impressed to see Israeli children peering into Syria and learning a first lesson about their nation’s proximity to outside dangers.”

Eli Levite of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission discussed Iran with the Democratic delegation, and all participants “reaffirmed their intention to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge over regional foes” and “pledged to help Israel develop the Negev and Galilee, sparsely populated areas that Israel hopes to fill.”

Armed with their marching orders, the American legislators returned to Washington, ostensibly to represent the interests of their constituents.—Janet McMahon