Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been calling for conditions on the billions of dollars the Biden administration has requested for Israel in its war against Hamas. Now, he’s signaling to his colleagues that he will oppose any aid for Israel if such guardrails are not put in place.
In a letter to his colleagues sent Tuesday evening, Sanders argues that the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is waging an “immoral” war and pleaded for the United States to “not be complicit.”
“We have to end our complicity,” Sanders said in an interview. “I think the military strategy of the Netanyahu government has not been to go to war against Hamas, but to go to war against the Palestinian people. What we are seeing is a horrific; it is devastating. We should not be part of it.”
More than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war began, many of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, and more than 41,000 have been injured.
Sanders, who is Jewish, affirmed in an interview that he’ll oppose a test vote expected to take place on Wednesday on a $110 billion national security supplemental spending bill that includes $14 billion in military aid for Israel. He’s the first member of the Senate Democratic Caucus to come out against the measure, which also includes $60 billion in funding for Ukraine. All Republicans are expected to oppose the measure over the separate issue of U.S. border security.
“I believe that it would be absolutely irresponsible to provide an additional $10.1 billion in unconditional military aid that will allow the Netanyahu government to continue its current inhumane military approach,” Sanders wrote in the letter.
While Sanders was the first senator in the caucus to call for conditions on aid to Israel, that number is growing. No other lawmaker in the caucus, however, has said they would oppose a broad funding package that also includes money for Ukraine.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said it is “important” that any aid package “reiterate” compliance with U.S. and international law, but there is not such language in the current aid package.
Sanders, a champion of the left, has angered many progressives as he continues to refuse to back calls for a cease-fire. Just three Senate Democrats have called for permanent halt in the fighting.
He maintains his support for $4 billion in aid to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, but he is opposed to what he calls a $10.1 billion “blank check” for its military operations.
“Israel’s indiscriminate approach is deeply offensive to most Americans, is in violation of U.S. and international law, and undermines the prospects for lasting peace and security,” Sanders wrote in his letter to his colleagues.
Sanders said President Biden’s attempt to back-channel the message of restraint to Netanyahu and the Israeli government isn’t working and that Congress must include conditions for the use of the money in its legislation.
“Netanyahu and his very right-wing, extremist colleagues in the cabinet are not paying attention to the president of the United States,” Sanders said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a small group of senators that includes Sanders last week that the administration would not place any conditions on Israel as the president has been more public about his pressure campaign for Israel to minimize civilian casualties.
Sanders is demanding guarantees that displaced Palestinians will have the “absolute right” to return to Gaza, a commitment there will be “no long-term occupation or blockade” of Gaza and a freeze on settlement expansions in the West Bank. He also wants Israel to commit to talks toward a two-state solution once the war ends.
He cautioned that Democrats and the president “will be hurt politically” if it is not clear that the United States does not support Netanyahu’s handling of the war.
“The American people … do not want to continue turning on the TV and see little babies, dead babies, pulled out of the rubble of some destroyed apartment building,” he said.