WASHINGTON ― The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted down legislation that would have leveraged U.S. military aid to Israel in a bid to compel the Biden administration to assess whether Israel committed human rights violations during its three-month-long Gaza offensive.
Senators voted 72-11 against the resolution after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., forced a floor vote by invoking a previously unused provision in the Foreign Assistance Act. Had the Senate passed the resolution, it would have required the State Department to report to Congress within a month on allegations of Israeli human rights violations. Failure to submit the report would have frozen Israel’s annual $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid.
“This aggressive military campaign has led to massive destruction and widespread civilian harm,” Sanders said on the Senate floor last week. “There is extensive evidence showing that it has been, far and away, the most intensive bombing campaign of the 21st century.”
“Given all of this, the scale of the destruction, and the extensive use of U.S. arms in this campaign, including thousands of massive 2,000-pound bombs, Congress must act to conduct real oversight,” he added.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the resolution with Sanders and nine Democrats.
The White House came out against the resolution, which also would have required the State Department to report on any steps the Biden administration took to encourage Israel to limit civilian casualties.
“We do not believe that this resolution is the right vehicle to address these issues,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week. “And we don’t think now is the right time.”
Israel’s Gaza offensive has killed more than 24,000 Palestinians — mostly civilians — while wounding more than 58,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. It has displaced some 85% of the Gaza Strip’s 2.2 million people, per the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, with roughly 70% of homes destroyed. Palestinians in Gaza also face mass starvation and dehydration amid a blockade that’s allowing only a trickle of aid to enter.
Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, prompting the offensive. The militant group had killed some 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The Sanders resolution would also have required the State Department to certify that no Israeli security units receiving U.S. assistance committed “any gross violations of human rights” since January 2018. It also would have requested more details on State Department and Pentagon vetting procedures for Israel under the Leahy law, which requires the suspension of security aid to any foreign military unit that commits gross human rights violations.
Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to reach a compromise on a massive foreign aid spending bill that includes another $14 billion in Israel military aid. That bill is tied up in a separate debate over unrelated immigration policy changes.
The House in November passed 226-196 a stand-alone $14 billion Israel aid bill based on President Joe Biden’s supplemental spending request in October. But most Democrats oppose that legislation because Republicans added a provision requiring an equal level of cuts to the IRS.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.