Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) were pictured during a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on June 22, 2023.

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Just 23 House Dems Oppose Bill That Bars UNRWA Funding While Giving Billions to Israel

"Our elected leaders are funding Palestinian death," said one advocacy group.

The House of Representatives on Friday approved a sprawling government spending package that prohibits U.S. funding for the United Nations' Palestinian refugee agency for at least a year and hands Israel billions of dollars in unconditional military assistance, even as the country massacres and starves Gaza civilians.

The 1,012-page legislation passed in a 286-134 vote, with 112 Republicans and just 23 Democrats opposing the bill. All but one of the bill's Democratic opponents are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). (Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who was out sick, was initially recorded as not voting, but she later submitted a "no" vote.)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, said in a statement after voting against the measure that she is "very concerned that this package continues funding for the Netanyahu government with no conditions, while at the same time prohibiting funding" for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

"For decades, UNRWA has played a unique and integral role in supporting the welfare and survival of Palestinians in several countries," said Jayapal. "Humanitarian aid in the region is already severely restricted. Implementing a prohibition on UNRWA funding is irresponsible and unacceptable. As the largest contributor of funding to Israel, we should use our funding leverage to demand that humanitarian aid enter Gaza and that we have a lasting cease-fire and a return of all hostages."

In a social media post ahead of Friday's vote, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) announced his intention to "vote no on this bill that bans aid to children in Gaza who are dying of hunger."

"Forget the politics and procedural jargon," Khanna wrote. "This is a test of first principles. The America I believe in must never be indifferent to the man-made starvation of children."

The legislation now heads to the Senate, which must pass the bill by Friday night to avert a partial government shutdown.

"Instead of banning funding for UNRWA, the U.S. should restore its aid to Gaza and halt weapons transfers to the Israeli military. No more money for massacre."

If passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden, the measure would bar the U.S. from resuming funding for UNRWA until at least March 25, 2025. The Biden administration and other Western governments suspended donations to UNRWA in January after Israel accused a dozen of the agency's 13,000 Gaza employees of taking part in the October 7 Hamas-led attack—allegations it has not substantiated.

While Canada, Finland, and other countries have since resumed funding for UNRWA, the U.S. has kept its contributions frozen as famine spreads rapidly in Gaza. The territory's entire population is facing "high levels of acute food insecurity," according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

By including such a provision in must-pass government funding legislation, Congress is "further deepening U.S. complicity in Israel's starvation of Palestinian children," said Josh Ruebner, an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University and the former policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

While barring U.S. funding for the primary humanitarian relief agency in Gaza, the measure includes $3.8 billion in military support for Israel, whose forces have used U.S.-made weaponry to commit atrocities against civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

As Security Policy Reform Institute co-founder Stephen Semler pointed out, the bill also prohibits U.S. funding for the United Nations commission that is investigating potential war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.

IfNotNow, an American Jewish group that campaigns for Palestinian rights, said in response to Friday's vote that "our elected leaders are funding Palestinian death."

"It's unsurprising that the GOP is working to ban funding for UNRWA while the Israeli military massacres and starves Palestinians in Gaza with U.S. financial and diplomatic backing," the group said. "It's unconscionable that so many Democrats are joining them."

"Instead of banning funding for UNRWA, the U.S. should restore its aid to Gaza and halt weapons transfers to the Israeli military," IfNotNow added. "No more money for massacre."

This story has been updated to reflect that Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who was out sick, later submitted a "no" vote against the spending package.

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