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May 22, 2024
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Bipartisan Congressional Letter Urges Administration to Address PA ‘Pay to Slay’

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5)

Many business managers hold the motivational saying “Rewarded behavior is repeated” to emphasize positive actions. The Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund has been using the concept in support of heinous actions since 1964, when they began issuing monthly payments to families of Palestinians killed, injured or imprisoned while in the act of committing terrorist acts against Israel, particularly civilians.

In 2018, Congress passed the bipartisan Taylor Force Act, which significantly restricts non-humanitarian U.S. aid to the PA until it ends its “pay to slay” program. The Taylor Force Act, named after a U.S. Army veteran killed while visiting Tel Aviv as part of a Vanderbilt University program, recognized the fact that money provided for any purpose, even humanitarian, frees up money for the PA to spend more on martyr payments.

Although this act penalized the PA for its use of martyr payments, the payments to terrorists continued. The PA praised Force’s killer as a ‘heroic martyr’ and is paying the killer’s family a monthly cash stipend.

As early as 2021, President Joe Biden provided $15 million to the Palestinians for coronavirus aid, and followed up with an additional $125 million for infrastructure, health, law enforcement and other civil causes. The State Department supported the payments, and claimed they were consistent with U.S. law, although some members of Congress claimed the payments violated the Taylor Force Act.

The Taylor Force Martyr Payment Prevention Act of 2023 (introduced by Senator Tom Cotton) was passed to add strength to the original bill by deterring foreign financial institutions from providing banking services for the benefit of foreign terrorist organizations and from facilitating or promoting payments for acts of terrorism. The Biden administration’s increased funding for the PA prompted a lawsuit by victims of terrorism and their families last year. The lawsuit contends that the Biden administration violated the Taylor Force Act when it announced in July of last year $316 million in additional funding to support the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund costs the PA more than $300 million annually, or 8% of its budget. An analysis of the PA’s 2017 budget by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs notes that $346 million was paid to “martyrs” and prisoners (33,000 recipient families) compared to $213 million for social welfare benefits (118,000 recipient families).

On July 18, 2023, ahead of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress, a bipartisan group of 50 members of Congress, (30 Democrats and 20 Republicans) led by Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking the State Department to update Congress on the status of negotiating an end to the “pay to slay” program. They also urged the administration to continue to raise this issue with Palestinian officials. Examples were listed of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent civilians, including American and British citizens. The letter also states that “those behind these heinous acts are lauded by Palestinian society, and it is abundantly clear that these payments continue to reward and incentivize terror. For years, the Palestinian Authority’s Martyrs’ Fund has rewarded deadly acts of terrorism with monetary payments. This depraved practice incentivizes terror—the deadlier the attack, the more money families of terrorists receive.”

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2)

The letter continues: “The Palestinian Authority has clearly continued down the path of more hatred, violence, and terror, without regard for the damage inflicted or for their role in diminishing the prospects for peace. But, so long as they pay citizens to murder civilians, they will do so without benefiting from the support of United States taxpayers. We know that the administration shares the view that support for terrorism and the Palestinians’ characterization of the martyr payment system as a form of social welfare is unacceptable.”

“The Palestinian Authority continues to reward terrorists like Hamas with generous ‘martyr payments’—a brutal practice that is indefensible and should be condemned by all who care about peace in the region” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “The depraved practice of ‘pay for slay’ incentivizes deadlier attacks on civilians—continuing to lead the Palestinian Authority down a path of increased hatred, violence, and terror, without regard for the damage inflicted or for their role in diminishing the prospects for peace. That’s why I led a bipartisan group of fifty Members of Congress asking the State Department to update Congress on the status of negotiating an end to the unacceptable martyr payment system and urging the Administration to continue to raise this issue with Palestinian officials.”

“Pay-to-Slay payments to the Martyrs’ Fund by the Palestinian government are a grim reminder of the constant threats to safety and wellbeing that the Israeli people face,” said Congressman Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2), a signer of the letter. “Along with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I encourage Secretary Blinken to expedite negotiations to end this horrific system that targets Israeli civilians and incentivizes terrorism.”

Shontel Brown (OH-11) noted: “It is an honor to have Israel’s head of state, President Isaac Herzog, in Washington this week, and I am eager to attend his address to Congress. Israel and the United States have an unbreakable bond rooted in our shared democratic values and our common cultural, religious, and community ties.”

Many of the letter’s signatories posted press releases stating their support for the State of Israel and denouncing antisemitism in the United States and around the world.

Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-05) wrote about President Herzog’s speech: “I was moved by his stirring remarks on the abiding bond between our two nations. It is a bond we have shared since the United States recognized the State of Israel just eleven minutes after its establishment seventy-five years ago. As President Herzog said, our ironclad relationship endures today, as it has across generations, not because of the absence of political turmoil but because our countries have always shared and upheld the values of ‘liberty, equality, and freedom.’ I believe that it is absolutely essential that the United States continues its support of Israel’s sovereignty as a Jewish state, its security as a democracy, and the safety of its people.”

John James (MI-10) wrote: “Congress heard from Israeli President Isaac Herzog in celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary. He told the story of the challenges Israel has faced in the last 75 years, and reaffirmed its resolve to continue fighting terror within and outside its borders. The United States will always support Israel and its mission, and I thank President Herzog for reaffirming Israel’s commitment to our alliance. There is no room for antisemitism in America or across the world. Anyone who opposes the existence of Israel deserves no place in our politics.”

The controversy surrounding the “pay-for-slay” program extends beyond the U.S. The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office has also faced scrutiny over its funding for the Palestinian Authority. Despite global calls for change, Palestinian leaders have remained unyielding in their support for the scheme.

Deborah Melman is a Jewish Link staff writer.

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