aid arguments

Democrats focus on humanitarian aid to Gaza amid growing calls to cut military aid to Israel

Sen. Ben Cardin says ‘the priority right now for us is to deal with the humanitarian crisis’


In this picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip shows humanitarian aid being airdropped over the Palestinian territory on March 12, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Facing calls from progressive Democrats to suspend or condition U.S. aid to Israel, most rank-and-file lawmakers in the party said they’re focused on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, while sidestepping questions on whether they support taking punitive measures against the Jewish state.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), one of the most stalwart supporters of Israel in the Senate, told Jewish Insider yesterday that “the priority right now for us is to deal with the humanitarian crisis” and to “understand…better” Israel’s military strategy and planning.

He brushed off a question about attempts to cut off or condition aid as not “really current issues,” again emphasizing the “most important thing now is to deal with the humanitarian needs — so that’s the focal point, rather than looking at some of the issues you’re talking about.” He noted that an upcoming sale of F-15 jets that some lawmakers may try to block in the coming weeks is not set to arrive in Israel for years.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) told JI that increasing humanitarian aid “has really been more of my focus” when asked about future aid, emphasizing the need to “push” Israel on this issue.

Pressed on whether he agrees with some colleagues that imposing punitive pressure on Israel via arms sales is necessary, Bennet restated that the U.S. focus “really should be [on] trying to get as much humanitarian aid as possible to the Palestinian civilians while we’re able to continue to support Israel in defending itself against the attack by a death cult.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has generally been supportive of Israel, commented to JI, “My view is you have to really beef up humanitarian aid, I strongly support that, to continue to push harder to bring the hostages home.”

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) described Israel’s strike killing seven World Central Kitchen aid workers as “reckless” and said he’s concerned that Israel is “not in all cases taking the steps they need to take to keep innocent Palestinian people safe” — a point he said he emphasized to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog last week, adding that “they need to provide us with some answers.”

But Kelly also said that Israel has to “figure out a way to remove this threat from Hamas” and that he wants to “make sure they have what they need to do this,” describing the terrorist group as a threat to the entire region.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told JI he continues to oppose the notion of conditioning or cutting off future aid.

“We condition aid to every ally on their obeying international law, but I have thus far not called for any particular special conditions on aid to Israel,” Blumenthal said, adding that Israel’s “strategic approach is changing so as to permit more humanitarian aid, a more targeted or surgical approach to any military operations in Gaza right now.”

Blumenthal, who has been a consistently pro-Israel voice in the party, said it was “most important” to him that the Israelis are “seeming to engage more actively in seeking a pause or truce,” which he thinks “is absolutely critical right now so as to permit a reduction in civilian casualties and an increase in humanitarian aid.” He added that Israel needs to “pursue” a deal to secure “a return of the hostages…more energetically.”

Blumenthal said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “seems to be heeding the very strong advice he’s receiving from President Biden, and I hope that the bonds between Israel and the United States will remain strong and enduring.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a close Biden ally, told reporters on Monday that the president “has been a lifelong fierce supporter of Israel and my belief is will continue to advocate for and defend Israel, but has had a policy disagreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

“I think the path forward in terms of deconfliction for the delivery of humanitarian aid, opening up new routes to avert famine, and the planning for what may come next in terms of Rafah is all going to matter and matter significantly,” he said. “I am hopeful that the negotiations in Cairo are moving forward. I’ve personally pressed the Qataris and Egyptians to press Hamas. More importantly, President Biden has repeatedly pushed on Hamas. “

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) did not respond directly to a question about the push for cutting off aid to Israel, emphasizing a condemnation of Hamas’ responsibility for the current crisis.

“What I want to see is Hamas commit to releasing the hostages and the dead bodies. There are Americans that they murdered, that the bodies are still being held by Hamas, and those families have no closure,” Rosen told JI. “Hamas has the ability to have a cease-fire — they started this, and they can end this.”

She also said the U.S. and Israel need to “use every tool in the toolbox to provide humanitarian aid.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), in one of the strongest rebukes of Israel from a U.S. senator to date, said at an event last week she expects the International Court of Justice to find that Israel is committing genocide “and they have ample evidence to do so,” further accusing Israel of deliberately starving Gaza’s civilian population to “try to bend them to [Israel’s] will.” 

A spokesperson later said that she was “comment[ing] on the ongoing legal process… not sharing her views on whether genocide is occuring in Gaza.”

Progressive Democrats who’ve been critical of Israel’s military operations are mostly lining up behind calls to suspend military sales.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said on Monday that “more offensive weapons right now is just gonna be gasoline on a fire. Not just in Gaza, the Houthis will fire more into the Red Sea and the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria will do more and Hezbollah will fire more. What you have to do is figure out a way to do the hostage deal and cease-fire.”

“I think offensive weapons right now will take it in the wrong direction,” he said. 

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told JI that “until we get this situation straightened out, I’m opposed to sending any more bombs,” adding that he does support continued sales of defensive systems.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has previously supported conditioning aid, didn’t directly address whether he supports suspending further offensive weapons aid. “I support the Biden administration having the resources and tools that it needs to be able to deal with Netanyahu,” Whitehouse told JI.

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