Jan 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate soundly rejects push to scrutinize Israel aid

Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to reject a resolution forced to a vote by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) aimed at tying U.S. military assistance for Israel to the country's treatment of Palestinian human rights.

Why it matters: It's a demonstration of the bipartisan support Israel still enjoys in Congress despite pockets of opposition among Democratic lawmakers.

Driving the news: The Senate voted 72-11 to table the resolution, effectively killing it.

  • Sanders and Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voted against blocking the resolution.
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the lone Republican to vote against tabling it.
  • 17 senators were absent — many due to flight delays and cancellations from a snowstorm that prompted the House to cancel votes on Tuesday.

Details: Sanders used a rarely invoked provision in the Foreign Assistance Act allowing him to force a vote on a resolution directing the State Department to send a report to Congress on Israel's human rights record.

  • Specifically, the report would have examined whether Israel has denied "the right to life" to residents of the West Bank and Gaza through "indiscriminate or disproportionate" military operations or restrictions on humanitarian aid.
  • It would also have looked at whether U.S. aid to Israel violates statutes restricting U.S. aid to foreign military units facing credible charges of "gross violations of human rights."
  • If the State Department had failed to issue the report within 30 days, U.S. assistance to Israel would be immediately halted.

What they're saying: Sanders said in a speech on the Senate floor that the vote was "necessary because of the scale of destruction in Gaza," calling Israel's operations in the region since Oct. 7 a "humanitarian catastrophe."

  • "What this provision does is extremely sensible: It demands accountability as to how U.S. aid is used," Sanders said. "Frankly, I hope this vote is the first of many as we take a hard look at how our military aid is being used."

The other side: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), in a statement ahead of the vote, said he opposed Sanders' resolution because it "directly put at risk ongoing U.S. support for Israel while they are at war with Hamas."

  • Coons said he is "deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza" and will continue to push to aid to Palestinians, adding that Israel "should be shifting to a more targeted campaign against Hamas in Gaza and doing more to protect civilians."
  • "I do not, however, believe that risking the suspension of all U.S. assistance or publicly rebuking Israel in a way that could embolden its enemies will address these concerns," he said.
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