Portman, Booker Introduce Legislation that Supports Israel & Urges Community Engagement in the Middle East

Under the Bipartisan Legislation, the State Department Must Include in Their Annual Human Rights Report, Efforts by Arab Governments to Undermine People-to-People Engagement 

August 10, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act, which would require the State Department to include in their annual human rights report examples of Arab government efforts to undermine people-to-people engagement with Israeli citizens and residents. 

The Arab League, an organization comprising 22 Middle Eastern and African countries and entities, has maintained an official boycott of Israeli companies and Israeli-made goods since the founding of Israel in 1948. Although some Arab League states in recent years have enhanced cooperation with the state of Israel, a few maintain anti-normalization laws that punish their citizens for people-to-people relations with Israelis, including with imprisonment, revocation of citizenship, and execution.  

Despite the risk of retaliatory action, a rising tide of Arab civic actors advocate direct engagement with Israeli citizens. These include the Arab Council for Regional Integration, a group of 32 public figures from 15 Arab countries who oppose the boycott of Israel on the grounds that the boycott has denied Arabs the benefits of partnership with Israelis, has blocked Arabs from helping to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and inspired divisive intra-Arab boycotts among diverse sects and ethnic groups.  

“I am proud to join Senator Booker on this bipartisan legislation which supports our ally Israel and the longstanding US policy that encourages Arab League states to normalize their relations with Israel. Anti-normalization laws in the region continue to be a barrier toward communities, people, NGOs and business coming together,” said Portman. In my visits to the region, I’ve seen the deep and abiding friendships that exist, and they are essential to building a long term peace. This bill will discourage those Arab League states that continue to enforce anti-normalization laws and support efforts like those proposed by the Arab Council that encourage and defend community engagement amongst Arabs and Israelis.” 

“Since my time in the Senate, I have consistently supported Arab-Israeli engagement,” said Booker. “The need for people-to-people engagement between these communities is not only a critical tool for diplomacy but also important for peace and economic prosperity in the region. Our bill will strengthen America’s commitment to pursuing peace by supporting and encouraging dialogue between Arab and Israeli citizens.”  

Specifically, the Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act would require the State Department to include the following in their annual human rights report:  

  • The status of “anti-normalization laws” in each country within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. 
  • Instances of prosecution of citizens and residents of Arab countries for calling for peace and engagement with Israel. 
  • Instances of unlawful retribution by Arab governments against citizens or residents of Arab countries for any of the same actions. 
  • Evidence of steps taken by Arab governments encouraging people-to-people relations between their citizens or residents and Israeli citizens. 

Full text of the bill is available here.