Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 2018, pp. 30-32
By Shirl McArthur
On July 24 Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced S. 3257, the “STOP Using Human Shields” bill. The stated purpose of the bill is to “impose sanctions on foreign persons responsible for serious violations of international law regarding the protection of civilians during armed conflict.” The sanctions described are mostly redundant, however, since the stated targets of the bill are designated foreign terrorist organizations, especially Hamas and Hezbollah, and those organizations are already subject to U.S. sanctions. The bill’s real purpose appears to be to establish that responsibility for Israel’s killing of any civilians in Gaza or Lebanon falls 100 percent on Hamas or Hezbollah. Given that Hamas and Hezbollah operate widely within Gaza and Lebanon, Israel could argue that any Israeli “self-defense” actions against Hamas or Hezbollah involve circumstances where civilian casualties become unavoidable. And among the “findings” in S. 3257 is number (7), saying that “in accordance with the proportionality rule…these terrorist groups bear responsibility for such casualties.” On Sept. 26 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ordered the bill, which has 51 co-sponsors, including Cruz, to be reported to the full Senate.
ANTI-BOYCOTT BILLS SEEM STALLED, FOR NOW
The unconstitutional “Israel Anti-Boycott” bills, strongly promoted by AIPAC and other hard-line pro-Israel groups, have made little progress, but action could happen at any time. Both S. 720, introduced by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) in March 2017, and H.R. 1697, introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) the same month, claim that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movements penalize firms doing business in Israel—but in fact they are about doing business in Israel’s colonies, not Israel. As reported in previous issues, the ACLU, Amnesty International and others have expressed their opposition to the bills because of their attacks on free speech. Congressional supporters of the bills continue to ignore those objections, however, as well as decades of bipartisan distinction between Israel and its colonies on the West Bank. In June the House Foreign Affairs Committee ordered H.R. 1697 to be reported to the full House, recommending that it be brought up under “suspension of the rules” (an expedited process that requires a two-thirds vote for passage). But the bill was also referred to the House Financial Services Committee, which has not yet taken any action on it. S. 720 now has 58 co-sponsors, including Cardin, and H.R. 1697 now has 291, including Roskam.
The stated targets of the bill are foreign terrorist organizations already subject to U.S. sanctions.
The bills that would encourage states to adopt anti-BDS measures have gained some co-sponsors. S. 170, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in January 2017, now has 49 co-sponsors, including Rubio, and H.R. 2856, introduced in June by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), now has 140 co-sponsors, including McHenry.
The so-called “Anti-Semitism Awareness” bills, S. 2940 in the Senate and H.R. 5924 in the House, which have nothing to do with combatting anti-Semitism, but instead are an attempt to squelch criticism of Israel on U.S. campuses, also have gained support. The bills would endorse an expansive definition of anti-Semitism that would define most anti-Israel speech and actions as being anti-Semitic. S. 2940, introduced May 23 by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), now has 6 co-sponsors, including Scott, and H.R. 5924, introduced by Roskam also on May 23, now has 47 co-sponsors, including Roskam.
CONGRESS PASSES BILL MAKING IT EASIER TO SUE PALESTINIANS
On Aug. 22 the Senate passed S. 2946, the “Anti-Terrorism Clarification” bill, introduced May 24 by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Cruz. The House took it up and passed it without objection on Sept. 13, and it was signed into law by the president on Oct. 3. When passed the bill had 12 co-sponsors, including Grassley and Cruz. Previously, on July 23 the House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 5954, introduced also in May by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), with eight co-sponsors, including Goodlatte. Cruz said in a press release that the purpose of the bill is “to better ensure that American victims of international terrorism can obtain justice in U.S. courts by holding accountable those who commit, or aid and abet terrorist activity abroad.”
TRUMP IGNORES LETTERS DECRYING CUTS TO PALESTINIAN AID
On Sept. 21, 34 Democratic senators, led by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), signed a letter to President Donald Trump “in strong opposition to your decision to cut some $200 million in FY ’17 Economic Support Fund assistance originally planned for the West Bank and Gaza and to end U.S. contributions to [UNRWA], including more than $300 in assistance this fiscal year.” The letter says the obvious, that Trump’s “strategy of attempting to force the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table by withholding humanitarian assistance from women and children is misguided and destined to backfire. Your proposed cuts would undermine those who seek a peaceful solution and strengthen the hands of Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip.”
Earlier, on Aug. 3, 10 Democratic senators, led by Feinstein, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and USAID Administrator Mark Green urging them to release the more than $500 million for Gaza that is being withheld. And in the House, on July 11 the full Democratic membership of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, led by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), wrote to Trump urging that he release the funds for Gaza because “the humanitarian crisis inside Gaza is getting worse by the day.”
These entreaties to Trump have, of course, fallen on deaf ears.
Two new bills were introduced regarding UNRWA. On July 19 Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced H.R. 6451, the “UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support” bill. It would reduce, but not eliminate, U.S. contributions to UNRWA for Palestinian refugees. It has 14 co-sponsors, including Lamborn. And on Sept. 6 Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the relatively positive S. 3425, which would “redirect funding from [UNRWA] to other entities providing assistance to Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.”
NEW LETTER ON ISRAELI DETENTION OF PALESTINIAN CHILDREN
H.R. 4391, introduced in November 2017 by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), which would “require the secretary of state to certify that U.S. funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children,” now has 30 co-sponsors, including McCollum, and a new letter was sent to Pompeo on July 20. The letter, led by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), David Price (D-NC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and John Yarmuth (D-KY) and signed by 35 representatives, urges “the State Department to address the detention of Palestinian children” by Israel. Then the letter’s drafters inexplicably felt the need to add that “we reaffirm our steadfast commitment to providing necessary security assistance to Israel that saves the lives of innocent civilians from terrorism and rocket attacks.”
GOODIES FOR ISRAEL BILL NEARING PASSAGE
The “U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization” bill could be passed at any time. The bill encompasses a full wish list of goodies for Israel, including many security assistance measures, extension of loan guarantees, and enhanced U.S.-Israel cooperation programs. The Senate version, S. 2497, introduced in March by Rubio, was taken up by the full Senate and passed by voice vote on Aug. 1. Then on Sept. 12, the full House passed it under “suspension of the rules,” after first replacing its text with the text of the House bill, H.R. 5141, introduced in the House in March by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and renaming it the “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization” bill, in recognition of Ros-Lehtinen’s status as the leading Israel-firster in Congress. Notice of the House action has been received in the Senate, but the latter has not taken any action. When the Senate agrees to the House amendment, which it surely will, the measure will be ready for the president’s signature. S. 2497 has 73 co-sponsors, including Rubio, and H.R. 5141 has 303, including Ros-Lehtinen.
On Sept. 6 Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced H.R. 6725, the “U.S.x-Israel Directed Energy Cooperation” bill. It would authorize the secretary of defense to carry out research, development, test and evaluation activities jointly with Israel “to establish directed energy capabilities that address threats to the U.S., deployed forces of the U.S., or Israel.”
IRAN SANCTIONS BILLS CONTINUE SLOWLY PLUGGING ALONG
Although Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA stalled action on most Iran sanctions measures, a new one, S. 3243, was introduced July 19 by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Cruz. It would impose sanctions on Iranians who engage in “politically motivated harassment, abuse, extortion, or extended detention” of individuals in Iran. Also, the AIPAC-pushed H.R. 5132, introduced in March by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), which would expand sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), now has 221 co-sponsors, including Royce. On Sept. 26 Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and 8 co-sponsors introduced S. 3516, a new bill to impose sanctions on the IRGC.
The House on Sept. 25 suddenly took up and passed, under “suspension of the rules,” S. 1595, the “Hezbollah International Financing Amendments” bill introduced by Rubio more than a year ago, in July 2017. The Senate passed the bill in October 2017, so it is ready for the president’s signature.
NEW MEASURES ON SAUDI ARABIA, U.S. FORCES IN YEMEN
On Aug. 22 Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and seven co-sponsors introduced S.Res. 613 “requesting a report on the observance of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom in Saudi Arabia.” And on Sept. 25 Reps. Bradley Schneider (D-IL) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) introduced H.R. 6894 to “require a report on Saudi Arabia obtaining nuclear fuel enrichment capabilities.”
While the earlier bills regarding an authorization for use of military force have made little progress (see “Status Updates” box), a new measure, H.Con.Res. 138, introduced Sept. 26 by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), would require the president to “remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” It has 42 co-sponsors, including Khanna.
Shirl McArthur is a retired foreign service officer. He lives in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.