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Unusual alliance of lawmakers forges bill to cut Lebanon aid

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — A Jewish congressman and three Lebanese-American colleagues are co-sponsoring a bill to eliminate U.S. aid to Lebanon if Hezbollah stays in the ruling government.

The unusual alliance, cutting across ethnic and political lines, includes Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who is Jewish, and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.).

The Hezbollah Anti-Terrorism Act, or HATA, seeks legislation “to make certain that no U.S. taxpayer funds benefit the terrorist organization Hezbollah or any party that allies itself with Hezbollah,” Berman said in a phone interview June 17 from his Washington office.

Berman drafted and introduced HATA a few days after the formation of a new Lebanese coalition government “forged by Hezbollah and led by a Hezbollah-designated prime minister [Najib Mikati],” Berman said.

The California legislator, formerly the chairman and now the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, termed his alliance with the three Lebanese-American congressmen as “very unusual.”

He attributed the support by his three colleagues to their deep concern over Hezbollah’s threat to freedom and democracy in their ancestral homeland, overriding any differences with Berman on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Issa commented that “Hezbollah is a terrorist group and a cancer on Lebanon. This bill surgically targets this cancer.”

Lebanon receives $200 million in aid from the United States, of which $105 million goes for security assistance. HATA specifically provides for continued support for humanitarian, educational and democratic institutions in Lebanon.

Berman said the White House and State Department “knew generally” about the contents of HATA before he introduced the bill.
 

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