Nov 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Democrats clash over conditioning aid to Israel

Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

A top Senate progressive's call to condition aid to Israel on a drawdown of the war in Gaza sparked a fierce backlash from pro-Israel Democrats.

Why it matters: It's the latest schism among Democrats over the war as lawmakers face enormous pressure from pro-Palestinian activists to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Driving the news: "The U.S. provides $3.8 billion a year in aid to Israel and the Biden administration wants $14.3 billion more," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said in a statement Saturday.

  • Israel's government "must understand that not one penny will be coming to Israel from the U.S. unless there is a fundamental change in their military and political positions," he added.
  • Sanders' proposed demands on Israel include a "significant pause in military operations" in Gaza, no long-term "re-occupation or blockade" of Gaza, an end to settler violence in the West Bank and a commitment to "broad peace talks for a two-state solution in the wake of the war."

The state of play: The House passed a $14.3 billion military assistance package to Israel earlier this month, but it has languished in the Senate.

  • Democrats, including the 13 who voted for it, railed against Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) for conditioning the aid on equivalent cuts to IRS funding.
  • Senate Republicans mounted a surprise push to force a vote on the measure last week, but Democrats voted along party lines to kill the effort.

What we're hearing: Sanders is not likely to stand alone in the left-wing push to condition aid.

  • House and Senate progressives have been engaged in "preliminary" ongoing discussions about conditioning aid, an aide familiar with the matter told Axios.

The other side: News of the discussions first reported by Politico, followed by Sanders' statement, was met with swift rejoinders from pro-Israel lawmakers.

  • "Any legislation that conditions security aid to our key democratic ally, Israel, is a nonstarter and will lose scores of votes," Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) said in a statement.
  • Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) compared Sanders' proposal to Johnson's bill, saying both "serve only the interests of those opposed to Israel and to peace."

Zoom in: Sanders' statement comes as a growing number of House Democrats are joining calls for a ceasefire, rather than the pauses the Biden administration has proposed.

  • The number of Democrats calling for a ceasefire has ticked up from roughly a dozen of the most left-wing members last month to more than three dozen, including several Jewish lawmakers.
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