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Senate Foreign Relations Committee passes Act aimed at Defunding Palestinian Terror

American Taylor Force killed in Jaffa, Israel by a Palestinian terrorist, March 9, 2016

Before Congress adjourned today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act (S. 1697) on a bi-partisan basis with all Republican members voting. Most Democratic members voted for the measure with one amendment introduced by Virginia Democrat Sen.Tim Kaine to keep any impounded funds for the Palestinian Authority in escrow for a year beyond any sequestration action. Other Democratic members of the Committee who voted for the Act included, Ranking Member Ben Cardin (Md), Robert Menendez (NJ), Chris Coons (De) and Ed Markey (MA).

The Act is directed at withholding U.S.funds from supporting the Palestinian Authority “pay for slay” program providing monthly stipends to terrorists in Israeli jails or their surviving families.

Analysis of the Palestinian Authority budget for 2017 revealed that such payments accounted for half of foreign aid of $693 million, $345 million. The only exempted funding allowed is for humanitarian and security purposes.

The State Department is required to report to Congress every six months on compliance with the Act. The measure now moves to a vote of the full Senate following its return from the summer recess.

The Senate Committee approval of the Act was attacked by the Chief Palestinian Authority representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot.  According to Ha’aretz Zomlot claimed  it would ‘harm’ the flagging peace process with Israel. Absurdly, Zomlot said the ‘pay for slay’ funding program “provides for the security and well-being of its people” who live under Israeli occupation.

The legislation won the support of most major US Jewish organizations including AIPAC, that announced support two days before  the scheduled vote. The Zionist Organization of America and the Orthodox Union were early supporters of the Taylor Force Act.

The eponymous Act is named for the late Taylor Force, a 29 year old West Point graduate and former US Army artillery officer, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan . He was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian terrorist at a restaurant in Jaffa, Israel on March 9, 2016. His surviving widow was severely injured in the attack. Force, a student at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, was in Israel at the time with colleagues leaning about the dynamics of the country’s high tech start up entrepreneurship.

School Chancellor at Vanderbilt Nicholas S. Zeppos issued the following statement at the time of Force’s tragic death:

This horrific act of violence has robbed our Vanderbilt family of a young hopeful life and all of the bright promise that he held for bettering our greater world, Taylor’s family and his friends and colleagues have our deepest sympathy and utmost support.

Should the full Senate follow suit  and pass the law sending it on to President Trump for his signature  it will be a living memorial aimed at stopping the incentive for Palestinians to commit violence heedlessly taking the lives of Israelis and visiting Americans like the late Taylor Force z”l of blessed memory.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iran Nuclear Deal: Stark Contrast between Netanyahu and Obama [+Video]

Despite technical difficulties, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a wide audience of both U.S. and Canadian Jews including persons of other “ethnicities and faiths” at 1:30 PM EST on August 4, 2015. The electronic venue was a high definition webcast from Jerusalem sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COPMAJO).  JFNA President Stephen  Greenberg, who introduced the Prime Minister, told both he and  those watching, including this writer, that more than 10,000 had signed up, ‘with thousands more” gathered to watch and hear Netanyahu’s address and his response to questions from viewers in Cincinnati, Boynton Beach, Florida, Los Angeles and New York. President Obama and Vice President Biden held forth in a two hour gathering to a more intimate audience of 20 Jewish leaders of various denominations and political persuasions at the White House Treaty Room organized by Greg Rosenbaum National Jewish Democratic Council.

Netanyahu cautioned that  acceptance  of the nuclear deal with Iran would give the Islamic regime “two paths to the bomb” possibly resulting in a nuclear war, triggering a regional nuclear arms race.  President Obama was alleged to have remarked at his closed door White House session that rejection of the deal would force the US to under military action and that “rockets would rain down on Tel Aviv.”

The Times of Israel  (TOI) reported Netanyahu’s webcast remarks:

[Accusing] the deal’s supporters in the Obama administration of spreading “disinformation about the deal and about Israel’s position” in its bid to rally support.

He pointed out a series of “fatal flaws” in the deal, and asserted that it “doesn’t block Iran’s path to bomb,” but rather “paves” its path to the bomb.

The agreement, a legacy foreign policy project of US President Barack Obama, gives Iran “two paths to the bomb,” enabling Tehran to obtain a weapon either by keeping the deal and waiting for it to elapse, or by violating it, Netanyahu warned.

In his response to a question of what was the alternative if Congress rejects the Iran deal, Netanyahu said:

“Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure,” Netanyahu said, in presenting his alternative to the deal, asserting that Iran would not back away from the negotiating table, even if subjected to harsher sanctions, and would abide more stringent curbs on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu noted a rare moment of national coalescence in Israel ‘s  raucous Athenian democracy that more than 70 percent of Israeli polled opposed the JCOPA and that recent polls in the US showed that a majority of Americans agreed with the Israeli position. He drew attention to the North American audience that even Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union in Israel’s Knesset, who he remarked was unstinting in trying to overturn his government, agreed that the Iran nuclear pack was an existential danger.  At one point he referenced the transition from the original guidance for negotiations with Iran offered  by President Obama that “no deal was a better alternative to a bad deal” to one that “rejection of the JCPOA would mean war.”

Watch the full JFNA webcast Vimeo Video of Israel PM Netanyahu’s address:

President Obama, according to comments from those in attendance at the White House gathering of American Jewish Leaders ironically reemphasized Netanyahu’s webcast comments.   Rosenbaum of the NJDC, according to the TOI, said:

If Congress succeeds in killing the deal and Iran were to subsequently walk away from the agreement and start enriching uranium again to weapons-grade levels, the opponents of the deal will pressure the US government into launching a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, the president was said to have argued.

“But the result of such a strike won’t be war with Iran,” Rosenbaum said, quoting the president.

[…]

“They will fight this asymmetrically. That means more support for terrorism, more Hezbollah rockets falling on Tel Aviv,” Rosenbaum quoted Obama as saying. “I can assure that Israel will bear the brunt of the asymmetrical response that Iran will have to a military strike on its nuclear facilities.”

The objective of these dueling pitches was to enlist Jewish support on the one hand and rejection on the other for the Iran Nuclear Pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Act (JCPOA). The JCPOA was announced by the P5+1 in Vienna on July 14th and endorsed by a unanimous vote of the 15 member UN Security Council on July 22nd. A vote by Congress, one way or the other, is slated to occur on or before September 17th,  upon  the reconvening of Congress following the summer recess after Labor Day.

As if on cue two experts on Iran’s nuclear program and international arms control provided evidence supporting Netanyahu that Iran was poised in a just a few months to become a nuclear threshold state and why the nuclear deal should be rejected in favor a better along the lines of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s responses to audience questions. Moreover three leading House Democrats declared they would vote no when a vote in scheduled in September.

The Daily TIP reported Iran nuclear program expert David Albright of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security ISIS) testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

That Iran’s breakout time could be as low as 6-7 months, calling into question the administration’s claim to have secured a one-year breakout. Albright based this calculation on the likelihood that Iran would deploy its more advanced IR-2m centrifuges in an attempt to break out, and on the failure of the deal to require full dismantlement of all of the equipment used in the cascades at the Fuel Enrichment Plant. Senator Menendez (D-NJ) stated that Albright’s claim concerns him because “six or seven months, that’s not going to be helpful if they decide to break out… The next president of the United States… will really only has one choice: to accept Iran as a nuclear weapons state or to have a military strike, because sanctions will be ineffective.”

Albright also criticized the provision giving Iran up to 24 days to provide access to suspicious, undeclared sites. In his testimony, he wrote that Iran has extensive experience in evading IAEA monitoring and that “twenty four days could be enough time, presumably, for Iran to relocate undeclared activities that are in violation of the JCPOA while it undertakes sanitization activities that would not necessarily leave a trace in environmental sampling.”

The Daily TIP drew attention to another witness Dr. Robert Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security:

He also criticized the deal because it recognizes and legitimizes a path to nuclear weapons, provides for ineffective verification, fails to prevent breakout, and fails to limit Iran’s ballistic missile development. Moreover, Joseph argued that the deal increases the likelihood of nuclear proliferation in the region, undermines the nonproliferation regime and the IAEA, and enables a more aggressive and repressive Iranian regime, thereby increasing the prospect of conflict and war. He concluded that Congress should reject the deal because “a bad agreement is worse than no agreement.”

Three prominent House Democrats declared they were opposed to JCOPA. The Daily TIP commented:

Three leading members of the House of Representatives – Reps. Steve Israel (D – N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D – N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) – today became the first three Democratic Jewish members of Congress to go on record opposing the nuclear deal with Iran. Rep. Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday that he would vote against the deal and will work to defeat it in next month’s Congressional vote. Israel told Newsday that he was going public with his opposition hoping that he might influence other members of the House.

Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls government spending, issued a press release stating that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a “essential national security imperative,” and that after extensive consultations with “officials in the Obama Administration, regional experts, foreign leaders, Congressional colleagues, and my constituents,” she could not support the deal.

Deutch, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made his announcement in an op-ed published today in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Citing his longstanding efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Deutch argued that the deal not only fails to accomplish its stated goals of preventing a nuclear Iran, but dangerously strengthens Iran in a number of other ways

American Jews received starkly contrasting  opposing arguments, yesterday, from both Israeli PM Netanyahu and President Obama regarding acceptance or rejection by Congress of the Iran nuclear pact.  Netanyahu delivered his remarks and answered questions in an open webcast forum to an audience of thousands, while President Obama’s views were filtered through the lens of a partisan Democrat leader at a closed White House gathering of allegedly contentious argumentative American Jewish leaders.  Doubtless these arguments will reverberate in town hall meetings of Senators and Congressional Representatives across America during the summer recess.  As reflected in Capitol Hill testimony of Iran nuclear watchdog group head David Albright of ISIS and arms control expert Dr. Robert Joseph and the declarations of leading House Democrats opposing the Iran deal, American Jews may finally be getting the facts contesting the rhetoric of President Obama that its either acceptance of the JCPOA deal or war as the only alternatives.

Netanyahu believes, as increasingly others do, that there is a better deal, one which Congress could send a resounding message to the White House in September when they vote to hopefully reject the Iran nuclear pact.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.