Dems out to step with voters on Israel aid – Mondoweiss

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Last week Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders put out a statement calling for the conditioning of U.S. military aid to Israel.

“The U.S. provides $3.8 billion a year in aid to Israel and the Biden administration wants $14.3 billion more,” it read. “The Netanyahu government, or hopefully a new Israeli government, must understand that not one penny will be coming to Israel from the U.S. unless there is a fundamental change in their military and political positions.”

Sanders listed a number of conditions, which included a stop to the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, an end to settler violence in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement expansion.

Politico reports that Sanders recently held a lunch for Senate Democrats on Israel and Palestine, where the subject of conditioning aid was also brought up.

Backlash to suggestion

Sanders (who has angered many of his supporters for failing to come out in support of ceasefire) has yet to introduce any legislation connected to conditioning aid, but this didn’t stop a number of Democratic lawmakers from sounding off over the mere suggestion.

“We cannot abandon our obligation to free hostages, secure Israel’s democracy and eradicate Hamas,” tweeted Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Conditioning aid to Israel is a gift to Iran and Hamas at the expense of innocent lives.”

“The majority of Democrats, myself included, have been pushing for aid to Israel to move as soon as possible, without conditions or delay,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL). “We will deliver on President Biden’s principled request as Israel defends herself from the terrorist threat that is Hamas.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called it an “irresponsible move” and vowed to oppose any legislation that would set conditions on Israel.

When Sanders brought up conditioning aid while running for president in 2019, then-candidate Joe Biden referred to the idea as a “gigantic mistake” and “absolutely outrageous.”

Disconnect with voters

Sanders’s suggestion wasn’t opposed by all Democrats, as a small number of congressional members have supported such a move.

“Conditioning aid to Israel, as we do with virtually all other US allies, is a responsible course of action,” wrote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “The United States has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that public resources do not facilitate gross violations of human rights and international law.”

In May Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04) reintroduced and expanded the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, which would prohibit the U.S. taxpayer dollars from being used for the military detention of Palestinian children, the destruction of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian land.

The effort has gained 28 co-sponsors so far, which is less than 7% of House Representatives. McCollum has introduced multiple versions of the bill in recent years, but it still lacks Senate companion legislation.

The few lawmakers who back such action are acting with the support of their base. Poll after poll has shown that Democratic voters firmly support cutting military aid for Israel over its human rights abuses.

A 2019 Data for Progress survey found that 46% of Americans support conditioning aid to Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. That number was 65% among Democrats. A 2021 Chicago Council Survey ended up with similar results. 50% supported conditioning aid with 62% of Democrats backing such restrictions.

A 2021 poll Data for Progress found even higher numbers: 72% of Democrats and 57% of independents wanted aid conditioned.

“Conditioning aid to Israel would help Hamas in their goal of completely annihilating Israel and the Jewish people,” tweeted Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) in response to the Sanders statement.. “Any legislation that conditions security aid to our key democratic ally, Israel, is a nonstarter and will lose scores of votes.”

It’s unclear whose votes Gottheimer is referring to.

Leahy Law

The United States technically has a law designed to prohibit arms sales to certain countries over their human rights records, but it has never been applied to Israel: The Leahy Law, which has existed since the late 90s.

A recent piece in Vermont’s News & Citizen quotes the author of that legislation, former Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, on the roadblocks that have come to be associated with the rule.

“Over the years, I’ve complained, to both Republican and Democratic administrations about the need to apply the law in Israel,” said Leahy. “These administrations have argued that Israel has an independent judiciary, so it doesn’t really need to. We’ve seen the efforts recently to make the judiciary even less independent than it had been, and it was losing independence anyway.”

“What is being done to apply the Leahy law now?” he continued. “I don’t know. I know past administrations have been too concerned to do it. It should apply to the Israeli Defense Forces, unless the administration, as many have, has waived it.”

On Twitter Crisis Group Senior Analyst Sarah Elaine Harrison offered an illuminating perspective on the topic: “When I was at [Department of Defense] advising on the Leahy laws and complained about this to a senior official they said to me ‘It’s Israel, Sarah’ as if that’s all that needed to be said.”

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