Bill setting US policy in Middle East makes world safer
By Josh Block
February 9, 2019
To read the full article in The Hill, please click here.
The Senate’s passage of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act on Tuesday was a refreshing display of bipartisanship. It sends a powerful message that there remains an unshakable commitment at the heart of American democracy to strengthen our allies and defend U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The legislation introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) incorporates four bills that recently advanced in the legislative process by strong bipartisan votes. Every Republican and 23 Democrats — including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — voted to advance the legislative package, thus rejecting an insular view of American foreign policy.
The final vote of 77-23 in favor of the bill is further evidence of the unshakable bond between the United States and Israel. Leaders in both parties deserve credit for rallying behind this commonsense legislation.
Republicans and Democrats who carried the legislation through the Senate are united on the view that it’s in America’s national security interest to ensure that allies such as Israel and Jordan are secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran, the Islamic State and their allies. Senators also took a powerful stance against the castigation of Israel at a time of frightening spikes in anti-Semitism in several countries, including the United States.
For one, the legislation empowers states and local governments in the United States to counter the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. So far, 26 states have passed laws banning contractors from engaging in economic discrimination against Israel. This includes blue states such as New York and California, red states such as Alabama and Texas, and a number of swing states.
Opponents of the legislation argue the bill is an effort to suppress free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than being a vehicle to infringe on First Amendment rights, it is a tool against hate and intolerance that has no place in America. It is still legal for individuals to boycott anything they like, just as no one is prevented from criticizing Israel.
The bill targets organized commercial discrimination against Israel. What’s left to do is for Congress to pass legislation codifying the working definition of anti-Semitism, which 31 countries, including the United States, have been employing since 2016 through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
But don’t be mistaken, this legislation is more than just an act of solidarity with Israel. It is a bill in support of peace, stability and humanity. Not only does it boost security cooperation with Jordan — a leading Arab ally in the fight against Islamic extremism — it also codifies the vital security assistance agreed upon in a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between America and Israel. The bill authorizes dramatic, much-needed financial sanctions against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime.
Supported by Russia and Iran, Assad has unleashed a rampage against his own people, including the use of chemical weapons and the bombing of hospitals and schools. Iran has used the chaos in Syria to finance, arm and train Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and is doing the same with Shiite-militia groups in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Israel repeatedly has said it would not allow Iran or its proxies to establish a military foothold in Syria. The new legislation equips Israel with much-needed resources to confront this threat. In recent weeks, we witnessed a dangerous flare-up on Israel’s northern border, where the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted an Iranian surface-to-surface missile fired from Syria.
The world is at its safest when America is at its strongest, and the passage of the legislation will make America and the world safer. The bipartisan support witnessed in the Senate should be heartening to those who support a strong America. In the House of Representatives, a bipartisan majority is ready to echo the statement made by their Senate colleagues. We hope for swift passage in the House as well.
Joshua S. Block is CEO and president of The Israel Project. He is a former Clinton administration official and spokesman at the State Department’s USAID. He got his start on Capitol Hill in the office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and was a spokesman for the Clinton/Gore and Gore/Lieberman presidential campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @JoshBlockDC.