Former Speaker Pelosi signs onto Israeli military aid cutoff
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union speech with Senate majority Leader Chuck Schumer. She has signed onto a letter with 37 other Democratic lawmakers in support of a military aid cutoff to Israel. | Shawn Thew/AP

WASHINGTON—A congressional heavyweight—former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—has, in a major reversal, signed onto a letter advocating a cutoff  of US military aid to Israel. That includes aid which Democratic President Joe Biden now lobbies for.

Pelosi’s decision is another sign that the Democratic Party support for Biden’s backing of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza continues to fade, both among politicians and the public. That’s a worrying development for a president engaged in a tough re-election campaign.

The letter tells Biden the bombing of the World Central Kitchen in Gaza, a supplier of food and humanitarian aid, prompted their demand. After the bombing, the kitchen and other aid groups suspended operations, increasing the extent of widespread famine in Gaza.

Pelosi’s name on the letter makes her the most prominent Democrat to support a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza, and the first to advocate cutting off the arms, too. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has called only for a ceasefire but not for suspending U.S. arms aid.

It’s also an indication of rising problems Biden faces with progressive Democrats, including young voters and young workers—such as members of United Auto Workers Region 9—and several big unions, who have split from Biden’s pro-Israel stand. Biden needs those workers and voters this fall, particularly since so many are situated in battleground states like Michigan.

In her initial statement on the bombing of the World Central Kitchen, on April 2, Pelosi was milder, saying, “The government of Israel must allow the flow of life-saving aid to innocent families in Gaza and ensure safe passage for those delivering the aid. Hunger cannot be a weapon of war. We must share our food and our humanity.”

The April 5 letter was stronger, and blunter, saying military aid must be cut off if a probe by the U.S. finds it violated U.S. or international law. Pelosi was one of many lawmakers who signed the letter initiated by Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., James McGovern, D-Mass., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Killed seven aid workers

The Israeli attack on the humanitarian food aid workers, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called accidental, killed seven workers, including one from the U.S. The building out of which they operated and their trucks were legibly marked with a big universal Red Cross symbol visible from the air.

And, prior to the attack, Israeli military ground authorities had approved the work of the clearly-marked  World Central Kitchen convoy as it entered Gaza. U.S.-made Israeli bombs hit the convoy, too, the letter signed by Pelosi says.

In light of the destruction and deaths of the humanitarian aid workers, Pelosi and several dozen other signers strongly urged Biden “to reconsider your recent decision to authorize transfer of a new arms package to Israel.” Those arms come from military stocks, not from the new $10 billion in aid Biden is bargaining for with House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

Those arms include 1,800 one-ton bombs, 500 500-pound bombs and 25 F-35A fighter jets, all capable of further enormous damage in Gaza. “The bombs are linked to mass casualties more than 1,000 feet away,” the letter from the lawmakers adds. Lawmakers are also disturbed by an Al-Jazeera report that Biden “is considering another $18 billion transfer to include dozens of F-35s.”

The letter further demands Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “withhold this and any other arms transfers” until a full investigation into the airstrike is completed. If the strike violates U.S. or international law, transfers should be denied “until those accountable are held responsible.” The U.S. should do the investigating, it says.

Netanyahu and his war cabinet run the war on Gaza, which has killed 34,000 Gazan civilians and counting. “Those accountable” could include the Prime Minister, though the letter doesn’t say so. The letter does not take on the illegal occupation by Israel of both the West Bank and Gaza which, of course, is important in understanding the roots of the current crisis. The history of the conflict in the region did not begin with the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas but rather began many decades ago, a history of long-term denial of the rights of the Palestinian people.

The letter from the lawmakers comes as popular opposition to the war on Gaza escalates in the U.S. and abroad. Opinion polls show more than half of U.S. respondents disagree with Biden’s continued support for Israel—which Biden increasingly leavens with tough criticism of Netanyahu’s conduct of the war and particularly indiscriminate Israeli bombing and shooting of civilian Gazans.

That opposition is an electoral problem for Biden, as it includes even many Democrats, including students, young workers and young unionists, who are also pushing to cut off military aid. Several large unions, including the Auto Workers, the Communications Workers, the Postal Workers and National Nurses United, also call for a cease-fire. So does the AFL-CIO.  Biden needs their activism and their votes in his re-election bid this fall against Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Some Democratic leaders fear Biden’s stand for military aid to Israel—a stand he currently links to military aid to the Ukraine—will alienate those voters and prompt them to stay home or turn to third-party candidates in the close race against Trump.

Progressives and workers and their allies have a problem, too. They strongly support Biden’s domestic policies, including his outspoken public support of workers and unions, but disapprove of his backing of the war on Gaza.

Trump, of course, is no alternative to Biden on Mideast policy. The ex-president, who inspires fear, dread and loathing about his dictatorial plans–is an unhesitating supporter of Netanyahu and the right-wing Israeli government. When Trump came into office the nuclear disarmament deal with Iran was still in place, The U.S., Russia and China, along with Iran, cooperated in that deal, raising hopes for movement toward peace in the region. Trump, as president, busted up the deal and laid the groundwork for much of the current disaster in the region by cozying up to the most right-wing elements he could find in Israel and by unilaterally cancelling nuclear arms reduction deals in place at the time with Russia.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.