New from FMEP:
- 9/29/23: New episode of FMEP’s Occupied Thoughts podcast – Free Speech, IHRA, & Palestinian Freedom – A Conversation with Rebecca Ruth Gould [author of Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom]
NOTE: Senator Menendez (D-NJ) – a reliable champion of Israel and opponent of Iran diplomacy – stepping down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has sparked a great deal of speculation on what this may mean for Israel/Palestine issues. In this context, it is worth recalling that the new chairman of the committee, Sen. Cardin (D-MD) is arguably an even more reliable champion of both Israel and of AIPAC’s legislative priorities in Congress. This includes repeatedly leading on efforts (thus far unsuccessful) to pass legislation that would CRIMINALIZE U.S. citizens’ freely-taken political free speech, as an expression of their own political views, if that free speech aligns with EU or UN policies calling for or supporting the mere differentiation between Israel and settlements. For a review of what that effort looked like, see here.
(FY24 SFOPS) HR 4665: As noted in previous Round-Ups, I have adopted a policy of NOT covering Middle East-related elements in the FY24 Appropriations Bills this year, because (a) the odds of these bills passing into law are close to zero, and (b) the bills themselves – both base text and amendments – have crossed into a level in nuttiness that just defies serious analysis. For entertainment (ah – to laugh or to cry?) you can review all the wacky amendments that were submitted – most of which were note made in order – here (as an example of what things look like this year, check out H. Amdt. 450, offered by Ogles (R-TN), which reduces the salary of SecState Blinken to $1. That amendment passed on the House floor this week by a voice vote). Anyway, I’m breaking my policy to summarize some of the Middle East-related amendments considered this week’s on the House to the FY24 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill:
- H. Amdt. 451 (text), offered by Ogles (R-TN), to block funding for the State Department’s for the Office of Palestinian Affairs – passed by Voice Vote. [yes, they voted to, in effect, shut down an office of the State Department]
- H. Amdt. 455 (text), offered by Steube (R-FL), to “prohibit funds from being used for the Lebanese Armed Forces.” Failed by a vote of 120 – 309, 1 Present.
- H. Amdt. 461 (text), offered by Boebert (R-CO), to “decrease the salary of Palestinian affairs officer George Noll to $1″. Failed in a mostly party-line vote of 191 – 238. [Yes, 191 members voted to cut off the salary of an American CIVIL SERVANT. This is like cutting off the salary of people at the post office because you don’t like what is being sent in the mail].
- H. Amdt. 477 (text), offered by Tenney (R-NY), to “reduce the salary of the Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley to $1.” Passed by a voice vote. [Because of course they did.]
- H. Amdt. 478 (text), offered by Tenney (R-NY), to “prohibit funds to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel out of Jerusalem.” Passed by a vote of 360 – 67. [Yes, an amendment to prevent the Biden Administration from doing something…they have made absolutely clear they will never do, despite the fact that they should do it].
- H. Amdt. 481 (text), offered by Steube (R-FL), to “ensure none of the funds made available by this Act may be used to provide assistance to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).” Failed in a mostly party-line vote of 198 – 232. [Grandstanding at the expense of the UN is always a good way to earn pro-Israel credit; re-litigated U.S. support for UNESCO is double value!]
- H. Amdt. 482 (text), offered by Perry (R-PA), to “prohibit any funds from being made available for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.” Failed by a vote of 213-218. [Grandstanding at the expense of the UN is always a good way to earn pro-Israel credit; going after UNRWA is at least triple value! The fact that the amendment failed is remarkable and suggests that there are still people in Congress who, even if they don’t give a crap about Palestinian refugees and humanitarian needs, see UNRWA as good for Israel]
- H. Amdt. 483 (text), offered by Ogles (R-TN), to “prohibit the use of funds to delist the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Passed by a vote of 351-81. [What does that even mean? And in what world is this an issue other than for scoring political points by pretending it is something that has to be prevented?]
- Adopted as part of En Bloc Amendment: Mast (R-FL) amdt, “prohibits funds from being used to support a Palestinian State unless the U.S. Secretary of State certifies that the government of the new Palestinian State exercises full territorial jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip“
(SUPPORTING USSC) S. 2956: Introduced 9/27/23 by Ossoff (D-GA), Young (R-IN), Lankford (R-OK) and Booker (D-NJ), the “Middle East Security Coordination Act,” aka, “A bill to support the work of the United States Security Coordinator to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in furthering coordination between Israelis and Palestinians, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
- Ossoff press release – Sens. Ossoff & Young Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Sustain High-Level U.S. Engagement for Stability in Israel & the Middle East [noting backing for the bill from the Israel Policy Forum]; Young press release
- For analysis of the Middle East Security Coordination Act, see this X-thread from Joel Braunold (of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace): “While USSC is vital find it curious that in what is essentially an approps authorization bill two things: 1) no 2SS mention – which is slippage congressionally speaking for Dems. 2) the $75 mil number. The $75 mill number I assume is coming from the trump years where there was an agreement in a hard earmark for 75 mil for security and 75 mil for ESF funding – the security number was just made at that level to try and get ESF as high as poss. Since the ESF number under Biden has gone back to 225 ish. The reason the 75 mil for security is odd is it’s far higher then admins have even drawn from for years and the amount was coming down to around 35/40. It’s also odd as the account that it’s drawn from is INCLE which is no year money meaning the previous approps that were at this level already exist and are open to use. There must be over 200 mill just sitting there already. The challenge with USSC hasn’t been funding level (though trying to cut number of flag officers has been problem) so find it odd that it’s a sense of Congress on flag officer rather then requirement. So it’s a hard earmark messaging bill in a no year account that divorced the USSC for 2SS US policy. Again think security coordinator at flag level very very important but the policy context is as well. I’ll note that R is now the new agreed language ‘supports regional peace and stability and improves prospects for progress towards a negotiated resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict’ – cool but it’s a shift.”
- Media: US senators file bipartisan bill to boost funding for Jerusalem security coordinator (Times of Israel 9/28/23); First look: New Senate bill aims to strengthen U.S. Palestinian security post (Axios 9/28/23); Lawmakers seek to strengthen, shore up Israeli-Palestinian security coordinator role (Jewish Insider 9/29/23)
(IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 5826: Introduced 9/28/23 by Wilson (R-SC) and Moskowitz (D-FL), “To require a report on sanctions under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on the Judiciary.
(DISAPPROVING OF IRAN PRISONER DEAL) H. Res. 739: Introduced 9/28/23 by Issa (R-CA) and 29 cosponsors (all Republicans), “Disapproving of the waiver of sanctions on Iran submitted to Congress on September 11, 2023.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
- Issa (R-CA) 9/28/23: X-post – “Biden’s appeasement of Iran has made the mullahs rich and brought the world’s leading terror regime closer to developing nuclear weapons. This Congress will now act.“
- House Resolution Slams Biden’s $6 Billion Iran Prisoner Swap – Republicans move to block further efforts to free up funds for Tehran (Free Beacon 9/28/23)
(NO NORMALIZATION OF ASSAD GOVERNMENT) S .2935: Introduced 9/27/23 by Risch (R-ID) and Rubio (R-FL), “A bill to prohibit any official action to recognize or normalize relations with any Government of Syria that is led by Bashar al-Assad.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations
(INVESTIGATE IRANIAN-AMERICAN AT DOD) Blackburn letter to SecDef: On 9/28/23, Sen. Blackburn (R-TN) reportedly (by Jewish Insider) sent a letter to SecDef Austin expressing “concern over the actions taken by Ariane Tabatabai, the current Chief of Staff for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD/SOLIC)” [notice the absence of the word “allegedly” or anything like that]. It goes on: “Given your administration’s intentional appeasement of the Iranian regime, it is unfortunately not surprising that you are allowing those with close ties to Iran to serve in a senior role. It is vital to the security of our nation to thoroughly evaluate all individuals with links to the regime that wish to operate within the Department of Defense. It is imperative that no one with direct affiliations to the Iranian regime have access to sensitive information or influence over United States foreign policy.” It asks for answers to a list of questions (answers due by October 6) about Tabatabai’s hiring and position, including “Has Ms. Tabatabai ever been in the position to make impacts that directly impact the country of Israel?”
(NEED ANSWERS RE: ALLEGATIONS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE OPERATION) Hagerty/Hern/Wilson letter to POTUS: On 9/27/23, Reps. Hagerty (R-TN), Hern (R-OK), and Wilson (R-SC) sent a letter to President Biden requesting answers to a list of questions, in either classified or unclassified form: “1) Can you please confirm whether the audiotape published on September 17th and the “sensitive but unclassified” documents published on August 27th by the Tehran Times are authentic? 2) If the audio and documents are authentic, please provide security assessment on how the Tehran Times obtained them. 3) Was Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley involved in the chain of custody of the “sensitive but unclassified” U.S. government documents that were ultimately published by the Tehran Times? 4) Were any of the non-governmental persons referenced by the Tehran Times— including Trita Parsi, Ali Vaez, and Vali Nasr—involved in chain of custody of the U.S. documents that were ultimately published? 5) Please describe the steps your Administration is taking to prevent further leaks of information to the Iranian regime? Which elements of the U.S. government have you tasked with this responsibility?” Also see press release, Hagerty (R-TN) X-post
(NEED ANSWERS RE: DOD OFFICIAL & IRANIAN REGIME) Bergman/Rogers letter to SecDef: On 9/26/23, Reps. Bergman (R-MI) and Rogers (R-AL) sent a letter to SecDef Austin expressing “deep concern with the Department’s hiring of Ariane Tabatabai as the Chief of Staff for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD/SOLIC).” The letter asserts: “Ms. Tabatabai’s past employment history and close ties to the Iranian regime are alarming and should be disqualifying for anyone seeking such a sensitive position of trust within the United States Department of Defense.” The letter asks for answers to a list of questions about Tabatabai’s hiring, to be produced by October 3. Also see: press release.
(WELL DONE EUROPE IN SANCTIONING IRAN MISSILE/DRONE PROGRAM – NOW DO MORE!) Menendez-Hagerty et al letter to E3: On 9/22/23, Sens. Menendez (D-NJ) and Hagerty (R-TN) sent a letter, cosigned by 29 fellow senators, to the ambassadors of the UK, France, and Germany. The letter applauds, “the decision to take concrete actions to uphold restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile and drone program this fall.” It also notes “we strongly support the decision to take steps that would maintain sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program before UN sanctions sunset in mid-October, and we encourage you to urge other European allies and other like-minded partners to do the same.” Also see: Bipartisan group of senators urges European allies to push U.N. on Iran sanctions (Jewish Insider 9/27/23)
(TARGETING FUNDING FOR PALESTINIAN NGOS) Issa letter to FBI and Treasury: According to a 9/21/23 article published by the Washington Examiner, on 9/21/23 Rep. Issa (R-CA) sent a letter “demanding the FBI and Treasury Department investigate ActBlue over the top Democratic software previously allowing an anti-Israel group accused of having Palestinian terror ties to fundraise on its platform.” It goes on: “Issa is requesting significant information from both Treasury’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Undersecretary Brian E. Nelson and FBI Director Christopher Wray while also asking the top officials to review whether ActBlue or PACBI violated federal law.” Quoting the letter, the article states: “‘The undeniable and continued collaboration between these two entities raises serious concerns of the enabling of terror-related activity and may also constitute money laundering crimes as well as violations of international law,’ Issa…wrote to Nelson and Wray, noting that ‘no part’ of reporting from the Washington Examiner has been ‘contradicted or denied by ActBlue.‘” While Issa’s office has not posted the letter online, on 9/27/23 it posted a press release touting the Washington Examinder’s article and validating its contents.
- Administration officials address Iran influence scandal, hostage deal, terror proxies (Jewish Insider 9/29/23)
- Ernst (R-IA) 9/28/23: X-post (with video clip) – “Any Pentagon official engaged in an Iranian misinfo op should have their security clearance removed. No question.“
- Ernst (R-IA) 9/28/23: X-post (with video clip) – “The Biden admin claims it is restoring deterrence toward Iran. Yet they’re offering the regime sanctions relief as it actively continues to threaten Americans. The appeasement must end.“
- Ernst (R-IA) 9/29/23: X-post – “The Biden admin fails to take seriously the threat of an Iranian spy infiltrating our DoD. I’m demanding immediate action to protect our national security.” Linked to article, Lawmaker demands answers after Biden official implicated in Iranian influence scheme: ‘Unbelievable!’ (Fox News 9/28/23)
- Mast (R-FL) 9/28/23: X-post (with video clip) – “WATCH: How did a high ranking staffer at Joe Biden’s State Department get a top-secret security clearance when she’s alleged to have ties to an Iranian propaganda group? And why don’t her bosses know whether or not she was properly vetted?“
- Wagner (R-MO) 9/28/23: X-thread – “Since the Admin’s shameful flight from Afghanistan 2 yrs ago, the Taliban has been left to help manage the very significant terror threats emanating from Afghanistan. The Taliban is a U.S. adversary that funds al Qaeda, employs al Qaeda members, & permits al Qaeda training camps. Meanwhile, Iran has only grown bolder and more aggressive in its support for terrorist proxies. Let’s be clear. Iran is a state sponsor of terror. U.S. policy must always, always, aim to deter or punish Iran’s use of terrorist proxies to harm Americans… …& sow instability across the Middle East. The U.S. must retain a powerful toolkit that empowers us to address these threats to our citizens & homeland. Watch our Foreign Affairs hearing on updating Authorizations for the Use of Military Force here.“
September 27, 2023: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia held a hearing entitled, “No Incentives for Terrorism: U.S. Implementation of the Taylor Force Act and Efforts to Stop ‘Pay to Slay.’” Witnesses were: Elliot Abrams (who was convicted of lying to Congress – but hey, why should that matter to anyone – testimony); Jonathan Schanzer (FDD – testimony); and Michael Koplow (IPF – testimony, which notably includes calling for the U.S. – in the name of peace and security – to “encourage Israel to limit growth in Israeli settlements to large settlement blocs rather than in isolated settlements or in settlement outposts that are illegal under Israeli law” – a recommendation that in effect means the U.S. should give a green light to all other Israeli settlement activity). Also see:
- Video of this hearing is here [for those who want to sit through nearly 80 minutes of anti-Palestinian grandstanding — which for bonus anti-Palestinian/anti-Biden grandstanding points covered allegations, published that same day, that the State Department is funding a Palestinian NGO in Gaza that is linked to terror].
- Jackson (R-TX) 9/27/23: X-post (with video clip) – “The Biden admin is ILLEGALLY funding, w/taxpayer dollars, the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay to Slay” which subsidizes and incentivizes terrorism against Israelis & Americans. I will always stand with Israel, and Biden’s actions are in direct violation of the Taylor Force Act!“
- Lawler (R-NY) 9/27/23: X-thread with video clip) – “The @HouseForeignGOP‘s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia held a hearing today on the enforcement of the Taylor Force Act, and US efforts to stop ‘pay to slay.’ It is deeply concerning that President Biden resumed economic aid to the Palestinian Authority when pay to slay policies are still in effect, and continues to fail to bring up this policy on the world stage. This is in direct violation of the Taylor Force Act and must be stopped.“
- Lawler (R-NY) 9/27/23: X-post (with video clip)- “One thing is fundamentally clear. The Palestinian Authority is a corrupt and criminal authority and President Biden should absolutely not encourage other countries to subsidize PA terrorism.”
- Congress examines paths for ending Palestinian Authority’s ‘pay for slay’ (Jewish Insider 9/28/23)
- House subcommittee talks terrorism, legislation and Palestinian Authority ‘pay-for-slay’ practices (Jewish News Syndicate 9/27/23)
- US Lawmakers, Experts Put Palestinian Authority on Notice for ‘Pay for Slay’ Terrorist Payments (Algemeiner 9/27/23)
- Haaretz 9/28/23: Tlaib Slams Israel’s Visa Waiver Admission, Citing Discrimination Against Palestinians
- Arutz Sheva 9/28/23: Israel Heritage Foundation: Israel should be deciding which Americans to admit
- Hadassah 9/27/23: Hadassah and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz Host Briefing in Nation’s Capital, “American Women Supporting Israel: Building Bridges and Making an Impact”
- Haaretz 9/24/23: U.S. Democrats Know: A Saudi Deal With Netanyahu Would Cost Israel’s Democracy
- Haaretz 9/23/23: While the Media Watched the Protests in NY, Israel’s anti-Netanyahu Movement Went to Washington [“Over the last several weeks, the anti-Netanyahu bloc has enlisted a leading Washington PR firm, engaged directly with members of Congress (from both parties and in both houses) and held discussions with leading influencers in the DC think tank scene.”]
- NBC News 9/22/23: Rep. Turner: ‘Congress would absolutely support’ a Saudi-Israel deal, ‘an incredible accomplishment’
- Jewish Insider 9/29/23: Cardin: Saudi deal would be a ‘game changer,’ but ‘issues’ must be addressed
- Politico (Pro) 9/28/23: Cardin considers Egypt aid pause after Menendez indictment
- Defense News 9/28/23: Cardin may track Menendez on Saudi pact, Turkey F-16s as panel chair
- Mondoweiss 9/28/23: Israel hawk Robert Menendez indicted for corruption, again
- Haaretz 9/27/23: ‘We Deeply Appreciate Him’ | U.S. pro-Israel Establishment Still in Sen. Menendez’s Corner Despite Corruption Charges
- Politico 9/27/23: Menendez ouster improves odds for F-16 sale to Turkey, top Republican says
- Jewish Insider 9/27/23: Menendez’s legal woes could reshape direction of Democratic foreign policy
- Lawfare 9/26/23: What the Menendez Indictment Says About U.S.-Egypt Relations
- Al-Monitor 9/26/23: US military aid to Egypt under scrutiny amid Menendez bribery charges
- New Jersey Monitor 9/26/23: Experts alarmed by claims that Menendez eased military aid to Egypt
- Middle East Monitor 9/26/23: Pressure on US lawmakers to suspend military support for Egypt
- Al-Monitor 9/25/23: Menendez ignores calls to resign as alleged Egypt bribery ties get exposed
- The Guardian 9/25/23: US urged to withhold military aid to Egypt in wake of Bob Menendez charges
- Haaretz 9/25/23: Pro-Israel Sen. Menendez Corruption Controversy Could Cost Israel Its Key Ally in D.C.
- New York Times 9/23/23: For Egypt, Menendez Was Key to Access to Billions in U.S. Aid
- DAWN 9/23/23: U.S.: Suspend Military Aid to Egypt in Wake of Menendez Indictment for Corruption by Egyptian Government
- Washington Post 9/22/23: Menendez corruption charges complicate tense ties with Egypt
- The Intercept 9/22/23: Menendez “Appreciated” Meeting With Egypt Dictator Amid Alleged Bribes for Arms Sales
- Los Angeles Times 9/22/23: Why would Egypt need to bribe a U.S. senator?
- Politico 9/22/23: Egypt, guns, money and power at center of Menendez indictment
Allegations of Iranian Influence Agents in Biden Admin
- Free Beacon 9/27/23: Ted Cruz Alleges ‘Vast Iranian Influence Operation That Goes to the Very Top’ of the Biden Admin
Cassidy (R-LA) 9/27/23: X-post –“Great news! #Israel is officially in the Visa Waiver program. @SenRickScott, @SenJackyRosen, and 65 of my colleagues fought for this reality. This will strengthen the always-increasing friendship between our two ally countries.”
Auchincloss (D-MA) 9/29/23: X-post – “90% of House Republicans just voted to defund security aid to Israel.“
Phillips (D-MN) 9/29/23: X-post – “They say they support our troops, yet our troops won’t receive pay. They say they believe in a social safety net, yet are slashing support for our most vulnerable by 30%. And they say they support Israel, yet they’re trying to cut $1 billion in aid. What in the world is going on?“
Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) 9/29/23: X-post – “House Republicans just voted to cut Israel aid by $1 Billion, that’s with a “B.” And that includes almost every self-described ‘moderate Republican’ in this chamber. I’m joining fellow Members now at the Capitol Triangle to discuss this failure w/ the press. Join me.”