Top Dems Outraged Over Obama Efforts to Ignore Pro-Israel Provisions

Senators urge president to enforce provisions 'as enacted and intended'

Democratic Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) / AP
February 26, 2016

Leading Democrats are taking aim at the Obama administration for its opposition to newly passed legislation that aims to bolster the U.S.-Israel economic relationship and combat boycotts of Israel, according to a statement issued this week.

The Obama administration announced that it opposes portions of a bipartisan trade bill that would strengthen economic ties between the U.S. and Israel and force trade partners to sever ties with backers of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an anti-Israel movement that seeks to economically isolate the Jewish state.

President Barack Obama issued a rare statement opposing the bill’s pro-Israel language this week, claiming that it sought to legitimize Israeli settlements. Obama stated that he would not enforce the pro-Israel provisions as a result of his personal disagreement with the policies.

The statement prompted top Democrats to break with the president.

The fracture between these Democrats and the administration comes amid White House support for efforts to label Jewish-made goods produced in disputed areas of Israel. These efforts have been described as anti-Semitic by Israel’s government.

"While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements," Sens. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Ben Cardin (D., Md.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said in a joint statement released Thursday.

The senators accused the Obama administration of lying about the pro-Israel bill and pushing a false narrative in efforts to oppose it.

"This simply is not the case," they said. "These provisions are not about Israeli settlements."

"Rather, consistent with U.S. policy, they are about discouraging politically-motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," the senators said. "We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended."

Republicans who cosponsored the bill along with Democratic allies also took aim at the administration.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), who authored the pro-Israel language along with Rep. Juan Vargas (D., Calif.), criticized the administration for not upholding the will of Congress and the American people.

"This law—including the anti-BDS provisions I was proud to author—passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate," Roskam said in a statement. "Incredibly, President Obama has already announced his intention to prioritize his misguided notions of legacy over the law of the land."

"We did not provide a statutory menu from which President Obama can pick and choose provisions to enforce," the lawmaker added. "The president has signed this bill into law—it is now his responsibility to fully and faithfully execute it in its entirety."

Roskam expressed dismay that "fighting efforts to delegitimize Israel interferes with his diplomacy, but rest assured that I intend to use my authority as chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee."