Sens. Bernie Sanders

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) appear at a news conference on May 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Only 3 Senate Dem Caucus Members Vote No on $10 Billion in Israeli Military Aid

"This bill provides Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people. That is unconscionable," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation early Tuesday that includes more than $10 billion in additional military aid for the Israeli government as it prepares to launch a catastrophic ground invasion of Rafah, a Gaza city packed with more than 1.4 million people.

Senators approved the bill, which also includes military aid for Ukraine and Taiwan, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 70-29, with just three members of the upper chamber's Democratic caucus—Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.)—opposing the measure.

The legislation contains $95 billion in funding overall for the three countries, including $14 billion total for Israel.

"This bill provides [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people. That is unconscionable," Sanders wrote on social media ahead of Tuesday's vote. "I will vote NO on final passage."

Welch and Merkley also opposed the legislation over the unconditional military aid to Israel, which has received more than 10,000 tons of weaponry from the U.S. since October 7 and already gets nearly $4 billion a year in American military assistance.

"The campaign conducted by the Netanyahu government is at odds with our American values and American law, which requires recipients of American assistance to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid," Merkley said in a statement late Monday. "While I have supported military aid to Israel in the past, and continue to support aid for defensive systems like Iron Dome and David's Sling, I cannot vote to send more bombs and shells to Israel when they are using them in an indiscriminate manner against Palestinian civilians."

Other Democrats criticized the Israel aid but ultimately voted to push the bill through the upper chamber.

Sen. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) delivered a stirring floor speech on the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, which he described as "pure hell."

"Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food. In addition to the horror of that news, one other thing is true, that is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime," said Van Hollen. "And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals."

Despite such a statement, Van Hollen was among the Democratic caucus members who voted yes on the aid bill.

No amendments to the final legislation were allowed.

Sanders had proposed stripping the bill of offensive military aid for Israel and removing language that prohibits U.S. funding for the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, whose critical Gaza operations are headed toward total collapse after the Biden administration and other governments cut off funding over unsubstantiated Israeli allegations against a dozen of the agency's employees.

In addition to providing additional support for Israel's armed forces, the bill would undercut congressional oversight by allowing the State Department to waive notification requirements for foreign military financing for Israel.

"Over and over again, I hear the president and members of Congress express deep concern about Netanyahu and the humanitarian disaster in Gaza that he has caused," Sanders said Monday. "Then why are they supporting giving Netanyahu another $10 billion to continue his war against the Palestinian people?"

The bill now heads to the U.S. House, which Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said "will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters."

In a statement Monday night, Johnson complained that the Senate-passed measure lacks "any single border policy change"—even though it was Republican opposition that forced Senate leaders to drop the proposed immigration law changes from the foreign aid package.

The changes were widely opposed by immigrant rights advocates, who called the proposals a draconian attack on asylum.

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