Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Personnel and Correspondence

US Representatives Condemn West Bank NGO Raids. On August 22, Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) called on the Biden Administration to “stand up” for seven Palestinian human rights organizations that were raided by Israeli authorities on August 18. Her advocacy followed a series of tweets from other Democratic House representatives condemning the raids. It also built on a letter sent by McCollum and other lawmakers in July demanding that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines report to Congress on Israel’s having designated these groups as terrorist organizations based on “secret evidence” allegedly demonstrating their ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Congressional Delegation Reaffirms Pledge to Support Democracy in Tunisia. On August 22, Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), along with Representatives David Price (D-North Carolina) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pennsylvania) participated in a congressional delegation to Tunisia, meeting with civil society leaders and with Tunisian President Kais Saied. The delegation reaffirmed its partnership with Tunisia, but also discussed democratic challenges facing the country, which receives $2 billion annually in US aid. In its meeting with Saied, the delegation expressed concern over his suspension of parliament, his unilateral rewriting of the constitution, and his replacement of sitting judges. The delegation, however, stated that it was “encouraged” by Saied’s commitment to elections in December.

Representative McCaul Urges Blinken to Engage with Iraqi Leaders. On August 22, Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Secretary Blinken concerning a constitutional dispute over natural resources between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. In his letter, McCaul cited his concern regarding US foreign, security, and humanitarian aid to Iraq, and specifically US Development Finance Corporation loans to energy firms in Kurdistan, arguing that US financial aid must be linked to a diplomatic push from the Department of State to reach a political solution in Iraq. Additionally, McCaul called on the administration to respond to Iranian missile and rocket attacks in Kurdistan, arguing that the US must stand with Iraqi leaders to oppose “Iran’s malign influence.”

Moderate Democrat Defeats Progressive in New York Primary. On August 23, candidate for the House of Representatives Dan Goldman defeated progressive candidate Yuh-Line Niou in the Democratic primary election for New York’s 10th congressional district. Earlier in the campaign, Niou expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, causing controversy and drawing heavy criticism from pro-Israel groups. Following Niou’s defeat, United Democracy Project super PAC, which is an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, announced, “We are proud to have played a role in defeating Yuh-Line Niou—an anti-Israel candidate who endorses the BDS campaign against Israel—through our significant support of a local New York super PAC.” Various super PACs reportedly spent at least $395,000 to help ensure Niou’s defeat.

Representative McCaul Urges Biden to Include Congress in Iran Negotiations. On August 23, Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to President Biden urging the administration to inform members of Congress regarding negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. Citing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which states that Congress must review any such agreement, McCaul urged the administration to provide a series of briefings to Congress as soon as possible.

Representative Smith Defends US Strikes in Syria. On August 24, Representative Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement defending US airstrikes in Syria that were carried out this week. He stated, “These strikes demonstrate that the United States can and will meet counterterrorism challenges around the world.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

National Security Advisor Sullivan Meets with Israeli Officials. On August 23, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hosted Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata at the White House to discuss global and regional issues. Sullivan reaffirmed the administration’s steadfast commitment to Israel and made clear that the US will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. And on August 26, Sullivan met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the White House to discuss mutual security issues, Iran’s nuclear program, and the threat of Iran’s proxies in the region. These meetings come as reports indicate that the US is closer to reaching an end to negotiations on a revived nuclear deal with Iran, a development that worries the Israeli government.

2) Department of State

US Provides Formal Response on JCPOA. On August 24, the US issued its formal response to a European Union proposal for the restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. According to State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, the US has concluded its review of Iranian comments on the EU proposal, and Iran’s Foreign Ministry will now review the United States’ comments.

DoS Commemorates Anniversary of Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack. On August 21, the State Department released a statement commemorating the ninth anniversary of the Ghouta, Syria chemical weapons attack and broadly condemning the usage of chemical weapons. The attack in Ghouta was perpetrated by Syria’s Assad regime in 2013 using the chemical agent sarin. More than 1,400 civilians were killed in the assault. The State Department also called on the Assad regime to declare and destroy its chemical weapons in accordance with international law, and expressed US support for efforts to seek justice for the victims of atrocities in Syria.

Jewish Organizations Call on Secretary Blinken to Address West Bank NGO Raids. On August 23, liberal Zionist organization J-Street released a letter of concern regarding Israel’s recent raids and closures of Palestinian NGOs. It criticized Israel’s labeling of the NGOs as terrorist organizations, citing a lack of public evidence. The letter also expressed the group’s fear that the raids and closures of the NGOs are part of a broader Israeli effort to stop the work of these organizations and to instill in other human rights organizations a fear of repression that could further stymie their activities. J-Street urged the State Department to clearly state whether the evidence Israel provided for this designation and these closures actually provides credible justification, and if it does not, to publicly denounce the raids and call on Israel to reverse its decision.

US Promises Faster Visa Processing in Turkey. On August 24, the US promised to expedite visa processing in Turkey after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accused the US and other nations of purposely extending visa processing times to embarrass the ruling Justice and Development Party ahead of elections. The State Department announced that it has “no desire for this to be an irritant in our bilateral relationship” and highlighted the opening of a new embassy compound in Ankara that will increase visa processing capacity. The COVID-19 pandemic drastically decreased the number of US visas issued in Turkey, with only 20,000 non-immigrant visas issued in 2021, compared to 85,000 in 2019.

US Calls for De-Escalation in Libya. On August 22, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price released a statement expressing concern about ongoing violence in Libya and calling for de-escalation on all sides. In light of instability in Libya, the statement also called on the United Nations to appoint a new special representative to organize meditation efforts and said that the US will reiterate its message during the upcoming August 30 UN Security Council briefing on Libya.

US Condemns Somali Terror Attack. On August 20, the State Department publicly condemned Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab’s recent terrorist attack at the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which 21 people were killed. The attack, which was the group’s first major assault since the country’s presidential elections in May, ended after a 30-hour battle between the militants and Somali security forces.

US Voices Concern over Syrian Violence. On August 22, the State Department issued a statement condemning recent attacks in northern Syria and urging all parties to maintain existing ceasefire lines. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price also reiterated the United States’ commitment to defeating the Islamic State and to resolving the conflict in Syria.

Israeli Officials Visit Washington to Discuss Return to JCPOA. On August 24, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata to discuss the US-Israel relationship and President Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East. They also talked about ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and the importance of accountability after the Israeli Army’s killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Israeli officials have been vocal critics of the JCPOA, with Mossad Director David Barnea stating that a revived JCPOA would not stand in the way of Israel taking action against Iran.

3) Department of Defense

US Conducts Airstrikes in Syria. On August 23, the US carried out airstrikes in Syria’s Deir Ezzor Governorate, targeting infrastructure linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strikes targeted a camp largely consisting of Shia fighters from Afghanistan, and killed at least six militants. US Central Command called the strike a “proportionate, deliberate action” necessary for the defense of US forces in the area. The strike comes shortly after the US Army’s base at al-Tanf was targeted in a drone strike, allegedly carried out by an Iran affiliate. However, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani released a statement condemning the strike and denying any ties between Iran and the targets. On August 24, the Pentagon announced that three US soldiers were wounded in rocket attacks in northeastern Syria. In response, the US military initiated strikes on vehicles and equipment used in the attack. As yet, no groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks on US troops. On August 25, President Biden wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), justifying the August 23 airstrikes and reporting them to Congress, in accordance with the War Powers Resolution.

Secretary Austin Talks with Turkish Counterpart. On August 23, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar regarding ongoing bilateral cooperation between the United States and Turkey. The two officials discussed mitigating civilian harm in Syria, continued efforts to defeat the Islamic State, and the dangers posed by the standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Finally, Secretary Austin extended thanks to Minister Akar for Turkey’s help in restoring Ukrainian grain exports, which had been halted since the Russian invasion in February.

CENTCOM Commander Meets with Israeli Defense Minister. On August 25, CENTCOM Commander, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tampa, Florida. The two discussed “security issues of mutual interest.”

4) Central Intelligence Agency

CIA Report Finds No Terrorism Links among Raided West Bank NGOs. According to a classified CIA report, the agency was unable to find any evidence of terrorism-related activity associated with seven prominent civil society organizations that were raided and closed by Israel due to alleged ties with the PFLP. Six of the organizations, which are located in the West Bank, include a research center, a prisoner support group, a human rights organization, and an agricultural union. The NGOs were labeled as terrorist organizations in October 2021, and the Israeli Army raided and shuttered their offices on August 18, 2022. The international community and the United Nations have broadly condemned Israel’s actions, and the United States has requested Israel’s evidence and justification for the raids.

5) Department of the Treasury

US Signs Financial Cybersecurity Cooperation Agreement with Israel. On August 23, the US Department of the Treasury signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel’s Ministry of Finance, aiming to create “a bilateral partnership to protect critical financial infrastructure and emerging technologies.” The agreement is expected to lead to the exchange of financial cyber information between the two agencies, as well as to joint staff training in cyber resilience and cross-border cyber financial exercises. US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo stated that, “This partnership has already resulted in real-time cyber threat data sharing to prevent ransomware distribution and other cyber-attacks from affecting the US economic sector. We look forward to expanding this partnership.”

III. Judicial Branch

Arizona Rules Against Morningstar in Anti-BDS Law. On August 18, the Arizona State Treasury ruled that financial service provider Morningstar’s environmental and social governance rating system violates Arizona’s anti-BDS law. According to Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, the system “uses anti-Israel and antisemitic sources to negatively impact the scores of companies doing business in Israel and in Israeli-controlled territories.” Because of a new Arizona law coming into effect on September 24, all government entities would be required to divest from Morningstar if it were added to the state’s prohibited investments list. Nineteen other states are also investigating Morningstar’s alleged anti-Israel bias. A Morningstar representative said that the company is evaluating the letter from Yee and that it does not support the BDS movement.

US Judge Rules Against Ben and Jerry’s in BDS Case. On August 22, a US District Court judge ruled against an injunction initiated by ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s against its parent company Unilever over the latter’s decision to continue selling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories. In July 2021, Ben and Jerry’s announced that it would end the sale of its ice cream in the occupied West Bank, stating that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians does not align with the company’s values. In response, Unilever entered into a deal with an Israeli licensee to continue selling Ben and Jerry’s under new marketing. The August 25 judgement will allow Unilever to continue with this plan despite Ben and Jerry’s wishes.