aid arguments

Ahead of military aid assessment, 86 House Dems say Israel is violating U.S. law

Public statements and letters from progressives this week preview a potential fight over aid to Israel that could be sparked when the administration issues a report next week

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

Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-PA) leaves the U.S. Capitol after the last votes of the year on Thursday, December 14, 2023.

Democratic critics of Israel’s military operations in Gaza are laying the groundwork for a renewed fight over U.S. aid to Israel ahead of the issuance of a Biden administration report on Israel’s compliance with U.S. law and humanitarian aid this week.

Under the military aid memorandum known as NSM-20 the administration released earlier this year, the administration is required to submit to Congress by May 8 and release publicly a report on whether it believes Israel and other aid recipients are in compliance with international law and U.S. humanitarian aid efforts. If the administration finds Israel not in compliance, Jerusalem would face sanctions including the potential suspension of aid.

A sizable group of Democrats signaled this week they believe that the report must find Israel to be in violation of the law. They’re likely to offer a furious response if the administration finds Israel to be in compliance or declines to pursue punitive measures and could seek to force votes on suspending or conditioning U.S. aid. Such votes would likely not succeed in either chamber.

On Friday, a group of 86 House Democrats, led by Reps. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Chris Deluzio (D-PA), said they believed Israel was violating U.S. aid law through “the deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.”

Despite recent Israeli moves to increase aid, the lawmakers said that there was “sufficient evidence that Israel’s restrictions on the delivery of U.S.-backed humanitarian aid violate” U.S. law.

“It is incumbent upon the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense to begin the assessment and remediation process outlined in the memorandum and consider the variety of tools available to the administration to address these continued violations, from refreshing the assurances to withholding specific arms transfers,” they said. “We also urge you to make clear to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that… the Israeli government is risking its eligibility for further offensive security assistance from the U.S.,” including the recently approved $14.3 billion in additional funding.

Notable signatories include Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY), traditionally pro-Israel Jewish Democrats; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), the likely next senator from New Jersey; and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), an influential progressive Jewish Democrat. 

J Street is supporting the letter.

Administration officials, up to and including President Joe Biden, have repeatedly voiced opposition to the prospect of cutting off U.S. aid to Israel.

But the administration reportedly put a hold on an ammunition shipment to Israel last week, according to Axios.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the driving force behind NSM-20, said in an interview last week that he’d told the administration that an assessment Israel is complying with the law would be unacceptable.

“God help us if this report somehow says that the delivery of humanitarian assistance has been compliant with international standards — God help us because anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that’s just not true,” Van Hollen told Politico.

Israel maintains it is not restricting aid into Gaza and that shortages stem from issues with distribution inside Gaza.

Earlier in the week, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA) and 55 other House Democrats wrote to the administration to say that an invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which Israel has suggested is imminent, would be “wholly unacceptable” and said the administration should “enforce U.S. law and policy by withholding certain offensive weaponry or other military support that can be used for an assault on Rafah, including the offensive weaponry and aid already signed into law.”

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.