Heed Hamas, Iran, warn state congressmen

From left: U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack, all R-Arkansas.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., took note of FBI Director Christopher Wray's Oct. 31 appearance before the Senate Homeland Security Committee where Wray said the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has raised the risk of an attack against Americans to "a whole other level."

"We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven't seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate several years ago," Wray said.

While Crawford -- a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- has had opportunities to ask follow-up questions since the Senate hearing, the congressman said he remains surprised about what he described to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as "the lack of response" from the Biden administration toward this threat.

"It was very telling, what he said," Crawford of Jonesboro said.

"I'm surprised we haven't heard the administration come out and say, 'Hey, we are stepping up our diligence on the home front here for the potential of attacks,'" the Jonesboro legislator added. "Particularly since we saw groups that were actively communicating and calling for violent attacks against targets in the United States and Europe."

Crawford's comments are among the reactions from Arkansas' congressional delegation related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. The issue has been a leading topic on Capitol Hill since Hamas' surprise Oct. 7 attack killed at least 1,200 people, including 31 Americans.

"If we panic, the terrorists win. That's what they want," Crawford said. "It's all about situational awareness, knowing where you are, and being aware of your surroundings. Don't put yourself in a position to be a victim."

Republican Rep. French Hill of Little Rock serves alongside Crawford on the House Intelligence Committee. A co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, Hill and Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., introduced a resolution calling on Hamas to release hostages taken during the attack.

The Israel Defense Forces is exploring how to free around 240 hostages in the Gaza Strip. White House officials said they know Hamas is holding "less than 10 Americans" captive.

"This attack puts our hostage enterprise here in the United States [and] helping our families really to the test," Hill said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday.

"[The Book of] Hosea tells us that 'those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind,' and Hamas will reap the whirlwind if these hostages are not recovered safely and promptly."

Republican Reps. Steve Womack of Rogers and Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs are cosponsors of the resolution.

Hill's office remains in communication with a Little Rock man whose family remains in Gaza.

Ramiz Younis filed a lawsuit against the United States as his wife, Folla Sager, and two young children remain in the area. While Younis and his children are U.S. citizens, Sager is a permanent resident. According to Younis' attorney, Sager cannot join the children in leaving Gaza because of her citizenship status.

Both the Senate and House have passed legislation affirming the United States' stance alongside Israel against Hamas. All six members of the Arkansas delegation cosponsored the resolutions under consideration in their respective chambers.

"Hamas started this war on October 7 when they launched a horrific attack and ruthlessly murdered 1,400 innocent Israelis," Womack posted Wednesday on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. "Israel has every right to defend its people and destroy these evil terrorists."

Domestically, officials are monitoring a rise in religiously motivated attacks in the United States stemming from the war.

During his Oct. 31 committee appearance, Wray described the threat of antisemitism as reaching "sort of historic levels." FBI statistics show that Jewish people were the victims of 63% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in 2022.

"Here in the United States, our most immediate concern is that violent extremists -- individuals or small groups -- will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives," Wray additionally mentioned.

"That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities."

The White House has instructed officials to address rising threats of antisemitism and Islamophobia. The Biden administration launched a nationwide strategy for addressing Islamophobia on Nov. 1, five months after the White House announced a plan to confront antisemitism.

"I wonder what planet they're on," Crawford said regarding the Biden administration. "The problem here is not Islamaphobia when you have Hamas attacking Israel and spurring attacks in Europe and the United States where we see individuals targeted for their faith."

The Department of Education issued a letter last Tuesday emphasizing the importance of providing students with a "school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin."

"Jewish students, Israeli students, Muslim students, Arab students, Palestinian students, and all other students who reside within our school communities have the right to learn in our nation's schools free from discrimination," said Catherine Lhamon, the agency's assistant secretary for civil rights.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Little Rock, signed a letter dated Wednesday calling on the Department of Education to take "immediate action" to protect Jewish students. Fellow Republicans Ted Budd of North Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida joined Cotton.

"School administrators, at institutions of all levels, have a duty to protect their students from these kinds of threats," the senators wrote. "Schools that, by their inaction, enable threats and harassment against Jewish students are subject to losing their access to federal funds."

Cotton has reached out to Attorney General Merrick Garland concerning protests affecting ports in Oakland, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash. The protesters, who called for a cease-fire, organized the demonstrations over reports of ships carrying military equipment to Israel.

The U.S. Coast Guard removed three protesters from a vessel in the Oakland Harbor. Officials said the demonstrators reportedly tampered with the ship's mooring lines before climbing on its ladder.

"The Department of Justice must take immediate action against these criminals; otherwise, it will send a dangerous message that radical activists can undermine our Armed Forces with impunity," Cotton wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.

Another priority for members of Arkansas' congressional delegation has been Iran, which has backed Hamas. Cotton has pushed a measure blocking Iran from accessing $6 billion in frozen assets; money that was relocated from South Korean banks to a Qatari account after Iran agreed to release five detained Americans.

As for Hill, his efforts include calls for a report on possible ties linking financial institutions and assets to Iranian officials. The Little Rock congressman is sponsoring a measure to move the $6 billion to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund in conjunction with sanctions.

White House officials have acknowledged Iran's history of backing terrorist networks but state there is no direct evidence connecting Iran to the Oct. 7 attack.

Lawmakers continue to weigh out options for supporting Israel's ongoing offensive campaign as the war enters its second month. Arkansas' House members backed a $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel, which included provisions cutting billions of dollars in IRS funding for enforcement endeavors. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., lambasted the House's proposal, stating the Senate will not consider the measure.

The Biden administration included aid for Israel as part of a $105 billion request with funding for Ukraine amid its war with Russia, defense efforts in the Indo-Pacific, and security at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate Appropriations Committee has held two hearings on the supplemental funding proposal. Sen John Boozman of Rogers is a committee member.