The days of gratuitous attacks on Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims appear to be on the wane.

Yesterday, the Senate debated three amendments to the Fiscal 2009 Budget, offered by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the first of which (Amendment 629) read: "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States."

There was much head-scratching when the amendment first appeared. Why was it offered, and what was it about? Well, there have been reports on some fringe websites claiming that President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that would allocate $20.3 million dollars to settle hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza into the U.S - and reached such a frenzy that the internet rumor debunking site devoted a page to demonstrating the absurd nature of this claim. (We at AAI spent five minutes on Google and did the same.)

Undeterred, Senator Kyl brought that amendment to the floor yesterday, along with two other anti-Palestinian amendments - one sought to hold up U.S. assistance to Gaza on the pretense of keeping it from Hamas (Amendment 631), and the other dealt with Egypt and arms smuggling into Gaza (Amendment 630). Kyl ran into stiff opposition on all fronts, and it certainly appeared to be organized.
First, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rose first to speak against Amendments 629 and 630. Noting that he had recently been in Gaza, Egypt and Israel, Kerry called the amendment on Egypt "frankly, not helpful." But it was for the bizarre anti-settlement amendment that he showed true scorn, stating that it "assumes that every resident of Gaza, regardless of age, background, political opinion or any other distinguishing characteristic, is pro-Hamas and ineligible for consideration for resettlement in the United States, even if they are lucky enough to escape from Gaza." He then added, "This amendment, therefore, is not only unnecessary but it would establish for the first time since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act a law that discriminates against a particular nationality in a particular geographic region."
Kyl then stated that he had written the amendment in "response to a news story," but that he had since been told by the State Department that the story was false, and that he intended "tomorrow to withdraw it." That, however, did not end the debate. [Kyl did in fact withdraw the Amendment today, still claiming that it had been prompted by a "flurry of news stories."

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) rose in a tag-team with Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH). Speaking first, Leahy called Amendment 630 a "public slap in the face...of an ally," and the went on to state:
"[T]he omnibus bill already explicitly authorizes assistance provided to Egypt 'for border security programs and activities in the Sinai.' That was language put in by the distinguished ranking Republican member on the Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Gregg, precisely for the purpose of the Kyl amendment--to enable those funds to be used to help police the border and reduce the smuggling into Gaza. ...I am more interested not in what makes great talking points, but in stopping the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. That is why Senator Gregg put the language into the foreign aid bill in the first place."

Leahy, however, saved his scorn for the Amendment 629. His remarks are worth quoting at length:
"Frankly, it is unnecessary and for the United States, a Nation of immigrants, it goes against everything we stand for.

"We don't resettle anybody from Gaza, nor do we resettle anybody from Gaza who is living in the U.N. refugee camps in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan. The amendment is a solution looking for a problem. If a Palestinian from Gaza gets to a place like Italy, or somewhere in Europe, the amendment would prevent the State Department from even considering that person for resettlement to the United States. We would have to tell them sorry, you can't come in, because you are from a place that has terrorists.

"I think back to my family who came to Vermont about 150 years ago. On my father's side, they were Irish. If we had a law like this in place then, it is questionable whether they could have entered this country. If the Irish were fighting to keep their land, if they were fighting to keep their rights, if they were fighting for the ability to vote, and they lived in what is now the Republic of Ireland, they were considered terrorists. We have gone back through the record and found when they left Ireland, even though they had been offered free room and board for the rest of their lives. They were very small rooms, with bars on the windows, and they didn't know that the rest of their lives would come very soon. But they left for Canada, the United States, or Australia.

"I was thinking about the birthday party for Senator Kennedy the other night at the Kennedy Center. There were a number of Irish-Americans there who could speak about their roots, when their families came here, and why they had to leave Ireland to come here. They were hunted because they fought to practice their own religion. They were hunted because they spoke Irish. They were hunted because they wanted to keep their land. They were hunted because they would not renounce their religion. Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them.

"...I hope we don't start doing things that label whole groups of people as terrorists, no matter who they are as individuals."
Leahy concluded by speaking against Amendment 630, noting that two sections of the Budget bill already precluded any assistance to Hamas, and asked of the Kyl amendment, "Do we get extra political points for doing this?" He then tagged his partner and yielded the floor.

Senator Gregg said, "I want to associate myself with the Senator's concern," adding that the Budget resolution itself "made it unalterably clear no money that goes into Gaza can be used for Hamas." He then spoke to the other two Kyl amendments, noting that "on the issue of resettlement of Palestinian refugees, there may be many we would want to come to the United States--maybe physicists and other folks. This blanket approach that nobody can enter the country is really over the top and far too broad a brush to paint on the entire population of an area. ...Thirdly, the issue of the language relative to Egypt concerns me,... There is an ongoing, good-faith effort, as I understand it, by the Government of Egypt to police those borders, using our resources to some degree. Further, Egypt one of our key allies in the sense that it has always been reasonably supportive of what we have tried to do. I think we have a responsibility to be equally supportive of them..."

Final results:
• Amendment 629 was withdrawn.
• Amendment 630 was defeated 61-34
• Amendment 631 was defeated 56-39

As we noted in a previous update, things are changing on Capitol Hill.

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About Christina Zola

Christina is currently Director of Communications at the Arab American institute. She posts for b5 media and spearheads the Yalla Vote initiative. Christina has extensive background in communications, journalism, and Marketing.

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