Senate kills Sanders demand for accountability on U.S. military aid to Israel
Senators voted against a measure introduced by Bernie Sanders that would have forced the State Department to report on the linkage between U.S. weapons sent to Israel and the deaths of more than 24,000 in Gaza. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate is apparently tone-deaf to the rising popular demand for ending U.S. military aid to the Jewish state due to its massive bombing and other attacks on the people of Gaza.

The deafness appeared January 16 when senators defeated a resolution by Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., demanding a State Department report within 30 days on the linkage between the U.S.-supplied weapons Israel uses and the deaths of 24,000 Gazan civilians, 70% of them women and children.

The vote was 72-11 against Sanders’s move. His resolution drew support from nine Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The only other senator to speak for Sanders’s resolution was Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

Other resolutions dealing with the war are floating around the Senate, but none with the force of Sanders’s move, and none have come to a vote there yet. The Republican-run House is so far uncritically backing more U.S. military aid to Israel, although that issue has gotten tangled up with the GOP’s demand for a closure to migrants of the U.S.-Mexico border and other tough anti-migrant measures.

“The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, requires U.S. security assistance or arms provided to any country—any country– must be used in line with internationally recognized human rights,” Sanders told his colleagues. “This is not a radical idea and something that I hope we all agree with.” Few did. “This act prohibits assistance to any government that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations. This is U.S. law, established over 50 years ago, not a new idea.

“It focuses on the denial of the right to life caused by indiscriminate or disproportionate military operations, and steps to limit humanitarian assistance and steps to limit the civilian risk in this war, and a summary of the arms and assistance being provided to Israel since Oct. 7.

“This is a simple request for information. That is all this resolution is about. It does not alter aid to Israel in any way.

“Given the scale of the destruction…Congress must act” to get the information, Sanders declared.

“Why is this important? Because it targets the validity of dealing with Hamas but also the potential invalidity of targeting the Palestinian people living in Gaza,” Merkley added.

In addition to more than 24,000 Gazans killed, more than 85 percent of the population has been forced out of homes destroyed by U.S. bombs given to Israel. | Hatem Moussa/AP

“It is awkward, but when it is our partner when we are so closely tied to it, it is the right thing to do to get the information that will come through this request.”

The far-right Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli military to massively retaliate for an October attack on Israel by Hamas—bombing not just military positions in Gaza but hospitals, schools, homes, and even refugee camps it ordered Gazans to flee to as “safe havens.”

And all this with U.S.-provided weaponry, including 1,000-pound and one-ton bombs, and the uncritical support of President Biden, who wants to send even more military aid to Israel. That’s even though extreme rightists who dominate Netanyahu’s government want to rid Gaza of all its 2.2 million residents.

Biden’s unwavering pro-Israeli military stand has prompted protests worldwide. The latest march in D.C. saw tens of thousands converging on the White House on January 13, demanding a total end to U.S. military aid to Israel, along with a ceasefire.

That’s Sanders’s stand, too, although he told colleagues on January 16 that his resolution only demands a report on the use of U.S. weapons and whether that usage violates international law and in particular whether it leads to war crimes.

The leading Senate foe, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., retorted that Sanders was wrong. Cardin said the 1961 foreign aid law Sanders used for his move mandates a cutoff of all military aid to any government that violates international norms.  He also argued in the Senate that Hamas’ military aim is complete eradication of Israel. The Biden administration also opposed Sanders.

Passage of  Sanders’s resolution “would be a gift to Hamas,” Cardin said. “It would be a gift to Iran. It’s an indictment against Israel. It shows there is a division between Israel and the U.S. And it makes it more challenging because sensitive negotiations are taking place as we are here on more of the hostages being released. It makes it more difficult to deal with the escalation of the conflict,” he said, ignoring the horrendous death tolls resulting from U.S. support of the Israeli military.

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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.