Senate Republicans on Monday introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign banks that knowingly facilitate “martyr payments” by the Palestinian Authority to families of terrorists.
The proposal comes as the GOP solidifies its pro-Israel stance amid a growing divide among Democrats over America’s posture in the region.
“We should not send one penny of federal taxpayer money to any organization that is celebrating, that is rewarding, that is incentivizing, that is causing American citizens to be murdered,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said while introducing the bill.
The Taylor Force Martyr Payment Prevention Act is named after an Army veteran who was murdered in Israel by a knife-wielding Hamas operative in 2016. Ten others were wounded in the attack before Israeli police killed the assailant.
Soon after the attack, the Palestinian Authority began making payments to the assailant’s family as part of a program that pays families of Palestinians who are killed or detained by Israel. Many of the payments have been made to families of suicide bombers and other terrorist attackers.
In 2018, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, a bipartisan measure that restricted humanitarian aid payments to the Palestinian Authority until it ceased making “martyr payments.”
But lawmakers behind the new legislation say the previous bill did not go far enough.
“There are over 500 Palestinian bureaucrats who are responsible for getting $350 million a year to the families of terrorists,” Mr. Cruz said. “This is big business.”
Mr. Cruz said that while the payments were stopped under the Trump administration, President Biden has restored U.S. aid to the Palestinians even though the Palestinian Authority continues making payments to families of dead terrorists.
“One of the first decisions the by the administration put in place was to open the spigots to send again hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority, even while they continue to pay the families of terrorists, even while they incentivize the murder of Americans,” he said.
The bill introduced Monday will specifically target banks that facilitate payments or provide financial support to Hamas. The legislation would forbid such banks from holding accounts in the United States.
While the 2018 bill received bipartisan support, far-left lawmakers became increasingly outspoken against Israel in the wake of the 11-day Israel-Palestine crisis in May. During the conflict, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” on Twitter and, in an impassioned speech on the House floor, made statements critical of fellow Democrats, including President Biden, who supported Israel’s right to self-defense.
In June, fellow “squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, exposed further fissures in the party when she made statements on Twitter equating the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, after questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken about U.S. support for the International Criminal Court.
In response, a dozen Jewish Democrats issued a statement condemning Ms. Omar for using rhetoric that they said reflects “deep-seated prejudice” and provides “cover to terrorist groups.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was forced to weigh in as the spat escalated and eventually scolded Ms. Omar for her statement, stopping short of formal censure proceedings after Ms. Omar clarified her remarks.
In September, far-left Democrats pressured Mrs. Pelosi to remove funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system from a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government afloat before a looming shutdown deadline.
Though moderate Democrats, who note that the missile system is purely a defensive weapon that kills nobody, opposed stripping the funding from the bill, Mrs. Pelosi was forced to pull the measure given her party’s narrow grip in the House.
Over the summer, an Associated Press poll found that, among the general public, 62% of liberal Democratic voters say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Palestinians. Fewer moderate Democrats, 43%, hold the same sentiment.
The same poll showed that 61% of conservative Republicans and 37% of moderate Republicans viewed the U.S. as too supportive of Palestinians.
Besides Mr. Cruz, the bill introduced Monday has 11 Republican cosponsors, including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana, Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Steve Daines of Montana, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The lawmakers said Monday that they expect the legislation to receive bipartisan support going forward.
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