Five Things to Know This Week: BDS, Saudi Arabia, and Tax Reform
1. BDS showdown in Congress
It’s going to be a busy week on Capitol Hill, with all eyes on the looming government shutdown if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on funding for Donald Trump’s border wall. For the pro-Israel community, it’s going to be a week of intense lobbying for and against the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, a controversial piece of legislation aimed at penalizing American companies that choose to boycott Israeli entities as a means of political pressure. Supporters of the bill, Republicans and many on the Democratic side as well, are trying to attach it to the must-pass funding legislation, one of those catchall bills that allow the government agencies to operate smoothly. This common maneuver, usually pulled out as the deadline for crucial funding bills approaches, takes advantage of the urgency felt by lawmakers to pass the spending legislation in hopes that they’ll agree to the add-on bills which otherwise would be subject to fierce debate.
Regardless of whether the anti-BDS law gets attached and becomes law, the debate it triggered can serve as a useful map of pro-Israel politics on the Democratic side. The centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) threw its support behind the bill, arguing that it is “consistent with the 2016 Democratic Party Platform that states Democrats ‘oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.’” JDCA urged its members to contact their representatives and ask them to vote in favor of the bill.
J Street, on the other hand, launched a counter-lobbying effort targeting the same Congressional Democrats. The left-leaning lobby argues that the bill, as currently proposed, does not differentiate between boycotts targeting Israel and those focused specifically on West Bank settlements, thus implying that the U.S. accepts the idea that the occupied territories are part of Israel. “J Street is clear about our opposition to the Global BDS Movement. And we’re clear that misguided legislation like this is absolutely the wrong way to oppose it,” the group wrote to its supporters. “The ongoing occupation is a far greater threat to Israel’s future than the Global BDS movement could ever be.”
With a majority of Republicans supporting the move to attach the anti-boycott bill to spending legislation, it’s clear that JDCA has an easier job. It only has to make sure there are enough Democrats willing to back Senator Ben Cardin, who has been pushing for the immediate passing of the bill. J Street is facing a tougher battle, but could still emerge victorious even by failing, if the lobby can show that it moved some Dems to the other side on this issue.
2. Bernie’s war on Saudi Arabia
In a dramatic vote Thursday, the Senate adopted a resolution demanding an end to American support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war. While historic in nature, the resolution, spearheaded by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, carries little practical significance. But looking forward, it could have an impact: First, by positioning Sanders as the clear leader not only on liberal domestic issues, but also on international policy matters, and second, because the resolution could cause Saudi allies Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu to lose some sleep, knowing that a bipartisan slate of lawmakers think that they’re in the wrong.
3. Will Congress tie Trump’s hands on Iran?
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would require advance congressional approval for any military strike against Iran. While this sounds like something most members of Congress would support, the chances of mainstream Democrats and Republicans supporting a bill led by libertarians and progressives are very slim.
4. Is Trump’s tax reform good for the Jews?
With only weeks before the tax reform kicks in, Jewish non-profits were alarmed to discover an obscure clause that would tax fringe benefits, such as transportation and parking costs, they provide employers with. It could cost these groups tens of thousands of dollars a year. A last minute temporary fix provided by the IRS will mitigate some of the costs, but Jewish groups, led by the Orthodox Union, now want Congress to provide a permanent repeal. But this will require a major advocacy drive, aimed at a new Congress with new leadership and different priorities.
5. Peace plan watch
In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, White House adviser, Middle East negotiator and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner announced that his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan will be rolled out in “a couple of months.” This puts the deadline at February-March of 2019. A lot can happen before then including Robert Mueller finishing his inquiry regarding Kushner. If that happens, the last thing Kushner will have time for is launching a Middle East peace plan.