Jim Risch, the junior GOP Senator from Idaho and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in late May placed a hold on $50 million out of an overall $360 million in assistance Secretary of State Antony Blinken had promised the Arabs in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of Operation Guardians of the Walls.
A spokeswoman for Risch issued a statement saying, “Humanitarian assistance is not subject to congressional notification and holds. Senator Risch remains in close contact with the State Department and USAID to ensure that any additional Palestinian initiatives are compliant with US law, to include the Taylor Force Act.”
The Taylor Force Act stops American economic aid to the Palestinian Authority it ceases paying stipends through its Martyr’s Fund to individuals who commit acts of terrorism and to the families of deceased terrorists. The Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump in March 2018, and immediately cut a third of US foreign aid payments to the PA. In August 2018, the Trump administration cut more than $200 million in direct aid to the PA and stopped all aid—$100 million—to UNRWA.
“While the PA and the PLO continue to promote violence through the pay to slay program, the ranking member will continue to provide rigorous oversight of taxpayer dollars to ensure this money does not benefit terrorists,” Senator Rich’s spokeswoman said.
Needless to say, this is not going over well in PA Arab circles. Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday: “I just don’t see any justification for withholding the release of funds, other than the continued dehumanization, ridicule and collective punishment of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza.” He added: “It’s a part of the consistent collective punishment of the Palestinian people, particularly the people of Gaza.”
In early June, a large group of House Democrats wrote Senator Risch: “We write with a great sense of urgency to respectfully request that you release your hold on tens of millions of dollars in appropriated humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians rebuilding their lives in the wake of the fighting between Hamas and Israel earlier this month.”
They continued: “Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe. Buildings lie in rubble. Access to clean water and electricity is sporadic or nonexistent. Food insecurity is spreading. COVID-19 is running rampant and thousands of people have been displaced and rendered homeless. The magnitude of the crisis is staggering.”
Secretary Blinken met PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas on May 25 and pledged $75 million in longer-term development and economic aid to “the Palestinians.” Shortly thereafter, Risch and other Republicans blocked the bulk of the aid, based on the fact that the PA pays out about $150 million annually to terrorists behind bars in Israel and to the families of terrorists who killed Israelis.
“Sadly, just after the Biden administration announced additional assistance to the West Bank and Gaza, PA President Abbas issued a $42,000 martyr’s payment to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist who stabbed two Israelis to death in 2015. This is outrageous,” Risch wrote on June 15, adding, “This abhorrent practice concerns me deeply and should be repugnant to all members of Congress.”
Senator Risch is one of those dyed in the wool American friends of Israel who are occasionally angrier than Israelis and Jews are over the offenses directed at them. On May 27, he introduced a resolution condemning global anti-Semitism, noting incidents of anti-Semitism outside the United States, and going after the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement whose activists fuel anti-Semitism around the world.
In a spirit similar to the German government’s recent decision to ban Hamas flags over their ties to anti-Semitic attacks, Senator Risch wrote that “while anti-Semitism is on a rise across the world, the recent violence between Israel and Hamas has led to an increase in attacks against Jewish communities. This violence is further fueled by support here in the United States for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a global Palestinian-led effort to promote boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel. The BDS movement is dangerous and contributes to the rise of anti-Semitism.”
And lest you conclude that he is just a Republican lackey, on January 6, when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, Senator Risch called the attack “unpatriotic and un-American in the extreme” and suggested it was egged on by “deep distrust in the integrity and veracity of our elections.”
Maybe he’s just a principled man? We still have those, apparently.