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Inside the Beltway

The Israel advocate’s guide to politics

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, New Jersey’s members of the House of Representatives took action last last month to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and enforce sanctions against Iran.

Israel’s missile defense

The Appropriations Defense Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated $217.7 million — the highest amount on record, according to Washington sources — in funding for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. The appropriation — the highest on record for such projects, according to Washington sources — is $95.7 million more than the original request.

According to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Subcommittee has allocated more than $750 million in federal funds for the Arrow and David’s Sling anti-missile systems since 2007.

“Chairman Norm Dicks, myself, and all the members of the Defense Subcommittee understand how important it is to be at the cutting edge of anti-missile technology, both to safeguard our own citizens and troops, but also those citizens and troops of our allies and friends, such as the people of the Jewish State of Israel,” Rothman said in a statement to this newspaper.

“Given the concern and attention that we are focusing now on every dollar we are expending on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer for all purposes, including the defense of the United States and its allies,” the statement continued, “it is a mark of the importance of these projects that they were all funded so robustly and fully by our subcommittee.”

The subcommittee has also allocated $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state expects to deploy in the fall.

The Defense Subcommittee has allocated nearly $1 billion toward these three programs since 2007.

“The growing proliferation and increasing deadliness of missiles around the world pose a direct threat to the U.S. and our allies, making funding missile defense systems vitally important for America’s national security,” said Rothman.

Sanctioning Iran

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) last week wrote to President Obama urging him to withdraw the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council because of the council’s anti-Israel bias and poor record.

Garrett put his pen to work again later in the week and fired off another letter to Obama and another to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging follow-up action on Iranian sanctions recently passed in Congress.

The July 28 letter to Obama, who signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 in early July, requested a response from the president with a list of actions taken to implement the sanctions. The letter was signed by 38 Republican members of the House. The July 29 letter to Berman thanked the representative for his tough words on Iran but included a similar demand to know what action Berman would take. That letter was signed by 15 members of the House.

“Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a rogue state that poses a clear and present danger not just to the United States, but to our close ally Israel,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “I want to ensure there is adequate oversight and robust accountability of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the Iran sanctions legislation.”

A look at Lockerbie

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a FY 2011 State and Foreign Operations funding measure from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would require a State Department report on the early release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The amendment requires the secretary of state to submit a report within 180 days of the legislation that describes the circumstances that led to al-Megrahi’s release.

Scottish authorities released al-Megrahi from his life sentence last year after doctors diagnosed him with cancer and estimated he had only a few months to live. He has exceeded that initial estimate, which has led to questions of the Scottish and British governments and BP as to whether a deal was made to free al-Megrahi in exchange for access to Libyan oil.

“A formal State Department review will help provide answers to the many troubling questions surrounding the early release of the Lockerbie bomber,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Nearly a year after his release, al-Megrahi remains alive while the authorities responsible for his freedom continue to point fingers and dodge questions. We must continue our rigorous investigation of this travesty to learn the truth and send a message that terrorists do not deserve any compassion.”

A Senate hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

 
 

Rothman slams incitement, meets with missile defense machers

A congressional letter by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Steve Austria (R-Ohio) went out to President Obama last week urging him to press the Palestinian Authority to end “all … incitement” against Israelis and to return to the negotiating table for peace talks. A similar letter, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was signed by 27 senators, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).Rothman also met last week with the directors of missile defense programs for both the United States and Israel.

Forty-six members of Congress signed on to the Rothman/Austria letter, a draft of which was circulated (and reported on in this newspaper) two weeks ago. The letter cited a report recently released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, called “Culture of Peace and Incitement Index,” that describes anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian schools and on Palestinian Authority television.

The letter was distributed to two panels that play a key role in Israeli-Palestinian affairs: the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee. Large majorities of both groups signed on to the letter.

“I was delighted the majority of the two committees we sought signatures from and who have the primary jurisdiction over U.S. foreign aid and foreign policy in the house signed on to our letter,” Rothman told The Jewish Standard in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Getting the majority of those two committees to sign on to a letter of this type is highly unusual and certainly should get the attention of the Palestinians.”

Regarding the letter, Rep. Austria issued the following statement: “The United States plays a vital role of encouraging direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Our letter insists that President Obama urge President Abbas to reenter peace talks, without preconditions, in an effort to accomplish our shared goal: a peaceful and secure Jewish State of Israel.”

Signatories to Rothman and Austria’s letter included an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee (five of each) as well as 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Some members of Congress considered to be on the liberal side of the Democratic spectrum, such as Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), signed on.

“It’s not a liberal or conservative issue — everyone is against Palestinian incitement,” said an aide familiar with efforts to enlist signatories, adding that Rothman and Austria’s effort pinpointed the two committees “that oversee the policy and money the PA cares about.”

“The majority was composed of both Democrats and Republicans and I was very pleased and proud of that fact but not surprised,” said Rothman. “Level-headed pro-Israel support comes from members of both parties.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who also signed on to the letter, shared his assessment with the Standard. “Too often it seems the thrust of everything is blaming Israel for settlements, and I think that’s absurd….If you want peace you don’t perpetuate lies and incitement and that’s what they keep doing.… We need to be firm with the Palestinians about it.”

The senators’ letter, which chronicled anti-Israel incitement on the part of the Palestinian Authority, said, “The Itamar massacre was a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror. We urge you to redouble your efforts to impress upon the Palestinian leadership that continuing to condone incitement is not tolerable. We also urge you to consider focusing adequate training and educational programs in the west bank and Gaza that promote peaceful coexistence with Israel.”

Specific examples of incitement mentioned in the senators’ letter include a March 9 speech by an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas that called for Palestinian weapons to be turned toward Israel and a Feb. 9 broadcast on the official Palestinian television station extolling Dalal Mughrabi, a woman who along with several other Palestinians perpetrated a coastal highway massacre of Israeli civilians, including children. The letter also mentioned that “in the summer of 2010, several summer camps were named after her.”

Also on the Israel front, Rothman met separately last week with U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly and with Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, to discuss joint U.S.-Israel defense projects.

“I have worked with these distinguished gentlemen for several years now both individually and jointly,” he told the Standard, “in order to increase levels of funding for Israel-U.S. missile defense projects which should greatly benefit the national security of both the U.S. and the State of Israel.” He added that subjects discussed included “the status of various missile defense projects of each country.”

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U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly and Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, met with Congressman Steve Rothman to discuss anti-missile system development programs. courtesy of Rep. Rothman’s office
 
 
 
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