Senate Foreign Relations Committee set for debate over Biden guidance on Israeli cooperative funding
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) plans to introduce an amendment reversing a guidance barring science and technology funding to projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set for a debate on Thursday over the Biden administration’s recent guidance reimplementing prohibitions on funding for cooperative scientific and technological projects with Israeli institutions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) filed an amendment to the 2024 State Department Authorization bill — set to be debated on Thursday — that would repeal the guidance and prohibit any future guidance “that limits bilateral scientific or technological cooperation with Israel on the basis of geographic location in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.”
An individual familiar with Cruz’s thinking told Jewish Insider that the senator intends to call up this amendment for debate during the Foreign Relations Committee markup.
Cruz, joined by 13 other senators, sent a letter to the administration earlier this week blasting the guidance — which restores guidance that had been in place for decades until late 2020 — as “an antisemitic boycott of Israel.”
Six of those signatories, in addition to Cruz, are members of the Foreign Relations Committee, indicating that Cruz’s proposal should have strong support on the Republican side of the committee. It is unclear whether any Democrats will support the measure.
The amendment has the backing of AIPAC, which has publicly opposed the guidance, spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JI.
Democrats have largely defended the Biden administration’s guidance.
“This reversal of a Trump decision by the Biden Admin[istration] is a necessary step to ensuring US policy is consistent [with] international law [and] to preserving the option for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who also sits on Foreign Relations, said. “American taxpayer [dollars] should not be used to undermine either.”
“Republican attempts to misconstrue the Biden Administration’s return to long-standing bipartisan U.S. policy on the West Bank as antisemitic has no basis in reality,” Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer said in a statement.
J Street also said it “strongly welcome[s]” the decision “to uphold the distinction between the State of Israel and the settlements beyond the Green Line.”
Cruz’s amendment cites language in legislation previously passed by Congress that defines “actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” as including efforts to limit or penalize commercial relations “with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.”
The new administration guidance would appear to principally impact grant proposals from Ariel University, located in a West Bank settlement. After the prior guidance was rescinded in 2020, Ariel has been the recipient of five grants — four in 2021 and one in 2022 — relating to stem cell research, cancer, pregnancy complications and water/energy research. The State Department did not clarify whether these funding grants would be terminated or withdrawn, if still active, under the new guidance.
State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller emphasized in his Wednesday press briefing that the guidance “is simply reflective of the longstanding U.S. position, reaffirmed by this administration, that the ultimate disposition of the geographic areas which came under the administration of Israel after 1967 is a final status matter.”
“For institutions engaged in bilateral U.S.-Israeli projects under the auspices of the binational foundations and related programs prior to 2020, we would not expect this new foreign policy guidance to result in any change,” another State Department spokesperson told JI.
Hebrew University, located in East Jerusalem, has received hundreds of grants dating back to 1973, indicating that it will not be impacted by the reimposed guidance.
The State Department spokesperson said the guidance “applies to areas that came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967, and which remain subject to final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The spokesperson added that “specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final-status negotiations between the parties” on which the U.S. takes no position, but that the U.S. Embassy “will remain in Jerusalem, which we recognize as Israel’s capital.” Miller echoed that position on Wednesday.
Separately, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) filed an amendment to the State Department Authorization Bill that would require the State Department to report to Congress annually on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
That report would include details on authorized and unauthorized settlement activity, new infrastructure in the West Bank, building demolitions, evictions, building permits requested by and granted to Palestinians, Israeli funding budgeted for settlements and infrastructure, changes to Israeli administration in the settlements “and an analysis of the compatibility of these changes with international law” and the impact of settlement activity on the Palestinains and the viability of a Palestinian state.
Cruz filed a second-degree amendment that would add to Merkley’s amendment a reporting requirement on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, including actions by Palestinian government officials and multilateral organizations to promote BDS in engagements with the U.S. and American-sponsored programs.
It would also require the State Department to develop a strategy to combat the BDS movement, and declare that combating BDS is in the U.S.’ national security and foreign policy interest.
The amendment would further ban funding to any organizations involved in “partisan electioneering” inside Israel.
Cruz filed a separate amendment to the State Department bill that would change the name of the Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs at the State Department back to the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, reversing a Biden administration change.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the Foreign Relations Committee will debate a resolution praising Iranian anti-regime protesters.