U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans are expected to act on several Israel-related bills before the new year, when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
The lower chamber will vote in the next two weeks on legislation, which will pressure Hamas against the use of “human shields” in its conflicts with Israel, and direct the president to prohibit property transactions of individuals deemed responsible. The bill also encourages the president to seek a Security Council resolution to condemn this war tactic.
In the Senate, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky is blocking a vote on legislation that codifies a decade-long Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the US worth $38 billion – negotiated by the Obama administration in 2016 – that recommits Washington to Israel’s qualitative military edge over regional powers.
That bill passed the House in the fall with a simple voice vote, but Israel advocacy organizations – primarily the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel – blame Paul for putting a hold on it in the Senate, and are pressuring the isolationist senator, who is known for his blanket opposition to foreign aid via a social media campaign.
These two bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support and are expected to ultimately pass. But action on more controversial legislation related to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is not expected within this Congress, according to a source of a pro-Israel organization.
A “Combating BDS” bill and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act have both sat in the Senate, where civil liberties organizations continue to express concern over their potential infringement on constitutional free speech protections.
In particular, the anti-boycott act – which enjoys 57 cosponsors from both parties – has struggled to attract prominent Democratic senators, who are considering campaigns for the presidency in 2020.
Of the handful of those senators expected to run, only one – Cory Booker of New Jersey – has said he would sponsor the bill, which would shield Israel and Israeli businesses by criminally penalizing US persons who participate in international boycotts of the state.
When Democrats take the House in January, several new committee chairmen plan to hold hearings that discuss Jewish world concerns, including Iran policy and a rise in white nationalism and hate crimes across the country.
Jerrold Nadler, who will take over the reins of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter this week to the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI informing them that “in the next Congress, this committee will likely examine the causes of racial and religious violence, assess the adequacy of federal hate crimes statutes, and scrutinize targeted domestic surveillance of specific groups.
“We need to work together to study the disturbingly increasing number of hate crimes, the growing threat of far Right and right wing extremism, and the disparate treatment of minority communities in terrorism investigations,” Nadler wrote. “The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the murder of an African-American couple in a Kentucky grocery store and Indian engineers in a Kansas bar, and the package bombs sent to Trump opposition figures are only the most recent reminders of the ever-present threat of extremism in our country.”
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