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Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal

After 11 months of Joe Biden's presidency, the U.S. has still not returned to the Iran Nuclear Deal. Though the American and Iranian negotiating teams continue talks in Vienna, they still aren't talking to each other directly. It's a sad time for this kind of childishness.

Meanwhile, reactionary forces in Iran, here in the U.S. and in Israel are working to kill the deal. Every day that goes by provides an opportunity for these bad faith actors to scuttle the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – or for an accident to start up a conflict.

But in mid-December, and despite all the noise, Iran agreed with IAEA inspectors to permit the return of cameras for verification at nuclear sites. This is a positive development in what had been a real sticking point recently. It may indicate that Iran is signaling its willingness to resume substantive negotiations, which had stalled. The U.S. must seize this moment to make serious efforts of its own to restore the JCPOA agreement. 

Last February Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey re-introduced the Iran Diplomacy Act from the previous Congress, meant “To seek a diplomatic resolution to Iran's nuclear program…” S.434 calls on both the U.S. and Iran (as well as the other five nations involved) to resume efforts to implement and hopefully strengthen the deal, and for the U.S. to become pro-active about relieving the sanctions on Iran that Trump leveled, and aiding Iran in its struggle against COVID. Senator Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor of the measure, Sen. Alex Padilla is not yet.

Candidate Biden promised to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, save one of Barack Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements, and take us back from the brink of war with Iran – a place where Donald Trump put us when he recklessly left the JCPOA. Biden is already taking more than 11 months to do something he should have done on Day 1. He and the Congress need all the encouragement to do the right thing that we can give them. 

Action: Contact Sen. Padilla and tell him again to co-sponsor S.434, the Iran Diplomacy Act. Remind him of the limited window of opportunity to de-escalate tensions with Iran, and that he should be part of Congress’s effort to weigh in on our countries’ relations. (If you have time, thank Senator Feinstein for her support of the bill.) Then, call on Biden himself to take steps to restore and rejoin the deal. You can also contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to express support for returning to the JCPOA. Suggest that Biden needs to keep his word and get the deal re-done, and any encouragement from Congress is welcome.

A Better Nuclear Posture

President Biden's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which lays out the nation's nuclear weapons policy priorities, is currently underway. On the campaign trail Biden promised to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons, advance nuclear arms control, and declare that “the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack.” This would be similar to a no-first-use pledge.

The current NPR, as outlined by two previous administrations, called for spending upwards of $1.5 trillion over a 30-year period; some figures put it at closer to $1.7 trillion. Such numbers fly in the face of President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. They also lack the same pushback we’ve seen lately to the Build Back Better Act, as all Republicans and a couple of annoying Democrats ask how we will pay for infrastructure-related programs that we truly can use – as opposed to weaponry that for clear reasons we hope and pray we will never use.

As to nuclear weapons, the public agrees. A July 2020 Chicago Council Survey poll found that 66% of Americans believe that no country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons, including majorities of Republicans (54%), Democrats (78%), and Independents (64%). In April 2019, a ReThink Media poll found that 80% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans support bipartisan cooperation to “reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.” There appears a general feeling that nuclear weapons won’t protect us from COVID, global warming or economic inequality. Now it’s time to tell Biden and Congress to weigh in on our priorities, as well as the idea of a no-first-use policy. There are in fact two bills in both the House and Senate addressing that policy.

Action: Contact the White House and remind Biden of his pledge to reduce nuclear weapons, and of the need for his Nuclear Posture Review to move our country’s priorities away from such destructive budget items. Also contact Senator Padilla and ask for his co-sponsorship of S.1219 and S.1148 (Feinstein’s name is on both of these), calling for a no-first-use policy from the U.S. for nuclear weapons. Likewise contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, and tell them to co-sponsor HR 669 and HR 2603, the House’s no-first-use companion bills. Our electeds should also advise Biden of the need for a new nuclear weapons policy that moves us toward their elimination.

Not “Terrorists”

Over the years, being designated a “terrorist” organization has carried serious consequences – including an inability to get adequate funding for actual valuable human rights-related work. Such has been the case for six respected Palestinian human rights-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who in October were called terrorist organizations by the Israeli government. Besides facing fundraising issues, some of their members could face individual or mass arrest.

These groups are renowned for their work documenting violations of international law (Al-Haq), protecting the rights of Palestinian political prisoners (Addameer), supporting marginalized Palestinian communities (Bisan), documenting Israel’s targeted attacks on Palestinian children (DCI-P), supporting Palestinian farmers (UAWC) and empowering Palestinian women to defend their socio-political and economic rights (UPWC). All have played an important role in protecting the lives, lands and rights of Palestinians in occupied territories, and Israel has chosen an authoritarian path to try to suppress them.

Hundreds of individuals and organizations – including Peace Action – recently signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to condemn Israel’s “terrorist” designation of the six organizations. For Congress’s part, later in October Minnesota Democratic Rep and frequent champion for Palestinians Betty McCollum introduced H. Res.751 – “Condemning the repressive designation by the Government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, and for other purposes.” This is a time to push back against Israel’s (and any) loose definition of “terrorism”, which not only might persecute those undeserving of the label, but potentially makes the term less meaningful when confronting actual terrorists.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and ask for their co-sponsorship of H. Res. 751, condemning Israel for calling Palestinian human rights organizations “terrorists”. Suggest that such an action needs to be opposed, and Congress needs to weigh in. (Those with Twitter can click #StandWithThe6.)

Space Without Force

One of Donald Trump’s flights of fancy (so to speak) was the establishment, in 2019, of the U.S. Space Force. Part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, approval of the Space Force codified the notion of space as a theatre of war. It runs counter to our commitment to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which restricts the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space and banned military maneuvers on celestial bodies. It also added an initial $15.5 billion to our military budget (with the promise of much more), for a program that creates more military bureaucracy, duplicates much of the existing work within the Air Force, and poses a threat to national and world security.

In late September, North Bay Rep. Jared Huffman introduced the No Militarization of Space Act (HR 5335), which would abolish the Space Force and return what is left of its mission to the Air Force. It would leave the military budget with one less line item and one less unnecessary footprint in space.

Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel for Demand Progress, put it as well as anyone: “Militarizing space is an unconscionable waste of billions of tax dollars, and it risks extending the worst mistakes of history to the final frontier by inviting conflict and escalation”. Rep. Huffman said, “It’s time we turn our attention back to where it belongs: addressing urgent domestic and international priorities like battling COVID-19, climate change, and growing economic inequality.”

Action: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and urge their co-sponsorship of HR 5335, the No Militarization of Space Act. Suggest that we have far larger domestic priorities than this redundant branch of the military, which could take another step toward destabilizing our planet from thousands of miles above it.

How Much More for Israel’s Military?

In late September, the House of Representatives voted 420-9 to send an additional $1 billion to Israel, ostensibly for its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. The U.S. line is that Iron Dome is a “purely defensive” program.

One problem is that we already help fund it as part of our $3.8 billion-per-year unconditional support for the Israeli military, which raises the question of how much more they need in their ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Another problem is that “purely defensive” is a dubious term considering the money that could be thus freed up for more “offensive” plans such as Israel’s continuing deadly bombardment of Gaza. Surely there was virtually no mention in the House of what the people there are going through, nor of the fact that Israel is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Gaza.

Neither Rep. Jackie Speier nor Anna Eshoo were among the 9 “no” votes for the additional $1 billion. And it’s very possible that both Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla will vote for Ted Cruz’s companion bill in the Senate. But Congress should hear from anyone who opposes this funding – toward changing its members’ minds as well as being a counterweight to the many pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian voices they are hearing.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them how you feel about the extra $1 billion for the Israeli military. Likewise contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their “no” vote on S.2839, the Senate version to send Israel the $1 billion. Suggest that we send more than enough to their military and their “defense”, especially in light of our own country’s health and safety needs. Or those of Gaza.

Answering the Cycle of Violence in Israel and Palestine

Sadly, tragically, we’ve been here before. The grinding decades-long oppression of Palestinians is once again spiraling into a full-blown air war and mob violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories. First, there were the recent scenes of violent attacks by settler mobs and Israeli security forces on Palestinians who were protesting Israeli home demolition policies or simply praying in houses of worship. Now, tit-for-tat between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has escalated into indiscriminate IDF bombing of densely populated areas in Gaza. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll caused by Israeli airstrikes is at least 227, including 64 children. At least 12 Israelis including 2 children were killed in rocket attacks. We finally--for now--have a ceasefire, but we really need an end to the occupation, not more airstrikes and lives lost in the future.

The unconditional support of Israel by the United States, which includes $3.8 billion of our taxpayer dollars, reinforces a militaristic policy that includes annexation, evictions, home demolitions, and the detention and torture of Palestinians – even young children.

In the face of continued repression of Palestinians by the Israeli government and its authorities, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum in mid-April introduced the Palestinian Children and Families Act. H.R. 2590 has three main curbs on U.S. policy, bringing together individual pieces of legislation from McCollum in the previous Congress: It would stop U.S. support for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian land, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and incarceration of Palestinian children in Israeli military jails. Under this bill, our tax dollars would no longer pay for these human rights violations.

Children in the territories would perhaps be the biggest beneficiaries of H.R. 2590. Of the roughly 2.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, about 45 % are under 18 years of age. Like adults, they are at risk of arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.

UNICEF reports that children in an Israeli military detention system face harsh treatment that is “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process.” This includes interrogation, verbal abuse and physical and psychological violence – sometimes meant to extract confessions.

Congress is not known for staking out bold positions on Palestinian rights. The fact that this bill has even been introduced is a step forward politically. Given the strong support for the Israeli military in Congress, increasing support for this legislation can put real pressure on Israeli policy. At the same time, slowly but surely, we are building greater support for Palestinian rights in Congress.

Action: Rep. Jackie Speier is a co-sponsor of HR 2590...her constituents can contact her to express appreciation. If your Representative is Anna Eshoo, (or someone else), urge her co-sponsorship for the bill, which defends the human rights of Palestinian children as well as allows Palestinians to keep their property as communities and as individuals. Suggest that the Palestinians deserve to live with dignity, and our tax dollars should be used to invest in their future, not their harm.

Biden’s Saudi and UAE weapons sales

Sadly, President Biden recently gave the green light to continue selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE billions of dollars worth of fighter jets, armed drones, bombs, and missiles. This is a follow-up to a policy endorsed and pursued by his predecessor and by no means becoming of a new President whose policy seemed to be to stop such arms sales.

The Biden administration, in response to the horrors of the Saudi war in Yemen, had in its first days stated its intention to halt “offensive” weapons to these countries. But, as the New York Times reported earlier in April, “it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose…”. In a region considered the site of perhaps the world’s worst human rights crisis, giving such nuance to the idea of weapons sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE looks like throwing human rights to the winds.

On the campaign trail, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and promised to end U.S. complicity in the moral and strategic catastrophe in Yemen. It now appears he and his administration team may not hold Saudi Arabia and the UAE accountable without some extra pressure. That is where we need to come in.

Action: Contact President Biden and tell him to cancel any weapons sales – defensive or otherwise – to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Perhaps suggest anything less would amount to a broken promise, as well as demonstrate acquiescence in a deadly military intention – with war crimes and mass famine of Yemeni civilians.

Vaccine, yes – nuclear missiles, no

The first step this year in an unfathomable $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons modernization effort is the proposal for an initial $100 billion, for the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – projected to cost a total of $264 billion by the time it’s completed. The program’s goal is an upgrade of missile systems in silos around the U.S., mostly in the northern Midwest.

The systems and silos mostly exist to be a vulnerable “nuclear sponge” in case of an enemy attack, to which we might respond with air- and sea- based nuclear weapons. In short, the ground-based silos exist to help “win” a nuclear war – a relative term considering the resulting destruction likely done to the earth and much of its population. The possibility of a false attack warning, which has already happened more times than publicly known, would make GBSD a typically dangerous and expensive part of the nuclear “triad”. It also makes populations subject to sacrifice in areas where the silos exist.

Enter once again Sen. Markey, along with South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, who at the end of March introduced respective versions of the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles” (ICBM) Act. The bill numbers are S. 982 in the Senate, H.R. 2227 in the House. The measure first diverts $1 billion from the proposed program to funding for a universal COVID vaccine…“a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction on” as Markey put it. It redirects additional GBSD funding to prevention of future bio-threats. And it would launch an independent study to “explore viable technical solutions to extend the Minuteman III” intercontinental ballistic missile to 2050. While we would prefer no such missiles exist, that provision would stop extra money for anything new like them.

Overall, the ICBM Act takes steps to redirect funding from arms-contractors’ needs to human needs. “With all of the global challenges we face,” said Khanna, “the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence.”

Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their co-sponsorship of the Senate version of the Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act. Likewise tell Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to co-sponsor the House version. Suggest that getting rid of COVID and other possible diseases would be far better for our national security than a new $100 billion missile system.

Directory                                                                                                                            

Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Senator Dianne Feinstein                                  

One Post St., Ste 2450       San Francisco, CA 94104      

(202) 224-3841                    fax: (202) 228-3954        

(415) 393-0707                    fax (415)393-0710

Senator Alex Padilla

333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553                   fax: (202) 224-2200

(415) 981-9369                             

Representative Jackie Speier                            

155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780          San Mateo, CA 94402

(202) 225-3531                fax: (202) 226-4183

(650) 342-0300                       (650) 375-8270

Representative Anna Eshoo                                                                                                 

698 Emerson Street               Palo Alto, CA 94301    

(202) 225-8104                    fax: (202) 225-8890  

(650) 323-2984                           (650) 323-3498

President Joe Biden

The White House 

(202)456-1111:              fax: (202)456-2461

www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Find out who your Representative is: www.house.gov 

If you are not in California, identify your senators here: www.senate.gov