House, Senate Letters want Arab States to make "Dramatic gestures toward Israel"

As they broke for their August vacation, House and Senate members of Congress sent separate, AIPAC-promoted letters urging Arab states to recognize Israel’s “legitimacy.” In a typical show of hubris, the House letter was sent not to President Barack Obama or to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz. The letter, circulated by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ed Royce (D-CA) and signed by 226 House members, was sent on July 31. It recognizes the Arab Peace Initiative, calling it “an important element in the effort toward peace in the Middle East,” but expresses disappointment in the Saudi government’s public reaction to President Obama’s call for Arab states to improve relations with Israel. The letter’s signers urge His Majesty “to assert a strong leadership role and help lead the Middle East to a new era of peace and reconciliation by stepping forward with a dramatic gesture toward Israel.”

The Senate letter was sent, more conventionally, to Obama. Circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Jim Risch (R-ID) and signed by 71 senators, its managers held it until Aug. 10 in order to get the maximum number of signatures. The letter cites “concrete measures” taken by Israel “to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process” (but nowhere mentions illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories), and it encourages “Arab leaders to take similar tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process.” The letter’s concluding paragraph says, “We would like to understand what steps you are urging Arab leaders to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months.”

Interestingly, the letter was signed by only six of the Senate’s 13 Jewish members. Those Jewish senators not signing were Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

House Delegations Use August Break To Pay Fealty to Israel

Separate House Republican and Democratic delegations visited Israel during the first part of August. First was the 25-member Republican delegation, headed by Republican House Whip (and the only Republican Jewish member of Congress) Eric Cantor (R-VA). This was closely followed by the 29-member Democratic delegation, headed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). (See p. 27. For a picture of the Democratic delegation with Israeli President Shimon Peres, see the back cover of the Washington Report’s Sept./Oct. 2009 issue.)

Both delegations were fully funded by the American Israel Education Committee, a transparent fiction created by AIPAC to get around the congressional prohibition against accepting lobbyist-paid travel.

The Republican delegation received the most coverage in Israel’s right-wing press, largely because of some of Cantor’s outrageous statements. After visiting a couple of illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank, he said that one message the delegation is delivering is that the U.S. should be focusing on the threat of Iran, rather than on settlements. He also said that the Saudi peace plan is “akin to calling for the destruction of Israel.” And, after visiting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he feigned surprise that Fayyad ducked his question about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Surely, Cantor knows that no country so recognizes Israel.

New Congress, New Jerusalem Bill

After about six months, the 111th Congress finally has its perennial Jerusalem bill. H.R. 3412, introduced July 30 by Reps. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), goes further than previous bills. It would declare as “policy” that the U.S. recognizes “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel, both de jure and de facto.” It also would remove the presidential waiver authority from the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, and, if the U.S. Embassy in Israel isn’t established in Jerusalem by January 2012, would withhold some State Department funding.

Some Iran-Related Measures Continue to Gain Support

With Congress having been in summer recess, most of the previously described measures have made little progress. However, AIPAC managed to keep up the momentum on a couple of its priority issues–especially the two measures introduced in April that would expand sanctions against Iran by amending the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to include as sanctionable activities aiding in the development of Iran’s petroleum resources or providing or facilitating the export of refined petroleum resources to Iran. S. 908, introduced by Bayh, has gained five co-sponsors and now has 73, including Bayh. H.R. 2194, introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), has gained 21 co-sponsors and now has 295, including Berman. Born-again Zionist Burton’s ploy, described in detail in the Sept./Oct. Washington Report, to force floor consideration of H.R. 2194 by means of a “discharge petition,” has made no progress and is still far short of the required 218 signatures.

Also, the two bills that would “authorize state and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran’s energy sector” have gained co-sponsors. H.R. 1327, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), has gained 12 co-sponsors and now has 229, including Frank. S. 1065, introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), has gained 12 co-sponsors and now has 30, including Brownback.

The positive H.Con.Res. 94, introduced in April by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), has gained two co-sponsors and now has 34, including Conyers. It would give the sense of Congress that the U.S. should “promote the negotiation of an ‘Incidents at Sea Agreement’ between the U.S. and the Government of Iran.”

New Iran-Related Bill Introduced

Identical bills were introduced in the Senate and House that would “prohibit the heads of executive agencies from entering into or renewing procurement contracts with persons that export certain computer or telecommunications technologies to Iran.” S. 1475 was introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with one co-sponsor, on July 20 and, in the House, H.R. 3284 was introduced by Sherman, with two co-sponsors, on July 21.