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Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending May 25, 2012


1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  Senate Passes More Iran Sanctions
3.  Senate Moves on FY13 ForOps - Includes Attack on Palestinian Refugee Status
4.  Members on the Record
5.  From the Press


The House went into recess at the end of last week; both the Senate and House are in recess next week.

1.  Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(IRAN - RED LINES) S.J.RES.41: Introduced 5/24/12 by Sen. Graham (R-SC) and 77 cosponsors, "A joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress regarding the nuclear program of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran."  This appears to be a revised version of the existing "red lines" resolution (S. Res. 380, which also has 77 cosponsors), but designed to be able to pass by unanimous consent (text is not available as of this writing).  S. Res. 380 has a hold on it, believed to come from Sen. Paul (R-KY) due to the failure of the resolution to include language stating that it is not an authorization of use of force.  S. J. Res. 41 was not referred to any committee but placed directly on the Senate calendar, making clear that it is expected to be passed imminently by unanimous consent.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 1905/S. 2101:  On 5/21/12 the Senate passed HR 1905 by a voice vote, after deleting the House text of the bill and replacing it with the text of S. 2101, as amended.  For details, see Section 2, below, and last week's Round-Up.

(FOROPS - FOCUS ON UNRWA) S.3241: Introduced 5/24/12 by Sen. Leahy (D-VT), "An original bill making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and for other purposes" (and reported out of committee that same day, following a subcommittee markup on 5/22/12 and a full committee markup on 5/24/12).  Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar. The committee's report on the bill can be viewed here. For details, see section 3, below.

(VISAS FOR ISRAELIS) HR 3992
:  Introduced 2/9/12 by Rep. Berman (D-CA) and having 11 cosponsors, "To allow otherwise eligible Israeli nationals to receive E-2 nonimmigrant visas if similarly situated United States nationals are eligible for similar nonimmigrant status in Israel."  Passed by the House under suspension of the rules 3/19/12; passed by the Senate 5/24/12 by unanimous consent, without amendment.  The bill will now go to the President.  

(WAIVER OF VISAS FOR ISRAELIS) HR 5850
:  Introduced 5/18/12 by Rep. Sherman (D-CA) and having 13 cosponsors, "To provide for the inclusion of Israel in the visa waiver program, and for other purposes."   Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.  This is not the first time Congress has sought to add Israel to the visa waiver program (see the 2007 reporting in the JTA and the Jerusalem Post).  Adding Israel to the program has in the past been problematic, based on the fact that Israel didn't qualify because the visa refusal rate is too high.  Israelis coming to the U.S. on tourist visas - and then staying on to live/work in the U.S. illegally - is such a serious problem that last year the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv produced a video warning Israelis against doing so (read about it here).

Letters:

(IRAN DIPLOMACY) Price-Dreier letter:
As reported in last week's Round-Up, on 5/15/12 Reps. Price (D-NC) and Dreier (R-CA) began circulating a Dear Colleague letter seeking cosigners on a letter to President Obama in advance of the upcoming P5+1 talks in Baghdad.   APN strongly supported this letter and commended Price, Dreier, and their colleagues who signed it.  The letter was sent to the president May 22, with a total of 71 signers (9 Republicans and 62 Democrats).  The signers were: Republicans:  Dreier (R-CA), Amash (R-MI), Davis (R-KY), Dent (R-PA), Fortenberry (R-NE), Granger (R-TX), Hanna (R-NY), Jones (R-NC), LaTourette (R-OH); Democrats:  Price (D-NC), Bass (D-CA), Becerra (D-CA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Braley (D-IA), Butterfield (D-NC), Capps (D-CA), Clarke (D-MI), Clyburn (D-SC), Cohen (D-TN), Conyers (D-MI), Cooper (D-TN), Courtney (D-CT), Cuellar (D-TX), Davis (D-IL), DeGette (D-CO), DeLauro (D-CT), Dicks (D-WA), Dingell (D-MI), Doggett (D-TX), Edwards (D-MD), Ellison (D-MN), Eshoo (D-OH), Farr (D-CA), Filner (D-CA), Garamendi (D-CA), Gonzalez (D-TX), Grijalva (D-AZ), Gutierrez (DIL), Hastings (D-FL), Heinrich (D-NM), Himes (D-CT), Hinchey (D-NY), Honda (D-CA), Jackson (D-IL), Johnson (D-not clear which one), Kaptur (D-OH), Larson (D-CT), Lee (D-CA), Lewis (D-GA), Loebsack (D-IA), Lofgren (D-CA), McCollum (D-MN), McDermott (D-WA), McGovern (D-MA), Miller (D-CA), Moore (D-WI), Moran (D-VA), Murphy (D-CT), Olver (D-MA), Pingree (D-ME), Rahall (D-WV), Rangel (D-NY), Scott (D-VA), Speier (D-CA), Thompson (D-CA), Tierney (D-MA), Visclosky (D-IN), Watt (D-NC), Welch (D-VT), Woolsey (D-CA), Yarmuth (D-KY)

(PA - RELIGIOUS FREEDOM) PLO Response to Forbes-McIntyre Letter:  Last week the Round-Up reported that on 5/17/12 Reps. Forbes (R-VA) and McIntyre (D-NC), members of the House International Religious Freedoms Caucus, began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to the PA's Salam Fayyad.  The letter expresses concern about treatment of religious minorities in general, and in particular the treatment of a Baptist Church in Bethlehem.  On 5/18/12 the PLO representative in Washington sent a letter to signers of the Forbes-McIntyre letter stating that "you have been gravely misinformed on the particulars of the situation, and to complete the picture on this issue."  The letter goes on to note that "The First Baptist Church of Bethlehem is an Evangelical Church. Evangelical Churches, while allowed to practice freely, are not officially recognized by the PA, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Israel. They are not, as you state in the letter, discriminated against by the PA. They are not recognized in these three countries due to a factor of different reasons, the most significant of which are historical precedence and pressure and lobbying by the Traditional Christian churches, who do not wish to see Evangelical Churches, including Baptist Churches, recognized in Jordan, Israel, or Palestine for internal Christian matters..."

2.  Senate Passes More Iran Sanctions

On 5/22/12 the Senate passed its version of HR 1905 - first deleting all the House text and replacing it with the text of S. 2101, plus some amendments - by a voice vote.  As discussed in last week's Round-Up, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to pass the legislation last week but failed when Republicans insisted on further amendments, including Sen. Graham (R-SC) who insisted that if the bill was going to include language stating that it is not an authorization of use of force, it must also include language making it explicit that the use of force is still on the table.  In the end Graham got what he wanted and the bill was passed in time to ensure that, in the words of Senator Menendez (D-NJ), it could send "a clear message to Iran before the P5+1 talks take place this week."  Menendez went on to explain what this message is: "provide a real and verifiable plan for completely dismantling your nuclear weapons program or Washington will further tighten the economic noose"- notwithstanding the fact that it is not actually clear that Iran has a nuclear weapons program (they unquestionably have a nuclear program, which is what is being discussed in talks).  Moreover, the real message of this legislation - to Iran and to the P5+1, including the Obama Administration - actually seems to be: negotiating over the fate of Iran's nuclear program will not stop Congress from imposing harsher and harsher sanctions over which the President has no authority.  

The full floor discussion of the bill is available here.  On 5/22/12 AIPAC issued an extremely tepid press release applauding the Senate's action (one signal of the tepidness of AIPAC's reaction may be the fact that the press release has still not been posted on AIPAC's website).  That press release noted that the bill will "will significantly ratchet up the sanctions against Iran and provide the Obama administration another tool to pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons program" - notwithstanding the fact that a "tool" implies that the sanctions are something over which Obama will have discretion (he won't).  The press release notes approvingly that, "Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) worked constantly to ensure additional tough sanctions were included in this bill, and remain committed to adding even stronger measures in negotiations between the House and Senate."

3.  Senate Moves on FY13 ForOps - Includes Attack on Palestinian Refugee Status

On 5/22/12 the Senate Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee marked up the FY13 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, in a mainly pro-forma markup (it was agreed that members would hold off on amendments until the full committee markup).  A summary of the bill is available here. A webcast (audio only) of the subcommittee markup is available here.  Notable during the subcommittee markup was Sen. Coats' (R-IN) emphatic opposition to any funding for UNESCO (funding which is in fact barred by law, so his opposition is redundant), and mention of an amendment that Sen. Kirk (R-IL) would offer in full committee related to Palestinian refugees (addressed below).

On 5/24/12 the full Senate Appropriations committee marked up that same bill.  A webcast of the full committee markup is available here (audio only).  The report of the full committee on the bill is available here.   The UNRWA amendment is discussed below.  A full analysis of Middle East-related details of the bill will be included in the next edition of the Round-Up.

Senate opens the door for attack on Palestinian refugee status

The big news related to the Senate's FY13 ForOps bill was Sen. Kirk's (R-IL) amendment dealing with Palestinian refugees.   Kirk's amendment was initially mentioned in a post by the Washington Post's right-wing polemicist Jennifer Rubin.  It was subsequently announced in an article on ForeignPolicy.com, by Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), who reportedly is deeply engaged in this latest anti-UNRWA initiative (as noted in last week's Round-Up, Schanzer was also the moving force behind a House letter demanding that the Obama Administration investigate the Palestine Investment Fund).  Schanzer subsequently published a version of that same article in the Hill, and Rubin also followed up with two additional posts (so far) on the topic, here and here.

Background

Kirk is a longtime adversary of UNRWA.  During his tenure in the House, he repeatedly criticized UNRWA and demanded investigations into UNRWA finances, UNRWA operations, the content of UNRWA textbooks, etc.   Notably, those battles were very carefully framed in terms of accountability of U.S. taxpayer funds, or ensuring that terrorists were not working for UNRWA or benefitting from UNRWA services, or ensuring that UNRWA was teaching Palestinian children a political/historical narrative that was acceptable to Congress and did not incite hatred and violence against Israel.  Some observers (including the one writing this Round-Up) have long argued that such arguments were concealing the real agenda behind these attacks on UNRWA - that agenda being: to try to use U.S. law to "resolve" the Palestinian refugee issue by shutting down UNRWA and defining Palestinian refugees out of existence.  The idea being: Congress passes a law and presto! No more refugee issue to resolve.

This time around, Kirk and other supporters of the amendment, both inside and outside of Congress, have come out of the closet.  

Contrary to some reports, Kirk's effort is not about cutting assistance to UNRWA, at least not immediately.  The goal of the amendment is to force the State Department to provide information in order for Congress to redefine and drastically narrow the term "Palestinian refugee" - so that, if and when permanent status talks between Israel and the Palestinians ever take place (and it should be recalled that under Oslo, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the refugee issue will be resolved only in permanent status talks), there will be no issue left to resolve.  It also seems like that Kirk and others will try to exploit those numbers and this question of definitions in order to curtail UNRWA funding at a later stage.

The Amendment

The Kirk amendment was mentioned during the subcommittee markup.  In anticipation of the full Committee markup, Josh Rogin at the Cable (writing sympathetically about Kirk's effort) reported on the impending fight over the Palestinian refugee issue in the Senate ForOps committee. The text of the Kirk amendment to be offered in committee, as reported in the Cable, was as follows:

United Nations Relief and Works Agency.- Not later than one year after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing the number of people currently receiving United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services 1) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict ("such persons"); 2) who are children of such persons; 3) who are grandchildren of such persons; 4) who are descendants of such persons and not otherwise counted by criteria (2) and (3); 5) who are residents of the West Bank or Gaza; 6) who do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and are citizens of other countries; and 7) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, who currently do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who are not currently citizens of any other state.

The amendment was offered 5/24/12 in the full Appropriations Committee markup (it is debated at length starting at around 118:40 in the webcast).  Leahy spoke passionately about the pitfalls of the amendment and made it clear that he felt that this amendment would be seen as seeking to prejudge negotiations on refugees and would hurt the interests of the United States.  Leahy noted the Jordanians' strong concern about the amendment (Jordan hosts a large number of refugees, including descendents of refugees - people who Kirk would like to see no longer defined as refugees) and read at length from a letter sent to him by Thomas Nides, the Deputy Secretary of State, laying out the State Department's concerns about the amendment.  Among other things, Nides' letter states:

"...The status of Palestinian refugees is one of the most sensitive final status issues confronting Palestinians and Israelis...This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.  United States policy has been consistent for decades, in both Republican and Democratic administrations - final status issues can and must only be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians in direct negotiations.  The Department of State cannot support legislation which would force the United States to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees... This proposed amendment poses serious risk of damaging a range of key United States interests in the region.  It pushed the refugee issue to the fore at a particularly sensitive time.  Forcing the United States to take a position on a permanent status issue would hurt our efforts to promote Middle East peace, prevent the Palestinians from returning to their pursuit of statehood via the United Nations, damage our ability to mediate between the parties, and risk a very negative and potentially destabilizing impact on key allies, particularly Jordan, who host Palestinian refugee populations..."

Leahy strongly urged supporters of the amendment to retract it in the best interests of the United States.  When that suggestion was refused, Leahy suggested alternate language as an amendment to the amendment, as follows (Leahy's read aloud the text of his second-degree amendment in the hearing and it is printed in the report):  

The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committee not later than one year after enactment of this act, indicating -
(a)    the approximate number of people who, in the past year, have received UNRWA services -
 (1)   whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict; and
(2)   who are descendants of persons described in subparagraph (1);
 (b)   the extent to which the provision of such services to such persons furthers the security interests of the United States and of other United States allies in the Middle East; and
(c)    the methodology and challenges in preparing each report.

That language was adopted by the committee without objection.  Notably, while it is clearly better than the original Kirk effort, both in terms of what the report requires and in terms of requiring the Secretary of State to articulate U.S. interests involved in assistance to refugees, the language still, without question, opens the door for the numbers specified in the report to be used to try to re-define the term "refugee."  It thus still does exactly what Deputy Secretary of State warns about in his letter.  Notably, after the language was adopted, it was reported that a senior Senate staffer involved in shaping the amendment stated "This will have major implications for future negotiations over final status issues with regard to refugees."

APN strongly opposes this irresponsible effort to undermine U.S. policy on this issue, and noted in an op-ed 5/24/12 in the Daily Beast:  

"Kirk wants to take the refugee issue--an issue that Israel and the Palestinians have previously agreed would be resolved only in permanent status negotiations--and use U.S. law to 'resolve' it (or mostly resolve it) unilaterally and outside of negotiations (apparently by re-defining most Palestinian refugees out of existence). And all apparently with the approval (it's not clear if that approval is implicit or explicit) of the Israeli Prime Minister.  Of course, it won't work, even if this somehow makes it into law. Palestinians who consider themselves refugees don't do so simply because UNRWA, or anyone else, gives them permission to do so (for UNRWA's definition of what is a Palestinian refugee, see here). They do so because this is their personal experience and their personal narrative.  Forcing the UN to re-define millions of them to no longer officially qualify as refugees won't change that self-definition, and it won't make the issue easier to solve in the future.  In truth it will just make it harder, since the new, Kirk-approved terms of reference will be totally disconnected from the actual issues at the heart of the conflict."

AIPAC reportedly was reportedly pleased with the amendment but has issued no public statement.  

Finally, writing at the Cable on 5/25/12, Josh Rogin portrayed Deputy Secretary of State Nides' letter as a shift in U.S. policy - because it makes reference to 5 million refugees (this being the number of Palestinian refugees who under the UN definition are eligible for services from UNRWA, which includes both people who fled their homes and their descendents, per UN policy).  One GOP staffer and former AIPAC official Steve Rosen are cited as experts who assert that this is a shift in policy.  This assertion appears to be at odds, however, with the record.  U.S. government reports on the issue dating back at least to the Bush era - like this 2003 GAO report to Congress - similarly use the number of registered refugees as the number of refugees (this report states in the cover letter to Congress, "More than 4 million Palestinian refugees are eligible to receive these services in UNRWA's five areas of operation--Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.")

4.  Members on the Record

Nelson (D-FL), 5/22/12: "Mr. President, on April 19, 2012, I introduced S. 2325, the Iron Dome Support Act, along with my colleagues Senators BOXER and KIRK. This bipartisan bill authorizes further assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. As of today, 17 of our colleagues have also joined us on this bill, because we all recognize that an investment in the Iron Dome is an investment in peace and security in the region.  The Iron Dome system uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha rockets and mortar bombs in midair coming from 3 to 45 miles away--and can do so in any weather condition. The Israeli Defense Force reports that Iron Dome has already proven itself to be 90 percent successful intercepting rockets well before they could potentially hit residential neighborhoods, busy highways, shopping centers, or crowded streets in southern Israel.  This is an incredible piece of technology. Right now, there are 3 Iron Dome batteries in the south of the country. But Israel remains vulnerable to attacks on other fronts from terrorist groups. That is why I encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting S. 2325. Increased support for this legislation will send a strong message to include additional funding for Iron Dome batteries in order to protect all of Israel.  The Iron Dome is just one of the ways the United States supports Israeli missile defense. The Arrow Weapons System and David Sling protect Israel from medium and long distance threats to the country's existence.   We are developing these systems in cooperation with the Israeli government, so we can harvest the technology for future American systems. Our backing is important to keep the deployment of these systems on track as they must keep pace with the aggressive development of threat missiles.  As the markup of the various defense bills moves ahead this month and next, I urge my colleagues to fully support the accelerated deployment of anti-missile systems vital to the survival of our Israeli allies."

Johnson (D-SD), 5/21/12:  On passage of HR 1905 (amended with S. 2101), "...The bill significantly increases pressure on Iran's leaders and I thank my colleagues for their support of this important measure. As we begin negotiations with our counterparts in the House, I want to expand on my comments from my earlier statement. I do so in order to provide my colleagues some clarification regarding a few provisions in the bill.  First, section 201 of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Acts of 2012 will impose sanctions, for the first time, against entities involved in joint ventures to develop petroleum resources outside of Iran that are established on or after January 1, 2002. Those joint ventures which qualify are joint ventures which involve the Government of Iran as a substantial partner or investor, or through which Iran could receive technological knowledge or equipment not previously available to it that could contribute to its ability to develop domestic petroleum resources. Further, even if ancillary agreements to implement an existing pre 2002 joint venture are agreed to on or after January 1, 2002, sanctions are not authorized to be imposed against any third-party to that joint venture or against persons who provide goods, services, technology or information to such a joint venture, as a result of their participation in or dealings with such venture, by virtue of such ancillary agreements.  In addition, this legislation seeks to continue the long-standing tradition of ensuring that humanitarian trade, including agricultural commodities, food, medicine and medical products is specifically exempted by Congress from sanctions, on the condition that such trade be licensed by the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC. It is becoming more apparent that U.S. financial sanctions targeting Iran's banking sector are causing increased concern among businesses and banks of our allies. The fear is that engaging in humanitarian trade in the current sanctions environment might lead to sanctions for legitimately licensed humanitarian trade.  However, it is not and has not been the intent of U.S. policy to harm the Iranian people by prohibiting humanitarian trade that is licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department. OFAC consistently issues many licenses, both general and specific, for this type of trade. The practical financing difficulties arising today between banks and those engaging in licensed humanitarian trade can be best addressed by U.S. Government officials, who should do more to make it clear that no U.S. sanctions will be imposed against third-country banks that facilitate OFAC-licensed or exempted humanitarian trade. The Administration must make that clear in public statements, in private meetings with foreign financial institutions, and elsewhere as appropriate.  Misinterpretation of U.S. law by foreign financial institutions should no longer deny the people of Iran the benefit of OFAC-approved humanitarian trade..."

Kucinich (D-OH), 5/18/12:  "Mr. Speaker, if you want peace, you prepare for peace. If you want war, you prepare for war.  The NDAA prepares for war against Iran. It calls for pre-positioning planes, bombs, ships, munitions, and for naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. This is not about defense; this is about offense.   I was a third-string quarterback on a not-very-good varsity football team, and I knew the difference and know the difference between defense and offense.  We're preparing to go on offense against Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons and has no intention or real capability to attack the United States. We're about to make the same disastrous mistake we made against Iraq.  This bill does not explicitly authorize war, perhaps, but that's beside the point. It's licensing it. It sets the stage for it in an election year. Wake up, Congress."

Miller (D-CA), 5/18/12: On H. Res. 568:  "...Had I been present, I would have voted 'nay' on rollcall No. 261. I support H. Res. 568's goal of preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity and am on record on numerous occasions supporting legislation to this effect. Yet I do not believe that this resolution is a sensible way to pursue that goal. President Obama has effectively utilized aggressive sanctions and has united the international community diplomatically, which has substantially increased pressure on Iran to agree to a deal to prevent continued uranium enrichment and allow international inspectors to verify that Iran's nuclear program is not being used for military purposes. Congress should encourage that progress to continue but I am concerned that H. Res. 568 could disrupt the progress that is being made through negotiations and could bring the U.S. closer to war unnecessarily."
 
Honda (D-CA), 5/18/12: On H. Res. 568: "...Despite agreeing with the overall intent of the resolution, I was compelled to vote 'present' due to concerns about how the resolution was drafted. I wholeheartedly believe that stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons is necessary to ensure the peaceful security of our Nation, and the world. Accordingly, I am gravely concerned about the prospect of a nuclear weapon-armed Government of Iran, which has vehemently antagonized its regional neighbors, particularly our ally Israel. H. Res. 568 expresses this concern and supports a permanent agreement with Iran that assures its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. I also agree with the support expressed in H. Res. 568 for the universal rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, many of whom have suffered greatly in pursuit of these noble causes. Unfortunately, H. Res. 568 employs dangerously ambiguous language when reframing U.S. policy to prevent this potential nuclear weapon threat. The resolution references nuclear weapons 'capability' as a new basis for U.S. policy. A loose interpretation of the undefined 'capability' term, combined with the resolution's strong rejection of any policy--U.S. or otherwise--that does not prevent a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, can easily accelerate the rhetoric for military action against Iran. Furthermore, the resolution's policy restrictions can only hinder the upcoming P5+1 negotiations with Iran..."

5. From the Press

The Hill 5/25/12: Rep. Berman sees Israeli visa expansion as job creator for US
AP 5/25/12: Congress approves visas for Israeli investors
NJ Jewish News 5/24/12: Strong words for Israel during debate for NJ Dist. 10 seat ("Five Democrats seeking to replace the late Donald Payne in Congress pledged loyalty to Israel...")
NYT 5/23/12: In Race for Congressional Seat, Israel Gets a Lot of Attention
Florida Jewish Journal 5/23/12: Congress stands by Israel
MissileThreat.Com 5/23/12: US seen awarding Israel largest ever aid package
Int'l Business Times 5/23/12: US Senate Eyes 'Largest Aid Package' Ever for Israel Blessed by Obama
YNet 5/22/12: US Congress promoting visa exemption for Israelis