J Street statement on Kyl and Bunning amendments

March 9th, 2009

UPDATE: J Street applauds the Senate’s resounding defeat of Senator Kyl’s proposed Amendments 630 and 631 to the Omnibus bill, as well as Senators Kyl and Bunning’s decisions to withdraw Amendments 629 and 665 before they could be brought to a vote. -- Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of J Street, released the following statement:

J Street is deeply concerned by the four amendments proposed to the Omnibus bill by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). We urge the Senate to oppose their passage. The proposed amendments are a cynical cocktail of political grandstanding and cheap attacks. One amendment even tries to make the stuff of conspiracy theories and debunked rumor emails into law. Using the pretense of these amendments in a last ditch attempt to sink the President’s Omnibus bill is neither respectful nor honest.  If a Senator opposes President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s “new era” of meaningful American engagement in Middle East peacemaking, we ask that they make their differences clear in the service of an open and honest debate about what is best for American and Israeli interests.
Read Americans for Peace Now's analysis of the proposed amendments below the fold.
1. (Kyl) SA 629 would add binding law to the bill to the effect that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States.” This amendment is discriminatory and it is questionable whether this amendment is, at the most basic level, consistent with U.S. law.  The amendment appears to be a reaction to an internet "urban legend" that has been circulating since January, to the effect that the Obama Administration is planning to resettle large numbers of Gazans in the US.  This urban legend has been thoroughly debunked (earning the story its own page on the urban legends website, snopes.com -- see: http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/palestinians.asp). This may be the first time in history that a US Senator has offered a legislative initiative based on a completely false and clearly debunked internet rumor -- something that might be funny if the discriminatory subtext of the amendment was not so disturbing. The introduction of this amendment sends a very troubling message to the world regarding the acceptability of this sort of discrimination in the American mainstream. Its consideration on the Senate floor will no doubt be carefully watched, both in the region and around the world.  APN urges all members to categorically reject this outrageous amendment. 2. (Kyl) SA 630 would insert the following report requirement into the bill:  “Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to Congress a report on whether additional funds from Foreign Military Financing assistance provided annually to the Government of Egypt could be expended -- (1) to improve efforts by the Government of Egypt to counter illicit smuggling, including arms smuggling, across the Egypt-Gaza border; and  (2) to intercept weapons originating in other countries in the region and smuggled into Gaza through Egypt.” This amendment is similar to language in the previous ForOps bill that “fenced off” $100 million of Egypt’s military aid.  This fencing off language  was not included in the Omnibus, apparently as part of an effort to “start fresh” with the new Administration. As such, this amendment is a clear shot at Egypt’s FMF program and at efforts to improve the US-Egypt relationship. It should be emphasized that the amendment does NOT ask for an assessment of current counter-smuggling efforts, an appraisal of whether these efforts have been effective or sufficient, or an analysis of how these efforts could be or are being improved. Rather, it asks a question to which the answer is a foregone conclusion: could it enhance counter-smuggling efforts to spend more money on them? Such a report would lay the groundwork for efforts in the next appropriations cycle to earmark a portion or portions of Egypt’s FMF for such purposes – something that would be a radical change in the US-Egypt relationship, that would represent a major Congressional attack on that relationship, and that would likely undermine ongoing efforts and cooperation related to this very issue. APN strongly opposes this amendment and urges members to vote against it. The US has a vital strategic interest in keeping Egypt strong and in preserving strong bilateral US-Egypt relations.  While there are legitimate concerns about Egypt's efforts and record regarding smuggling across Egypt's border with Gaza, this amendment is not only unhelpful but may indeed be counterproductive in terms of ongoing efforts to improve security on the Egypt-Gaza border, and in terms of the efforts of the new Obama Administration to build better cooperation on this issue with Egypt. 3. (Kyl) SA 631 would insert the following certification requirement into the bill:  “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to aid reconstruction efforts in Gaza until the Secretary of State certifies that none of such funds will be diverted to Hamas or entities controlled by Hamas.” This amendment is redundant and irrational. Redundant, because US law is absolutely clear that no funds can go to Hamas.  Redundant, too, because existing language in this bill (General Provisions #7039 and #7040) include far-reaching oversight, vetting, reporting, and conditioning on any aid to the Palestinians or the Palestinian Authority. Irrational, because the amendment requires the Secretary to certify something that cannot be certified – i.e., that something will NOT happen.  It is reasonable to demand certification that all reasonable steps are being taken to ensure that no funds go to Hamas or other terrorist organizations.  And this is, in fact, one of the many things required under current US law regarding aid to the Palestinians.  It is neither reasonable nor rational to demand certification that a given outcome will not, under any circumstances, happen – unless the goal of the amendment is to come up with a certification requirement that simply cannot ever be met. The US aid program to the Palestinians is arguably the most conditioned, restricted, and extensively monitored/vetted US aid program in the world.  It is simply impossible to argue that this additional certification is somehow necessary to ensure that no taxpayer funds flow to Hamas. To the contrary, the only purpose this amendment serves is to force a pointless, politicized vote.  APN urges Senators to reject this cynical manipulation and vote against this redundant and irrational amendment. 4. (Bunning) SA 665 would add the following prohibition to the bill:  “(a) none of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available for the Department of State until the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, submits to Congress a report on investments by foreign companies in the energy sector of Iran since the date of the enactment of the Iran Sanctions Act (Public Law 104-172; 50 U.S.C. 1701 note) including information compiled from credible media reports.  The report shall include the status of any United States investigations of companies that may have violated the Iran Sanctions Act, including explanations of why the Department of State has not made a determination of whether any such investment constitutes a violation of such Act.  (b) In this section, the term ‘investment’ has the meaning given the term in section 14 of the Iran Sanctions Act (Public Law 104-172; 50 U.S.C. 1701 note).” This amendment would in effect shut down the State Department in order to force Secretary of State to produce a report on Iran. APN urges Senators to vote against this totally irresponsible amendment.