President Biden Welcomes Jordan's King Abdullah To The White House

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) delivers remarks alongside King of Jordan Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein at the White House on February 12, 2024 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

'History Is Watching'? You Bet It Is, Mr. President.

10 reasons why House progressives must vote no on this anti-humanitarian bill that will cost countless lives and boundless harm in Gaza and beyond.

“History is watching,” the president said after the Senate passed his $95.3 billion war bill by a vote of 70-29. He said it three times: “History is watching.” He’s right. Democrats should remember that before trying to use an obscure parliamentary procedure to force a vote on this bill in the House. The move, called a “discharge petition,” would almost certainly fail without support from House progressives. They have a moral obligation to withhold that support.

This bill, deceptively described as an “aid package,” slashesall future funding for the most important humanitarian aid group serving the people of Gaza. At the same time, it provides $14 billion in military aid (which its Democratic sponsors coyly call “security assistance”) to the armed forces that are killing them.

“I’m of the view,” Biden said last week, “that the conduct of the response in Gaza has been over the top.” Over the top? A purple crushed-velvet tuxedo is “over the top.” Hiring an oldies band, a jazz band, and a DJ for a wedding is “over the top.”

Israel’s attack on Gaza isn’t “over the top”; it’s genocide.

When it comes to humanitarian aid, the bill’s only immediate impact will be to end all aid to the United Nations Relief and works Agency (UNRWA), which has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States in recent years. In return, the bill commits to replacing that assistance with ... nothing. No guaranteed funding at all. That’s a moral travesty.

Israel’s attack on Gaza isn’t “over the top”; it’s genocide.

An ethical bill would do the exact opposite: increase funding to UNRWA and end military aid to Israel. Here are ten reasons House progressives should oppose the Senate bill:

1. Yes, it really slashes humanitarian aid.
2. It doesn’t commit any aid to Gaza.
3. The Administration has shown it can’t be trusted.
4. UNRWA’s workers are heroes.
5. UNRWA is irreplaceable.
6. The charges against UNRWA are unproven and probably false.
7. Even if they were true, they wouldn’t justify ending aid.
8. By the bill’s professed standards, the Pentagon should be shut down, too.
9. Cutting off UNRWA aid makes us accomplices to Israel’s defiance of the court.
10. The Senate bill suffers from Bizarro World ethics.

1. Yes, it really slashes humanitarian aid.

Biden said after the bill’s Senate passage that “it will provide lifesaving humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, who desperately need food, water, and shelter. They need help.”

The dishonesty and cynicism are stunning. The bill includes only $9.15 billion for humanitarian aid, to be divided among several parts of the world, and doesn’t commit any specific amountfor Gaza. It might get a fraction of the money; it might get none. Any Gaza spending requires additional approval from congressional committees, some of whose have fought aid to Palestine for years.

Some people I’ve spoken with find it hard to believe that White House and Senate Democrats would really block funds to a lifesaving agency like UNRWA, but I’ve read the bill line by line. Here’s Section 614:

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this division and division B of this Act, and prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, may be made available for a contribution, grant, or other payment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, notwithstanding any other provision of law.”

The “prior acts” language bars any future funding to UNRWA.

2. The bill doesn’t specify any level of aid to Gaza.

Like Biden, Sen. Charles Schumer and other Democrats insist the bill must be passed because it contains humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. But it doesn’t commit any specific funds. They might get something; it might get nothing.

State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel claimed the bill included $1.4 billion for Gaza. “This is tangible money,” he said. No, it isn’t. That figure appears nowhere in the bill’s text. Even the Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Sen. Patty Murray, don’t make that claim. Their announcement says only that the bill provides

“$9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to provide food, water, shelter, medical care, and other essential services to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and other populations caught in conflict zones across the globe.”

How will that money be divided? Again, it pays to read the bill. Sections 615 and 616 instruct the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator to submit spending and operations plans to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, then “consult” with those committees on “the amount and anticipated uses of such funds.”

In other words, no amount of aid is committed to Gaza. The bill does commit $25 million to oversee aid to Gaza, including $3 million for USAID oversight, $7 million for State Department, and additional funds for third parties – which, obscenely, may include the Israelis themselves.

3. The Administration has show that it can’t be trusted.

White House officials met with Arab Americans on February 8 over the administration’s Gaza policy. The New York Times reports that “the officials committed to issuing a letter clarifying the administration’s support of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.”

Support? Five days later, at the White House’s urging, the Senate passed the bill terminating UNRWA aid in a predawn vote. (The word “predawn” has long been associated with Israeli airstrikes that kill women and children, but in this case it was a vote.)

Similarly, the White House told the Wall Street Journal that it is “investigating several Israeli airstrikes in Gaza that killed dozens of civilians and the possible use by Israel of white phosphorus in Lebanon, as part of a probe by the State Department to determine whether America’s closest ally has misused its bombs and missiles to kill civilians.”

The Journal explains that investigators could recommend a cutoff in weapons for Israel if they’ve been misused. That sounds good. But State Department spokesman Matt Miller quickly shot that idea down, saying “the process wasn’t designed to act as a fast-moving examination that would trigger a quick shift in policy.” Instead, Miller said, it would “develop appropriate policy responses to reduce the risk of such incidents occurring in the future.”

“The future,” in this case, meaning after the $14 billion has been approved – and after more civilians have died.

4. UNRWA’s workers are heroes.

UNRWA workers risk their lives every day to help innocent civilians. Simply put, they’re the good guys. Courage? More than 150 UNRWA workers have died since the latest bombing of Gaza began. Many of those deaths occurred in their homes during the first days of the bombing, raising questions about whether they were deliberately targeted.

“The apparently high proportion of UNRWA staff killed by the IDF in the first months of the war warrants further investigation,” said a former brigadier general in the British Army. ““Israel knows where everyone lives in Gaza and they know their names,” said an official with UNRWA.

A coalition of global humanitarian aid non-governmental organizations (NGOs) issued a joint statement which declares:

“UNRWA staff have faced near impossible conditions for months: in addition to the UNRWA staff killed by military strikes, at least 360 people in UNRWA shelters have been killed by strikes; more than 1,300 have been injured; and 145 UNRWA installations have been damaged. UNRWA workers continue to serve their community amid this unprecedented violence.”

How many of us would be brave enough to do the same? Unproven accusations against a tiny number of people have been used to smear heroes.

5. UNRWA is irreplaceable.

The Biden Administration’s says it plans to redirect UNRWA money to other agencies. “We believe that we can continue to do important work through other NGOs and other partners,” said the State Department’s Patel.

Those NGOs disagree. “UNRWA’s humanitarian role in this crisis is indispensable and cannot remotely be replaced by any other aid organization,” their joint statement says, adding:

UNRWA’s 13,000 staff in Gaza far outstrip the collective capacity of the rest of the humanitarian sector in the territory. UNRWA’s supply of vital shelter, food, and basic services like sanitation, as well as the use of infrastructure by other aid organizations, is irreplaceable.

They also note that over 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in UNRWA’s Gaza facilities, and that many other aid groups will be unable to provide their current level of service without UNRWA’s support.

Which means more people will die.

6. The charges against UNRWA are unproven and probably false.

Despite the Israeli government’s reputation for prolific (and strikingly unconvincing) dishonesty, Secretary of State Blinken said he found its allegations “highly credible” and “deeply, deeply troubling.“ The State Department declared that funding won’t resume without “a thorough and swift investigation” that leads to “accountability.”

Predictably, an independent review concluded Blinken was wrong. The only news organization to see the dossier thus far, Britain’s Channel Four, says it “provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that UNRWA staff were involved” in October 7.

This bill compounds American complicity in a crime against humanity. President Biden’s words serve as a warning to the nation, to progressives, and House Democrats

This new and exculpatory evidence has received almost no media coverage in the United States and did not stop most Democrats from voting to defund UNRWA.

7. Even if they were true, they wouldn’t justify ending UNRWA aid.

Even if the charges are true—something most of us journalists can’t prove or disprove because the information isn’t publicly available—it wouldn’t justify a funding ban that, as NGO executive Scott Brown writes, is “disproportionate and immoral.” Agencies aren’t culpable for the off-hours activities of their workers, and Israel’s dubious dossier named only 13 people out of 30,000 UNRWA workers. That’s 0.04 percent of UNRWA’s staff.

Any criminal behavior carried out by UNRWA workers—if it happened—occurred on their own time. The US didn’t finance it, which isn’t true of Israel’s military; war crimes have become their day job. (And they seem to love their work.)

UNRWA should, of course, promptly report any suspicious activity. That’s exactly what it has done in the past, although you wouldn’t know it from Western media. In 2014, for example, it found rockets hidden in a vacant school, promptly the authorities, and condemned those responsible (presumably Hamas and/or Palestinian Islamic Jihad) for “this flagrant violation of the inviolability of (UNRW) premises under international law.”

8. By the bill’s professed standards, the Pentagon should be shut down, too.

If the US applied the same standards to all funding, it would have to end aid for Israel – and would have to shut down its own military. According to an FBI gang investigator, experts believe that 1 to 2 percent of the US armed forces are members of street gangs. That’s 25 to 50 times greater than the percentage of UNRWA workers accused – falsely, it seems – of Hamas activity.

By its own standards, the US should defund the Pentagon’s $841 billion budget pending a “thorough and swift investigation” – to be followed, of course, by “accountability.”

9. Cutting off UNRWA aid makes us accomplices to Israel’s defiance of the law.

UNRWA is doing extremely valuable work for the dying, starving, and homeless people of Gaza, a region Israel and the US have rendered virtually “uninhabitable.” That’s precisely why it’s being targeted.

The ICJ ordered Israel to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” Instead, Israel’s leaders and military are openly obstructing aid and even fired on aid convoys.

Israel has had UNRWA on its kill list for a long time. The accusations in its “dossier” have been accompanied by easily debunked claims that UNRWA operated “data centers” for Hamas or provided other support. The motivation for these sketchy accusations isn’t hard to fathom. The Daily Telegraph, a politically conservative British newspaper, sums it upsuccinctly. UNRWA, it says, “it has, in the eyes of many Israelis, prolonged the conflict because the support it provides sustains the Palestinian population in the region.”

In other words, UNRWA make it harder to drive Palestinians out of Palestine, which is the stated goal of the Israeli government. It’s also genocide, according to international law.

UNRWA also reports on Israel’s actions in Gaza – actions it would prefer to carry out in the dark. In a recent example, UNRWA reported that Israel was blocking a massive shipment of food from Turkey meant for starving Gazans. UNRWA’s director said its Israeli contractor was told by Israeli customs authorities “not to process any UNRWA goods.”

As the Associated Press reports,

“That stoppage means 1,049 shipping containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil — enough to feed 1.1 million people for one month — are stuck, even as an estimated 25% of families in Gaza face catastrophic hunger.”

I’d want that kept quiet, too if I were Netanyahu – especially while the United States Senate is voting to send me another $14 billion in weapons.

The destruction of UNRWA is an integral part of Israel’s strategy to depopulate Gaza. By using the artifice of a “dossier” to comply with its wishes, the US has found yet another way to actively participate in Israel’s war crimes.

10. The Senate bill suffers from Bizarro World ethics.

“Bizarro World,” for those who remember Superman comics, was a place where everything was backwards: good was bad, up was down, right was wrong. That applies to the ethics of this bill, which must have been drafted in the Bizarro World School of Law.

Calling Israel’s behavior “criminal” is not a statement of opinion. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel

“must ... take all measures within its power to prevent ... (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group ...”

Israel continues to indiscriminately injure and kill Gazan civilians in direct violation of the court’s order. That’s why South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor has called for an arrest warrant against Benjamin Netanyahu, as was done for Vladimir Putin’s war crimes.

By contrast, no court in the world has ruled against UNRWA, making it innocent in the eyes of the law. Our government is treating the innocent party as if it were guilty, while helping the guilty party commit more crimes.

This bill compounds American complicity in a crime against humanity. President Biden’s words serve as a warning to the nation, to progressives, and House Democrats:

History is watching.
History is watching.
History is watching.

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