Biden, Congress Criticize Campus Protests Around Country

On May 2, President Joe Biden delivered remarks about the growing number of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses throughout the United States. Biden said that “there’s the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos,” before adding that the demonstrations sweeping the nation will not lead him to reconsider his Middle East policies.

The campus protests were also the focus of significant legislative activity last week. On May 1, the House passed H.R.6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 by a vote of 320-91. Now headed to the Senate, the bill would require the Department of Education to include criticism of Israel under a definition of ant-Semitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. Despite its bipartisan support, several prominent Jewish lawmakers, including Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have expressed concerns regarding the legislation because of its threat to constitutionally protected speech.

Also on May 1, the House saw the introduction of H.R.8221, which would authorize the deportation of foreign nationals who are charged with a crime related to their participation in what the legislation refers to as “pro-terrorism or antisemitism rallies or demonstrations.” Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), the bill’s sponsor, said that “it is time to deal swiftly and decisively with those who would come to our amazing country and incite hatred for America, hatred for the Jewish people, and despicably demand support for Hamas terrorism.” On May 2, companion bills H.R.8242 and S.4240 were introduced, both of which seek to make ineligible from forgiveness, cancellation, waiver, or modification of certain federal student loans any individual who is convicted of an offense relating to protests at a US university. Also on May 2, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced S.Res.670 to condemn “the rise of antisemitism on campuses of institutions of higher education across the United States.”

Similar legislative efforts will continue in the weeks ahead. Building on the momentum of the last week, on April 30 House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) announced his intention to launch a House-wide probe into campus protests that would include at least six committees, the Education and Workforce Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Oversight Committee, and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Rep. Wagner Proposes Termination of Qatar’s Major Non-NATO Ally Status. On April 30, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced H.R.8190, which seeks to “review and consider terminating the designation of the State of Qatar as a major non-NATO ally.”

House Bill to Authorize Withdrawal of Funds from UNRWA Introduced. On May 2, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced H.R.8232, which would authorize the Biden administration to withdraw from UNWRA previously appropriated federal funds.

House Resolution Recognizes Global Press Freedoms. On May 2, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced H.Res.1192, which recognizes threats to press freedom, reaffirms the importance of a free press and expression, and reiterates the role that a free and independent press plays in protecting democracy, human rights, and good governance. The resolution makes note of press freedom concerns in Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan while acknowledging the killing of at least 95 journalists in Gaza, Lebanon, and Israel since October 7.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

HFAC and SFRC Chairs Write to Biden and Blinken Regarding Weapons Transfers to Israel. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) penned an April 30 letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking them to repeal National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20). The February 2024 memo requires recipient countries of US security assistance to provide written assurances that they will comply with international humanitarian law and other applicable international laws prior to the transfer of US assistance. The lawmakers assert that NSM 20 “creates redundant bureaucratic requirements that erode America’s ability to provide security assistance to its partners and allies, especially Israel.”

Sen. Markey Writes to Biden Administration on Nuclear Cooperation with Saudi Arabia. On May 1, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), co-chair of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, sent a letter to President Biden “seeking answers about any agreement that would normalize relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for civil nuclear energy cooperation and a US defense commitment to the Kingdom.” Markey urged the administration to ensure that any civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia “[include] a commitment to forego enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear material.” He also urged the United States to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol before entering an agreement with Saudi Arabia.

House Letter Reiterates Concern Over Rafah Invasion. A May 1 letter to President Biden from Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Madeline Dean (D-PA), and 55 other House members urged the administration to “use all tools possible to dissuade the Israeli government from moving forward with an offensive invasion into Rafah.” The letter reads, “An Israeli offensive in Rafah risks the start of yet another escalatory spiral, immediately putting the region back on the brink of a broader war that neither Israel nor the United States can afford.”

Senators Meet with ICC Officials over Concern about Warrants for Israeli Leaders. Axios reported that on May 1 a bipartisan group of senators met with senior officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to express concern over news of the Court’s possible issuance of arrest warrants for Israeli officials.

Senate Letter Tells Biden: No Gazan Refugees in the United States. On May 2, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) led 34 senators in a letter to President Biden demanding that his administration not bring any Gazan refugees into the United States. The administration reportedly is considering measures to help Palestinians in the United States bring family members from Gaza to America.

House Letter Raises Concern with Israeli Conduct. On May 3, Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) led a letter to President Biden outlining concerns with Israel’s “restrictive policies on humanitarian assistance.” The lawmakers ask the administration to uphold Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the provision of security assistance or arms sales to any government that “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance,” The letter asserts that Israel’s restrictions on US-backed humanitarian aid to Gaza violate Section 620I and “therefore call[s] into question the assurances Israel provided pursuant to National Security Memorandum 20.”

3) Hearings and Briefings

HASC Holds Hearing on the FY25 Defense Budget Request. On April 30, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) convened a hearing regarding the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2025 funding request. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr. testified before the committee on Iran, Iranian proxies, and Israel, among other topics. Opening the hearing, Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) listed Iran as one of the top threats to US national security, stating that “the Ayatollah is using the oil revenues to fund his nuclear ambitions, arm his terrorist proxies, and launch an unprecedented and unjustified direct attack on Israel.” General Brown echoed the chairman’s comments, outlining that he sees Iran as an actor that wishes to “escalate regional conflict with unprecedented attacks and support of proxy forces.” Secretary Austin expressed concerns over what he called a “growing nexus between [China], Russia, and [North Korea] and Iran.”

SFRC Holds Hearing on Sudan. On May 1, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a hearing on the conflict in Sudan. Featuring testimony from US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello, committee members appealed for a revamped US approach to addressing the crisis, including pushing for a resumption of peace talks, mobilizing support for humanitarian aid workers, addressing malign actions of external actors, and investigating human rights abuses.

SASC Holds Hearing on Worldwide Threats. On May 2, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a full committee hearing on worldwide threats. Director of National Intelligence Avril D. Haines and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Jeffrey A. Kruse testified at the hearing. The witnesses outlined threats to US security, including strategic competition with major powers, cyber security, climate change, and regional conflicts with global implications. Opening the hearing, Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) stated that Iran is “seeking to exploit the chaos as an opportunity to force the United States out of the region.” Other committee members expressed concern about Iranian influence in the region, specifically about supporting Yemen’s Houthis and their attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. DNI Haines stated that the intelligence community is concerned about Iran’s increasing ties to Russia and China and about the threat to US troops posed by Iranian-affiliated militias.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Speaks with Arab Leaders. On April 29, President Biden held a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The two leaders discussed the state of ceasefire and hostage negotiations as well as efforts to increase aid deliveries into Gaza. According to the White House readout, Biden reiterated the “importance of protecting civilian lives and ensuring that Palestinians are not displaced to Egypt or any other location outside of Gaza.” On the same day, Biden also spoke with Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. Biden urged Al Thani “to exert all efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas as this is now the only obstacle to an immediate ceasefire and relief for the people of Gaza.”

White House Releases Update on Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. On April 30, the White House released a progress report on the US Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, a ten-year strategy issued by the Biden administration in 2022.  The report mentions US efforts in Libya to “promote reconciliation, reconstruction, citizen engagement, economic empowerment, and local governance” as well USAID humanitarian and business development programs there.

2) Department of State

Blinken Meets with Regional Leaders at WEF. On April 29, on the margins of a World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Riyadh, Secretary of State Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as well as with Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Hussein Al-Sheikh. Blinken discussed pathways to a Palestinian state with security assurances for Israel, ceasefire and hostage talks, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and efforts to de-escalate regional tensions. Blinken also met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Department Found Gross Violations of Human Rights by Israeli Units. On April 29, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that the Department of State had previously found “five Israeli units responsible for individual incidents of gross violations of human rights,” each of which occurred before October 7, but that four units have been “effectively remediated.” Regarding the fifth unit, Patel stated that the United States “continue[s] to be in consultations and engagements with the Government of Israel; they have submitted additional information as it pertains to that unit.” Patel added, “what we are talking about are unit and component restrictions when they are found in violation. It does not have bearing on the broader security relationship that we may have with a country, especially a country like Israel in which we have a longstanding security relationship, the provision of bulk assistance that’s gone back many, many years.” The Department was pressed throughout the week on its process for evaluating human rights abuses committed by countries with whom the United States has a security relationship, focusing on the double standard apparently being applied in favor of Israel.

Department Asserts ICC Has No Jurisdiction over “the Palestinian Situation.” On April 29, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Patel told reporters that the United States does not believe that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over “the Palestinian situation.” Patel added, “We work closely with the ICC on a number of key areas. We think that they do important work–important work as it relates to Ukraine, Darfur, Sudan. But again…in this particular instance, I’m sorry, they just do not have jurisdiction.”

Blinken Meets with UN Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza. On April 30, Secretary Blinken met with UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag in Amman, Jordan to discuss ongoing efforts to increase the amount of humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. Blinken reiterated the urgency of ensuring that the people of Gaza are getting the support and assistance they need.

Department Advances Sale to Saudi Arabia for Training of the Saudi Naval Forces. On April 30, the Department of State advanced a potential $250 million sale of Blanket Order Training for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF). The training aims to improve the RSNF’s ability to defend itself at sea, including training on issues such as precision targeting. The Department of Defense’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of the potential sale.

Blinken Visits Israel. On May 1, Secretary Blinken met in Israel with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During his visit, Blinken also spoke by phone with Minister Benny Gantz and with Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid. The Secretary’s meetings addressed ongoing ceasefire and hostage negotiations, increasing the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza, US support for Israel’s military, the prevention of regional conflict, and US concerns about an Israeli invasion of Rafah. Speaking at a press briefing in Ashdod, Israel, Blinken reiterated that the United States “will not support a major military operation in Rafah absent an effective plan to make sure that civilians are not harmed. And no, we have not seen such a plan.” On the status of negotiations, Blinken said that “Israel has made very important compromises in the proposal that’s on the table, demonstrating its desire, willingness to get this agreement, to get it done. Now, as we’ve been saying, it’s on Hamas.” Blinken also emphasized the need for better aid deconfliction measures in Gaza and for an acceleration of humanitarian assistance.

Department Provides Updates on Saudi-Israel Normalization Deal Negotiations. On May 2, Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller relayed that the United States and Saudi Arabia are “very close to reaching an agreement on the bilateral pieces of a normalization agreement.” He outlined that the agreement would have three parts: an agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia, an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and a third package that would create a path toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Miller stated that “all of them are linked together; none go forward without the others.”

3) Department of Defense

United States and UAE Hold Joint Military Dialogue. On April 29-30, the Pentagon hosted the annual United States-United Arab Emirates Joint Military Dialogue to discuss continued collaboration on shared security interests. The two governments concluded a new agreement for a bilateral technology security partnership and signed an accompanying Cooperative Technology Security Program (CTSP) Execution Plan.

Secretary Austin Holds Call with Israeli Defense Minister. On May 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant regarding hostage negotiations, humanitarian aid, and Israel’s potential invasion of Rafah. According to the Department’s readout, Austin “reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages and conveyed the importance of increasing the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza to flood the zone, while ensuring the safety of civilians and aid workers.” The Secretary stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include “a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid.”

Humanitarian Pier to Be Completed This Month. On May 1, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters that the humanitarian pier being constructed by the United States off the coast of Gaza is more than 50 percent complete and is set to be operational later this month.

United States and Jordan Hold Joint Military Commission. From May 1-2, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander and Chairman of the Jordanian Joint Chiefs of Staff Maj. Gen. Yousef Al-Hnaity co-hosted the 44th meeting of the US-Jordan Joint Military Commission (JMC). The commission discussed the two countries’ commitment to regional security, including joint efforts to counter the so-called Islamic State, and Wallander thanked the Jordanian delegation for its ongoing efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The commission also discussed the modernization of the Jordanian air force.

CENTCOM Investigation Finds that Counterterrorism Strike Killed Civilian. On May 2, CENTCOM announced that a Department of Defense investigation into a May 2023 CENTCOM strike in northwest Syria targeting an Al Qaeda leader found that US forces had misidentified the target, striking and killing a civilian instead. In a press release, CENTCOM stated that it “acknowledges and regrets the civilian harm that resulted from the airstrike” and that it plans to improve its targeting process in the future.

CENTCOM Conducts Joint Exercise with Saudi Arabia and UAE. On May 5, CENTCOM launched Exercise NATIVE FURY 24 in Saudi Arabia with Saudi and Emirati forces. The eighth iteration of the exercises, the joint training “aims to underscore the interoperability of combined forces in conducting large-scale and intricate operations, utilizing the Trans-Arabian Network (TAN).”

Secretary Austin Speaks with Israeli Defense Minister About Looming Rafah Invasion. On May 5, Secretary Austin spoke by phone with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant. The two officials discussed Israel’s looming invasion of Rafah, which, according to the Israeli media, Gallant suggested will begin “in the very near future.” After ceasefire and hostage release negotiations failed over the weekend, Gallant reportedly told Austin in their call that there was “no choice left and this meant the start of the Israeli operation in Rafah.”

4) Department of the Treasury

OFAC Designates Five Individuals Involved in Financing Efforts for Hezbollah. On May 2, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the designation of five individuals for their role in assisting Hezbollah to evade US sanctions. OFAC stated that these individuals work alongside Hassan Moukalled and his company CTEX Exchange to generate financial resources for Hezbollah’s operations.

III. Judicial Branch

Abu Ghraib Trial Fails to Reach Unanimous Verdict. After a six-day deliberation, the jury in Al Shimari v. CACI failed to reach a verdict in the trial of US-based private contractor CACI Premier Technology Inc. for its alleged role in conducting torture and war crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The plaintiffs intend to pursue a retrial.