on the hill

Senate rejects Sanders resolution that could have threatened Israel aid

Eleven lawmakers voted in favor of the measure that called for investigating Israel for war crimes and could have triggered a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

The Senate soundly rejected a resolution led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have mandated the State Department investigate Israel for potential war crimes, and could have led to a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel.

Just 11 senators — Sanders and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rand Paul (R-KY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — voted against a procedural motion to kill Sanders’ resolution. Seventy-two senators voted to table the resolution

The resolution would have invoked a provision of U.S. foreign aid law that allows a chamber of Congress to demand the State Department provide, within 30 days, a report on a U.S. aid recipient country’s compliance with human rights law.

Under that law, U.S. aid to Israel would have been automatically cut off if the State Department failed to deliver a report to Congress within 30 days. Once a report was provided, any senator could have forced a vote on cutting off aid to Israel. Sanders has sought in recent weeks to prevent additional U.S. aid to Israel amid the current war.

Sanders, describing Israel’s military operation against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza as a war against all Palestinians and as “largely indiscriminate,” characterized the resolution as a “simple request for information.”

“This is a very modest, common-sense proposal, and frankly, hard for me to understand why anyone would oppose it,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Do we support asking the State Department for information on whether human rights violations may have occurred using U.S. assistance in Israel’s military campaign?”

He dismissed concerns about the automatic aid cutoff deadline, saying that lawmakers could vote to continue aid beyond the 30 days if needed.

Merkley also spoke on the floor in favor of the resolution. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke in opposition. The resolution’s opponents said that Sanders was downplaying its potential consequences.

Cardin, noting that the State Department is already required to monitor and report on human rights compliance by aid recipients, argued that the resolution “does a lot more than requesting information.” 

Highlighting the resolution’s sweeping and highly specific demands for information, Cardin suggested it would be impractical to complete in the 30-day window.

“Every one of us are concerned about what we see in regards to the crisis in Gaza. What we see in regards to the need for humanitarian assistance for innocent civilians being caught in this battle. But the resolution that’s being presented here today is the wrong vehicle to deal with this issue,” Cardin said. This reporting provision “was never intended to be used against an ally during a war.”

Cardin and Graham argued that passing the resolution would provide encouragement to Hamas, its backers in Iran and Tehran’s other terror proxies.

“It would show a division between Israel and the United States. It’s an indictment against Israel. Make no mistake about it,” Cardin continued. He said it would make it more difficult to contain the conflict and ensure the release of hostages. “If Iran believes the United States is not with Israel — believe me, it makes it more likely we’re going to see additional attacks in that region.”

Cardin also said the resolution would likely be “counterproductive” to efforts by the Biden administration to urge Israel to pursue a smaller-scale and more targeted campaign in Gaza.

Other Democrats who opposed the resolution echoed those concerns about the automatic cutoff period and potentially emboldening Iran and its proxies.

Graham described the legislation as the “most tone-deaf thing in the history of the Senate.”

The resolution was largely opposed by pro-Israel groups.

J Street said that it agreed with the resolution’s aim of requiring a report on Israel’s human rights practices, but said it has “concerns with specific provisions that have prevented us from offering our full support for this particular resolution.” A spokesperson did not reply to a request for further clarification.

A handful of senators who are supporting an amendment to the pending Israel aid bill placing conditions on that assistance  — Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) — voted against the Sanders resolution. 

Butler is the only lawmaker who’s not sponsoring this amendment who voted for the Sanders resolution. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), a leader of the conditions amendment, did not vote.

Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who are supporting a separate amendment removing the administration’s ability to waive a congressional review period of aid to Israel, also voted against the Sanders amendment.

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