On Monday, President Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, fast-tracking the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). Yesterday, it was revealed that the bill has a hidden provision not to the liking of the Obama Administration. The Trojan horse amendment to the bill calls on U.S. trade negotiators to pressure European partners not to boycott Israeli businesses operating in the occupied Palestinian territories. The language here is very important. While the U.S. officially opposes the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, it also officially opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as the building of Jewish settlements there. The language in the bill lends legitimacy to the idea that the occupied territories and Israel are one and the same. State Department spokesman John Kirby said,
“The United States government has … strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, and will continue to do so…However, by conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity.”
It is highly likely that the administration knew about the language of the amendment beforehand and the president signed the bill into law anyway, given that the Huffington Post reported on the language as early as May 28, 2015. This shows that President Obama cares more about the free trade agreement than he does about the plight and agony of the Palestinian people under occupation. It is yet another sign of the U.S.’s pro-Israel bias despite the pretense of being a neutral arbiter of the conflict.
What is also disconcerting is the role that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) played in creating and inserting the amendment. As the Huffington Post reports,
“The passage of this language out of the Senate is a major victory for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group thatplayed an advisory role in drafting the language and pushed for its unmodified passage. [Emphasis added]
The amendments are based on a stand-alone bill authored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee…Cardin made no noticeable effort to gather co-sponsors or publicize the legislation. Rather, he, along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), offered the legislation as an add-on to the trade bill, where the subtle difference between opposing boycotts of businesses in “Israel” and in ‘territories controlled by Israel’ went unnoticed by lawmakers.”
This is proof positive of the power AIPAC has over members of Congress from both political parties. But it also shows the fear that Israel, AIPAC, and pro-Israel newspapers harbor toward the BDS movement. One of the most prestigious U.S. newspapers, the New York Times, has devoted several articles attacking and defaming the effort.
This debacle also shows how corrupt the American legislative process has become. This is not the first time powerful interests have played a role in writing legislation. These interest groups are becoming more bold—to the extent that they are dictating the actual language of the amendment. On May 23, 2013, the New York Times reported that some of the language of the financial regulations bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was written by Citibank.
The sad reality of Congress today is that an institution the founding fathers intended to handle the business of the people has become an institution that does the business of interest groups—right down to allowing them to write the actual legislation as they see fit.