Bashing Bibi

Senate progressives excoriate Netanyahu, express concerns about weapons transfers

The letter was signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore at Bowie State University on November 7, 2022 in Bowie, Maryland.

A group of progressive Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday excoriating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressing reservations about the administration’s reported plans to transfer additional weapons to Israel.

“The Administration and Congress must scrutinize the future transfer of U.S.-taxpayer financed weapons to the Netanyahu coalition with extreme caution and careful oversight,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is our duty to ensure that such transfers do not make an already catastrophic situation even worse.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

They accused Netanyahu of pursuing “one overriding objective — keeping himself and his extremist right-wing government in power.”

“It is essential that he change course and that his government makes the safe return of the hostages their top objective, even if that requires a cessation of hostilities,” they continued.

The lawmakers also called on the administration to “use all the tools at its disposal to stop any major military operation” in Rafah and reiterated calls for additional humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

They dismissed media and Israeli government reports of Hamas’ theft of international aid as “the Netanyahu government’s assertions,” citing comments by Ambassador David Satterfield, who is overseeing U.S. humanitarian efforts, that there have been “no allegations, evidence or reports” of theft. (Satterfield also said, in the same remarks, that Hamas uses delivery channels to “shape where and to whom assistance goes,” and added that the police escorting aid trucks “certainly include Hamas elements.”)

They further requested information from the administration about “credible reports” that Israel may be committing “serious violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law,” and about how the administration has determined that the Israeli government has not “restricted, directly or indirectly” the provision of U.S. humanitarian assistance.

Both conditions, under preexisting law, would be grounds for cutting off U.S. military assistance to Israel.

They additionally said that the administration should demand written guarantees from Israel that it will comply with humanitarian aid efforts and international law before providing any additional aid, in advance of the 45-day deadline set out in the Biden administration’s new foreign aid conditions policy.

In most instances, the letter refers to the “Netanyahu government” or “Netanyahu coalition” — instead of Israel — a formulation that has become increasingly common among left-wing lawmakers to distance themselves from the U.S. ally without directly condemning Israel as a nation.

The language sidesteps Israeli polling showing that there is overwhelming support in Israel for the military campaign in Gaza, and that key opposition parties also support it.

The lawmakers also said they continue to support defensive weapons systems like Iron Dome, and said that “there must be no more October 7th’s and the remaining hostages must be returned safely home,” acknowledging “Israel’s right, indeed duty, to defend itself” following Oct. 7.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) urged the administration not to provide additional offensive weapons to Israel.

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