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House passes funding for Israel conditioned on IRS cuts, leaving almost no chance of the bill advancing

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel but tied it to a cut in funding to the Internal Revenue Service, an unprecedented setting of conditions on aid to Israel that is expected to doom the bill.

The bill passed 226-196 on Thursday with all but two Republicans voting for it and all but 12 Democrats voting against. The bill would deliver assistance amid the war Israel is fighting against Hamas in Gaza, following the terror group’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel. Among other provisions, about $5 billion goes to missile defense systems and another $4.5 billion goes to offensive systems.

President Joe Biden gave an Oval Office address last month calling for aid to Israel, but has vowed to veto the bill approved Thursday because he opposes tying it to the spending cuts.

But he won’t even see the bill: Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat who is the Senate’s majority leader, said he would not even consider the bill once it landed on his desk. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, suggested that he backed that approach.

The funding bill comes as Congress is considering and passing a series of resolutions supporting Israel. The latest to pass overwhelmingly, also Thursday, was a non-binding resolution condemning antisemitism on campuses in the wake of Hamas’ war against Israel. It passed 396-23, and “Condemns the support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations at institutions of higher education, which may lead to the creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students, faculty and staff.”

The move was all the more remarkable for coming from Republicans. In recent years, calls for conditioning aid to Israel had largely come from progressive Democrats, who wanted to make the funding dependent on Israel’s policies vis a vis the West Bank, Gaza and its treatment of Palestinians.

Five Jewish Democrats who voted for Thursday’s bill — Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Jared Moskowitz; Ohio’s Greg Landsman; and New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer — said later in interviews and statements that the need to assist Israel at a time of urgent need overrode their anger with Johnson for tying the measure to IRS cuts. Wasserman Schultz and Landsman reportedly left the floor after the vote weeping, according to Semafor.

“While I do not support the speaker’s approach to this legislation, we must ensure that Israel has the resources to defeat Hamas and other terrorists, and get every hostage home, including all Americans,” Gottheimer said. “The symbol to the world of voting no would have done more damage.”

Wasserman Schultz, in her floor speech Thursday, said attaching the aid to cuts in IRS funding opened a can of worms.

“This House should send a clean bill to the Senate,” said Wasserman Schultz, who reportedly teared up at a closed door meeting ahead of the vote where she made a last-ditch appeal to Republicans for a bill stripped of conditions. “Instead, Speaker Johnson is willingly jeopardizing Israel’s security by making support for Israeli assistance contingent on issues totally unrelated to its security.”

She said Republicans had gone back on years of pledges to pro-Israel groups never to condition aid. “I’ve heard their promises over the years to never condition aid to Israel,” she said. “You know, you’ve looked pro-Israel leaders in the eye and promised that you would never do that. Think about it.”

Johnson has said that attaching the bill to IRS defunding is a matter of fiscal responsibility. “We want to protect and help and assist our friend Israel but we have to keep our own house in order as well,” he said in a press conference ahead of the vote. “While we take care of obligations, we have to do it in a responsible manner.”

Pro-Israel insiders said ahead of the vote that they dreaded its advance for two reasons: It has now created a precedent for some progressive Democrats who have sought for years to condition aid, and it gives the impression that assisting Israel exacts a price from Americans domestically — a narrative that the pro-Israel lobby has long combatted, noting that foreign aid is a tiny part of government spending.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which takes pains to avoid any hint of partisanship, tiptoed around the vote, faintly praising it while indicating that the group would work with Schumer to pass the bill Biden wants, without conditions.

“We strongly support the president’s emergency funding request for Israel & appreciate the House’s approval of a bill that fully funds that request,” it said in a tweet. “We’ll work to build broad bipartisan support as the package moves through the legislative process to ensure prompt final approval.”

By presenting the bill as he did, Johnson also sought to separate assistance for Israel from spending for Ukraine and for protecting U.S. allies in the Far East from China’s aggression. McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the House vote, rejected that approach. Biden’s package includes funding for all three of those areas, as well as for humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians. The veteran Republican chided, without naming them, his partisans in the House for leaning into isolationism.

“We have a direct interest in a stable and peaceful Middle East, and we have a responsibility to stand with Israel, our closest ally in the region, and to impose real costs on those who seek to harm U.S. personnel,” McConnell said. “We have a direct interest in preserving free commerce and deterring aggression in the Indo-Pacific. And we have a responsibility to future generations of Americans to win this century’s longterm strategy competition with communist China. And we have a direct interest in stability and security in Europe.”

The comments outlined what is becoming a gulf of difference between there party’s aging establishment and a younger generation of hardline right Republicans, led by Johnson, who are turning inward.

Schumer said he would not consider the House bill, and would fashion one in the Senate that would reflect Biden’s broader requests of assistance for Ukraine and defense spending in the Far East.

“What a joke,” he said in his floor speech Thursday, calling the bill “stunningly unserious.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, an Illinois Democrat and one of the 18 Jewish Democrats who voted against the bill, said he was ready to advance the Senate bill once it came back to the House.

“The Senate will pass a robust, bipartisan aid package,” he said in a statement. “I will lead the charge to pass that package in the House as soon as humanly possible.”


The post House passes funding for Israel conditioned on IRS cuts, leaving almost no chance of the bill advancing appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

The post Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”

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For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.
pic.twitter.com/ccSnhXVQ9e

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

The post Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

The post Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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