Tag Archives: S.720

AIPAC’s agenda

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

AIPAC — America’s Pro-Israel lobby — is as powerful (if not more powerful) in the halls of Congress as the NRA.  A 2016 article in the Foreign Policy Journal noted:

The AIPAC-led pro-Israel lobby is probably the strongest, best organized and most effective lobby network in Washington DC. For the 2015-2016 election cycle, the pro-Israel network has already dispensed $4,255,136 in contributions. The largest single amount ($259,688) went to Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Among interest groups that lobby on behalf of a foreign government, none ranks higher in contributions to members of Congress than the pro-Israel lobby.

So it should come to no one’s surprise that most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle carry water for AIPAC. We can find AIPAC’s fingerprints on many pieces of legislation.

  • Opposition to Iran – Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R. 5132)—authored by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).
  • The Taylor Force Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 1164) cuts funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a result of the PA’s practice of paying families of Palestinian fighters who have died or been imprisoned.
  • The United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497)—authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL). Includes $3.3 billion in military assistance to Israel and an additional $500 million in missile defense funding.
  • The House of Representatives and Senate both introduced bipartisan resolutions — H. Res. 11 and S. Res. 6, respectively — reaffirming this principle and opposing efforts at the United Nations to impose a solution on the conflict. The House overwhelmingly adopted H. Res. 11 on Jan. 5.
  • The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S.170 and H.R. 2856).
  • The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R. 3329)—that would impose additional sanctions on the terrorist organization and those that support it.

U.S. politicians are proud of confirming their support for Israel and boasting that there’s no daylight between Israel’s interests and America’s interests.

I’d feel a whole lot more confident of our “special relationship” with Israel if I knew that my elected officials were putting U.S. interests ahead of their allegiance to Israel.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of the tail (Israel) wagging the dog (U.S.) — with AIPAC establishing U.S. foreign policy by very clever messaging and lobbying tactics that sometimes borders on bullying.

If Congress was not tied to AIPAC at the hip, the 6 legislative priorities above might be recast as follows:

  • Iran is a growing power in the region with which diplomacy and negotiation is in our (the U.S.) best interest. Preventing a new nuclear power in the region is good for the community of nations and the U.S. There needs to be transparency and honesty in addressing Israel’s nuclear weapons too.
  • Payment to the families of soldiers in uniform is standard practice in the U.S. and Israel, there’s no reason why payment to Palestinian fighters should be treated any differently. Consistent treatment in our foreign policy enhances U.S. credibility.
  • Is it in the best interests of the U.S. to pay $3.3 billion+ annually to Israel? This represents by far the largest contribution to a foreign government at a time when the U.S. is running the largest deficit in its history and Congress is considering cut backs to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  At a minimum, there should be a public discussion about the pros and cons of U.S. financial support to Israel.
  • Resolutions are non-binding and some may think these resolutions condemning the United Nations are unimportant. However, Americans need to know that the U.S. (and particularly the U.S. Congress) stands apart from the vast majority of nations vis-à-vis criticism of Israel and its violations of international law. To rectify this criticism, the U.S. should be using carrots and sticks to convince Israel to comply with international law, not throwing its weight around with AIPAC-written resolutions.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to criminalize political speech that targets Israel. I’ve written about it here and here. While the NRA focuses on the Second Amendment, it appears AIPAC has set its target on the First Amendment. It will be interesting to see how members of Congress on both sides of the aisle justify this blatant attempt to undermine Americans’ right to express their political beliefs peacefully and nonviolently.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to sanction Hizballah in Lebanon. Yes, Hizballah may be a military mini-threat to Israel (“mini” — considering the disparity in the weapons between Israel and Hizballah) but the real threat to peace in the Middle East is the precarious situation Lebanon finds itself today.  “The problem for Lebanon, the world’s third most-indebted country, is that it’s starting to look more like Greece financially. And if Greece’s survival as part of the euro was crucial to the European project, Lebanon is key to keeping what’s left of peace in the Middle East.” So the U.S. Congress should be discussing ways to support Lebanon, not jumping on AIPAC’s wagon which will likely destablize Lebanon even further.

Is AIPAC’s agenda consistent with our best interests at home and abroad? I don’t think so, but at least Americans deserve an open and transparent discussion on the floor of the House and Senate before our elected members of Congress vote on these AIPAC-sponsored bills. They need to hear from intelligent, opposing viewpoints instead of marching lockstep down AIPAC’s misbegotten path.

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AIPAC wants to shut down political speech

AIPAC is meeting in Washington, DC (Sunday through Tuesday) amidst protesters gathered outside trying to disrupt their conference. Capitol Hill is AIPAC’s target on Tuesday, March 6, where its members will be pushing their anti-Palestinian rights agenda – part of which is criminalizing the right to boycott through the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. (S.720/H.R.1697)

Checking the links for both pieces of legislation, I learned that there are 290 cosponsors in the House and 51 cosponsors in the Senate. Thankfully, my Congresswoman and two U.S. Senators from New Mexico have not cosponsored.  Next step — a call to each office to ask them to oppose these bills.  The bill’s summary includes:

This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the Senators last summer when the bill was first introduced to caution them that slapping civil and criminal penalties on individuals for expressing their political beliefs about Israel violates the First Amendment. Check out ACLU’s letter here.

The ACLU wrote: We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.

Unfortunately, a number of states are taking their cue from AIPAC and these Israel Anti-Boycott Acts, and they’re passing similar versions. As of October 2017, Wisconsin was the 24th state to promulgate either a law or an executive order forbidding the state from conducting business with firms engaged in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) activity targeting Israel.

The order states:  “Consistent with existing Wisconsin nondiscrimination provisions and regulations governing purchases… agencies may not execute a contract with a business entity if that entity is engaging in a boycott of Israel. Further, agencies shall reserve the right to terminate any contract with a business entity that engages in a boycott of Israel during the term of the contract.”

A teacher — Ms. Koontz — has taken the State of Kansas to federal court, challenging its anti-boycott legislation. She was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

In January 2018, the court ruled in her favor and granted her request for an injunction prior to trial. The Court ruled that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties. And Judge Crabtree said that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case! Check out my blog post here for more details about her case.

Americans may have different opinions about Israel, about foreign policy issues, and about boycotts. But we should all have the same opinion about the sanctity of our right to express political opinions in whatever peaceful, nonviolent way we may choose, including boycotts. If the government comes for my speech today, it becomes much easier for the government to come for your speech tomorrow.

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