Thirteen Senate Democrats to push amendment conditioning Israel aid

The announcement indicates that lawmakers supporting conditions on aid to Israel remain a minority of Senate Democrats

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

A group of 13 Senate Democrats announced on Thursday that they plan to introduce an amendment to the Senate’s supplemental Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan aid bill that would place conditions on U.S. aid to Israel and other allies.

The announcement follows a largely closed-door push by some Democrats for conditions to be incorporated into the original text of the Senate’s supplemental bill. That effort failed, but this public announcement indicates that only about one-quarter of the Democratic Senate caucus is supportive of conditioning aid to Israel.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin, (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are leading the effort, joined by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Ed Markey (D-MA). 

All of them are progressives who’ve been critical of Israeli government policy in the past. None are likely to face competitive elections. Only a handful of these lawmakers had supported conditions in the past, however. And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the most vocal advocates for conditions being included in this package, is not a cosponsor.

The amendment, which would apply to all nations receiving weapons as part of the supplemental bill, would require the administration to obtain assurances from countries receiving weapons to “cooperate fully” with U.S. and U.S.-backed humanitarian aid efforts before they can receive aid — although the administration can waive this provision.

The legislation notes that existing U.S. law already bans aid to any country that “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assist­ance.”

The amendment would also mandate that any weapons provided are used in accordance with U.S. and international law, an issue already covered by other U.S. laws governing all foreign aid. 

It would require the administration to report to Congress regularly on the measures it is taking to supervise the aid, whether the aid has been used in compliance with international and U.S. law, whether the aid recipients are implementing civilian harm mitigation mechanisms, whether any aid has been diverted from its intended purposes and whether the countries are cooperating with humanitarian aid efforts.

Defensive systems like air and missile defense would be exempted from the conditions in the amendment.

The amendment stops short of most of the specific conditions regarding Israeli policy and activity for which Sanders had advocated. It would also apply beyond U.S. aid to Israel — although it appears targeted squarely at Israel — suggesting that many of these Democrats remain wary of explicitly singling out Israel.

Sanders had been seeking a much more expansive set of conditions, including an end to Israeli “indiscriminate” bombing, a “significant” pause in the war, a guarantee that all Gazans would be able to return home, a commitment from Israel not to re-occupy Gaza, an end to West Bank settler violence, a freeze on settlement expansion and a commitment to two-state solution talks.
A significant number of lawmakers who had raised concerns about Israel’s military operations in Gaza did not sign on as sponsors of this amendment. It’s not clear whether the amendment, when presented, will have support from any lawmakers outside of the group that is introducing it, but the amendment is almost certain to fail in a floor vote.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.