The 110th Congress, Second Session: 3 January 2008 – 3 January 2009

The 110th Congress was in session from January 2007 to January 2009. The first session (4 January–31 December 2007) was covered in JPS 147 (pp. 173–88); the second session, covered in this issue, convened on 3 January 2008 and adjourned on 3 January 2009.

Despite the Democratic party’s dominance of both houses since the November 2006 elections, legislative trends on the Palestine issue remained unchanged. Vigorous support for Israel both militarily and rhetorically continued to be the main focus of legislation concerning Palestine and Israel. Other actors in the region were frequently addressed in the context of terrorism or of being a threat to Israel, indicative of the lens through which Congress views events in the region.

A total of 60 measures dealing with Palestine and/or Israel were introduced during the second session, as compared to 85 in the first. Proportional to the total number of measures introduced in both sessions, the percentage of relevant measures was almost identical (0.9% of the total in the first session and 1% in the second). Of the measures introduced this session, 20 (33%) passed, which is also comparable to the proportion of relevant measures passed in the first session (32%). In addition, 8 bills and resolutions acted on this session were introduced during the first session and carried over to the second after having been amended, passed, or otherwise moved further along in the legislative process.

Congressional measures fall into two broad categories: those that have the force of law if passed (bills and joint resolutions), and those that, if passed, merely state Congress’s views on a given issue (simple or concurrent resolutions). This being the case, bills and joint resolutions tend to be more substantive and consequential, often mandating that the U.S. government take certain actions (such as providing military aid to Israel) or prohibiting it from taking other actions (such as providing any money to the Palestinian Authority that could conceivably be used by the Hamas-led government in Gaza). Resolutions, by contrast, are nonbinding. Typically, resolutions “commemorate,” “celebrate,” “recognize,” “support,” or “condemn” persons or events, or “encourage,” “urge,” or “demand” others to take certain actions.

Of the 68 measures acted upon this session (60 introduced plus 8 carried over from the first session), 27 (including 6 carried over) were bills or joint resolutions that become law if passed. Of these 27, a full third (9, including 2 carried over from 2007) related to security assistance to Israel, making this the most common theme. Bills relating to the Holocaust constituted a close second, with a total of 7 (3 of which were introduced in the first session and carried over), including 3 to allow U.S. courts to hear cases brought by Holocaust survivors or their heirs seeking restitution from railroads that transported people to concentration camps (H.R. 3713 of 3/10/07 and S. 3462 of 10/9/08) or to recover unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies (H.R. 1746 of 28/3/07); a fourth (S. 2007 of 12/5/08) sought to expedite the prosecution and extradition of surviving Nazi war criminals.

Six bills specifically concerned terrorism and counterterrorism. These included a bill to prevent cigarette trafficking so as not to benefit Hamas, Hizballah, and al-Qa‘ida (H.R. 4081 of 5/11/07); a bill to rescind all U.S. assistance to Emory University’s Carter Center following the former president’s meeting with Hamas leader Khalid Mishal (H.R. 5816 of 16/4/08); and various bills targeting Iran and Syria. Most notable of these last is the Syria Accountability and Liberation Act (S. 2917 of 24/4/08 and its House companion measure, H.R. 2332 of 15/5/08), which for the first time contains clauses aimed at regime change. Several other bills alluded to the threats posed to Israel by Syrian and Iranian missile and nuclear programs (H.R. 5658 of 31/3/08 and H.R. 6178 of 4/6/08), and Iran’s influence in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon (S. 3288 of 18/7/08).

Five of the 27 bills and joint resolutions with potential force of law were passed this session (compared to 3 out of 34 acted upon in the first session). All 5 involved appropriations or funding for Israel. Two of these are annual defense spending authorization acts (H.R. 4986 of 16/1/08 and S. 3001 of 12/5/08) that authorize U.S. funding for Israeli missile defense systems. The other 3 all relate to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed to by the United States and Israel on 16 August 2007, which details annual increases in U.S. military aid to Israel over the next 10 years: H.R. 7177 of 27/9/08 codifies into law the first yearly increase in U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance for Israel mandated by the MoU by authorizing the appropriation of these funds, and the remaining 2 contain measures appropriating funds to meet the yearly assistance level established by the MoU for FY2009 (H.R. 2638 of 8/6/07 and H.R. 2642 of 11/6/07). (In the first session of the 110th congress, 2 of the 3 bills that became law were funding bills, while the third was the Energy Independence and Security Act that incorporated the United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, which had been the top legislative priority of the American Jewish Committee for 2007.)

In addition to initiatives having the force of law, 41 simple or concurrent resolutions were acted on this session (39 introduced in the second session and 2 introduced in the first and carried over). Fourteen of these (over a third—34%—of the total acted upon) mention terrorism, especially to condemn specific acts. Five of the 7 resolutions mentioning Palestinians do so in the context of terrorism (e.g., condemning Palestinian rocket attacks, condemning Hamas, and urging PA Pres. Mahmud Abbas to abrogate articles of the “Fatah Constitution” that allegedly call for terrorism against Israel). Nine of the measures acted upon (21% of the total) invoke the Holocaust, especially to commemorate events, pay tribute to those who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, allow the use of the Capitol Rotunda for a Holocaust remembrance ceremony, and (more substantively) support the restitution of properties confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. A number of measures involved “incitement,” rhetoric, and the dissemination of anti-Semitic language. Indeed, a new emphasis on Arab media emerged this session, with three resolutions addressing the topic. Two resolutions targeted Hamas’s al-Aqsa TV and Hizballah’s al-Manar TV for their incitement to violence against Americans and urged the president to designate these stations “specially designated global terrorist” entities (H. Res. 1069 on 4/1/08 and H. Res. 1308 on 26/6/08), while a third condemned Arab governments for their censorship of the press in the Middle East and for publication of anti-Semitic speech (H. Res. 1127 on 22/4/08). Ten measures dealt with Iran, Syria, and/or Hizballah, especially as a threat to Israel and/or Lebanon, or as justification for increased U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Two resolutions in particular called for further sanctions against Iran (H. Con. Res. 362 of 22/5/08 and S. Res. 580 of 2/6/08). These 2 resolutions, and sanctions on Iran in general, were among the top legislative priorities of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for 2008. Only 4 measures dealt with the peace process: 2 recognizing the founding of Seeds of Peace; 1 recognizing NGOs that work for a just peace, and (most importantly) a resolution calling for Jewish refugee claims to be addressed alongside Palestinian claims in any peace negotiations. Finally, although the U.S. Constitution states that U.S. foreign policy is the sole responsibility of the president, a number of nonbinding measures urged foreign policy actions. These included urging the secretary of state to certify that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) does not provide funding or support to terrorists, urging the “expedient relocation” of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and imposing further sanctions on Iran (as mentioned above). Of the 41 simple or concurrent resolutions acted upon in the second session, 19 passed.