House Passes Israel ‘Strategic Partnership’ Bill 410-1; Senate To Vote on Similar Measure
Last week, the US House of Representative voted overwhelmingly to recognize Israel as a “major strategic partner.” A similar bill is now under consideration in the Senate.
HR 938, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, passed by a vote of 410-1 in the House on March 5. Only one lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), voted against the bill.
Now the Senate is considering S.462, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who says the bill “reaffirms the strong historical relationship between the United States and Israel” on “a range of issues… so we can work together to address many of the foreign policy challenges facing both countries.”
Boxer added that the bipartisan bill “once again demonstrates Congress’ commitment to Israel’s security and deepens our countries’ defense relationship with our ally Israel during this extremely critical moment in the Middle East region.”
The proposed legislation recognizes Israel as a “major strategic partner,” authorizing $1.8 billion in additional American weapons shipments to the tiny but strategically important nation, which already receives an average of around $3 billion in annual US military assistance. That’s more than any other country receives. The bill would also require the Obama administration to consider a joint US-Israeli Cyber Security Center and increase technology transfers. It also waives visa requirements for Israelis visiting the United States.
The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said the measure “enhances our bilateral cooperation with Israel” and “helps to ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over those who seek to do her harm.”
Ros-Lehtinen has been a champion of Israel throughout her years in Congress, often decrying anti-Israel terrorism and taking a hard-line stance on Palestinian issues. But Ros-Lehtinen has also been criticized for her strong support of Cuban exile terrorists based in her district, including men believed to be responsible for the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, the worst act of air terrorism in the Western Hemisphere until September 11, 2001.
The House version of the bill languished for more than a year, held up over concerns it would codify Israeli discrimination against activists and Arab- and Palestinian-American travelers, Mondoweis reported. Those concerns resulted in alterations to the measure that removed language allowing Israel to deny entry to travelers it deemed potential threats to national security, a tactic often used to reject individuals who speak out against Israeli crimes against Palestinians and others. The Senate version of the bill still contains a provision permitting Israel to deny entry on “national security” grounds.
The influential lobby group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had reportedly dispatched as many as 10,000 lobbyists to Capitol Hill to push Congress to pass the proposed Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, as well as the strategic partnership bill.
Israel’s backers believe the United States should provide strong support to a nation regarded as a bulwark of democracy and relative stability in a troubled region. Critics note the dozens of United Nations resolutions condemning Israel for its actions in the illegally-occupied Palestinian territories and elsewhere. Former US President Jimmy Carter and numerous other Nobel Peace laureates are among those who have called Israeli policies and actions a form of “apartheid” and, in some cases prominent international voices, including Jewish-American UN official Richard Falk, have accused Israel of ethnic cleansing for its actions against Palestinians, especially the ongoing and illegal Jewish settler colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.