The 115th Congress opened on 1/3/17 and adjourned on 1/3/19, concluding two years of Republican control of both the executive and the legislative branches of the U.S. government (the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the presidency). This one-party control did not result in a disproportionately productive legislative term, however. In the two-year period, the 100 senators and 435 representatives collectively introduced 13,563 pieces of legislation, up slightly from the 12,073 introduced in the 114th Congress. At the same time, only 223 of those measures—some 1.6 percent—carried provisions relevant to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, marking a decrease from the 317 relevant measures introduced during the 114th Congress.
This year’s Monitor includes the 62 relevant measures introduced during the 115th Congress’s second session (3 January 2018–3 January 2019) as well as the 15 relevant measures introduced during the first session (3 January 2017–3 January 2018) that were given further consideration during the second.
Overview of the Legislation
There are two main types of measures available to legislators attempting to shape future U.S. public policy: binding measures—bills and joint resolutions—that, if passed, carry the force of law, and nonbinding measures—simple and concurrent resolutions—that do not. The latter are typically used to “recognize,” “urge,” “encourage,” “affirm,” or “support” people, policies, and events. They are therefore seen as key indicators of congressional trends and priorities. Of the 77 measures under consideration here, 58 were binding (10 passed into law) and 19 nonbinding (4 passed).
Six of the ten bills that passed into law were appropriations or authorizations bills. These are the large, multi-faceted measures Congress uses to exert its constitutional authority over the federal government’s budget. Authorizations bills provide government agencies and programs with the legal authority to do their job, and they often include conditions and terms to regulate their operations. Appropriations bills allocate funding within the constraints of what has been previously authorized. Of the six appropriations and authorizations bills that passed into law during the second session of the 115th Congress, three carried provisions authorizing or appropriating military aid for Israel, including $3.1 billion in direct support and more than $700 million for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs (H.R. 1625 of 3/20/18, *H.R. 5515 of 4/13/18, and *H.R. 6157 of 6/20/18). The other three were stop-gap measures extending the previous year’s appropriations (*H.R. 195 of 1/3/17, *H.R. 1892 of 4/4/17, and *H. J. Res. 143 of 12/3/18).
As has been the case since at least 2005, when the Congressional Monitor began tracking all U.S. legislation related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, relevant measures can be subdivided into two main categories: (1) those directly benefiting Israel, with military aid, nonmilitary support, or ceremonial recognition of Jewish and Israeli history; and (2) those undermining critics or opponents of Israel, including the Palestinians, the United Nations (UN), Iran, and in recent years the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Down from 52 in the first session of the 115th Congress, 27 measures under consideration in the second session carried provisions designed to benefit Israel. For the most part, these 18 binding measures and 9 nonbinding measures can be further subdivided into the following categories.
Maintaining or Increasing Military Support: Each of the six appropriations and authorizations bills that passed into law fell into this category because they were vehicles for Congress’s annual allocation of military aid to Israel. The remaining six binding measures here would have directly increased aid to Israel or established new military cooperation programs. None of them passed into law. The two nonbinding measures in this category encouraged the Trump administration to continue military cooperation with Israel in order to “counter Iran” (H. Res. 785 of 3/15/18) and called for the U.S. to ensure Israel’s security with the U.S. nuclear arsenal (H. Con. Res. 139).
Offering Nonmilitary or Ceremonial Support: Of the six nonbinding measures in this category, only one passed, commemorating Israel’s 70th anniversary (*H. Res. 835 of 4/18/18). The 8 binding measures carried provisions upholding the prohibition on collecting and releasing detailed satellite imagery of Israel (S. 3277 of 7/25/18), reaffirming Israel’s right to self-defense (H. J. Res. 135 of 6/5/18), and enhancing joint law enforcement (H.R. 6998 of 9/28/18 and S. 3625 of 11/14/18), agricultural (S. 3042 of 6/11/18), and space programs (S. 2504 of 3/6/18, H.R. 5141 of 3/1/18, and S. 2497 of 3/5/18). None of them passed into law.
Commemorating Jewish and Israeli History: There was only one measure commemorating Jewish history under consideration this session. It congratulated the American Jewish Committee on its 112th anniversary (H. Res. 1166 of 11/30/18), and it did not pass.
Undermining Israel’s Adversaries
In line with the Trump administration’s efforts to bolster Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, lawmakers kept up ongoing efforts to undermine Israel’s detractors whether across the Middle East, in the United States, or within multilateral institutions. Approximately two-thirds of the measures under consideration here—52 out of 77—carried provisions targeting the Palestinians, the BDS movement, Iran, the UN, Hezbollah, and other entities deemed to be opposing Israel.
Down from 21 in the first session, only 12 measures under consideration in the second session of the 115th Congress carried provisions directly related to the Palestinians. Four of these passed into law: two appropriations bills allocating money in economic aid to the Palestinians, which included perennial conditions on the use of that aid (*H.R. 1625 of 3/20/18 and *H. J. Res. 143 of 12/3/18), one bill directing the president to impose sanctions on anyone connected to Hamas’s alleged use of human shields (*H.R. 3342 of 7/20/17), and one bill requiring the Palestinian leadership to choose whether or not to continue accepting U.S. aid or open themselves up to terrorism-related lawsuits from individual U.S. citizens (*S. 2946 of 5/24/18).
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement
Congressional focus on BDS waned again this session, with only 6 measures under consideration carrying provisions targeting the movement. As in other recent Congressional sessions, the bills targeted organizing efforts on college campuses across the country, authorized state and local governments to put in place their own anti-BDS bills, and imposed new anti-BDS regulations on trade in general. None of the six passed into law.
Setting aside legislation dealing with Iran’s nuclear program and adherence to the 7/14/15 nuclear agreement—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the alleged threat to Israel posed by Iran was a recurrent topic of legislation this session. Of the 21 measures considered here, eight were nonbinding resolutions condemning Iran for human rights abuses, treatment of protesters, and imprisonment of U.S. citizens. Three of these passed: one encouraging the Iranian government to “take meaningful steps” to locate and return a U.S. citizen who went missing in the country in 2007 (*S. Res. 85 of 3/9/17); one condemning the “state-sponsored persecution” of Iran’s Baha'i minority (*H. Res. 274 of 4/25/17); and one directing the president to work with the UN to stop the Iranian government’s alleged violations of human rights (*H. Res. 676 of 1/5/18). The 13 binding measures largely followed along the same lines, imposing sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses and support for so-called proxy forces in Syria. Two of these bills passed into law: one directing the secretaries of state and defense to develop a strategy for countering “the destabilizing activities of Iran” (*H.R. 5515 of 4/13/18), and one appropriations bill barring purchases of heavy water from Iran (*H.R. 6157 of 6/20/18, specifically Section 8131).
Pro-Israel lawmakers in the United States continued their efforts to undermine the UN or urge its reform in response to its alleged anti-Israel bias. In keeping with the Trump administration’s efforts to marginalize millions of Palestinian refugees around the world, they introduced three bills targeting UNRWA (H.R. 5898 of 5/21/18, H.R. 6451 of 7/19/18, and S. 3425 of 9/6/18). They also introduced nonbinding measures condemning the UN General Assembly’s rejection of the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (H. Res. 684 of 1/11/18), and calling for new legislation targeting the UN Human Rights Council (H. Res. 728 of 2/7/18). None of these measures passed.
While many of the bills to buttress Israeli security or sanction Iran mentioned Hezbollah, only five carried measures directly targeting the group. Two of these passed into law: one strengthening sanctions in connection with Hezbollah’s fundraising, recruitment, and alleged drug trafficking activities (*S. 1595 of 7/20/17); and the second directing the president to impose sanctions on anyone he deemed complicit in Hezbollah’s use of human shields (*H.R. 3342 of 7/20/17).