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February 13, 2024

Senate Passes Unrestricted Military Aid for Israel in Massive Supplemental Bill

Washington, DC – Early this morning, the Senate approved its supplemental foreign aid package that includes over $13 billion in military assistance to Israel without any conditions that the funds not support human rights violations or war crimes. It came a little less than a month after the Senate voted down a resolution mandating a report from the Biden administration on possible human rights violations committed by Israel in its ongoing war. 

The bill passed by a 70-29 vote, with only a handful of those defections stemming from objections to U.S. policy toward arming Israel. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) all voted against the package after expressing deep reservations about passing new, unrestricted military assistance to Israel after its war in Gaza has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, including an unbelievably horrific total of 12,000 children. The vote also comes as the Israeli government has announced plans for a major offensive into Rafah where more than a million Palestinian civilians are crammed in and struggling to survive, and risks of a regional war involving the U.S. and Iran still simmer. 

The package did include several other matters – most notably, military assistance to Ukraine amid its ongoing efforts to repel Russia’s 2022 invasion, and military aid to Taiwan. It was approved after months of wrangling and negotiations in the Senate, including an effort to include concessions on U.S. border policy demanded by Republicans in exchange for passing the aid bill, but which were then stripped from the bill when Donald Trump indicated he did not want them to pass due to electoral politics. 

While the vote was a defeat for those seeking an end to Israel’s ongoing war, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives has indicated that this package is dead on arrival. That opposition is not over objections to fueling Israel’s war, which the International Court of Justice has indicated carries the risk of genocide, but over objections to Ukraine funding as well as seemingly renewed demands that the bill must indeed address border issues.  

The grassroots movement in support of a ceasefire did not leave the Senate supplemental process entirely empty-handed. Thanks to the efforts of 19 Senators to condition aid on compliance with international law, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Biden administration adopted a National Security Memorandum that will force all recipients of U.S. military aid – including Israel – to say in writing that they will comply with international law and let humanitarian assistance into conflict zones. While cold comfort for many, it is an upgrade over the preexisting norm that Israel will be totally exempt from the many U.S. laws and regulations seeking to ensure that the U.S. does not fuel war crimes around the globe. Critically, it needs to be enforced on Israel, which is neither preordained nor impossible. President Biden has a moral responsibility to rein in Israel, and use his massive leverage toward that end, in order to halt the killing, secure the release of hostages and move toward a sustainable peace. The memorandum issued last week gives him one more tool to do so – now Biden must use it.

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