Some of President Biden’s strongest Senate allies are calling on Israelis to end months of fierce fighting and criticizing the administration’s actions toward Israel, including the most recent approval of arms sales to the military that avoided Congress.
For the second time in less than a month, the Biden administration authorized a clause just before the new year that would allow the transfer of weapons to Israel without the consent of Congress. However, as the death toll in Gaza approaches the tens of thousands, senior U.S. officials have been publicly pleading with Israel for weeks to guarantee that civilians stay out of harm’s way.
The latest rift among Democrats over the Israel-Hamas conflict is over the Senate Democrats’ claim that transparency is undermined by the transfer of weapons to Israel without congressional oversight.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement to the media that “the U.S. must not write a blank check for [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] war in Gaza and his right-wing government, which has demonstrated a gross disregard for Palestinian civilians.” “Congress should act and close these loopholes for arm sales for Israel if the Biden administration refuses to be transparent with Congress and the American people.”
The more than $147 million sale of fuses, charges, and primers—all necessary for Israel’s 155 mm shells—was approved by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The sale was announced by the administration on Friday, utilizing emergency powers that some lawmakers claimed omitted a crucial step.
“Congressional review is a critical step for examining any large arms sale. The Administration’s decision to repeatedly short-circuit what is already a quick time frame for congressional review undermines transparency and weakens accountability. The public deserves answers,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told the media.
The sale was defended by the Biden administration, which had earlier in the year tried to get Congress to approve an aid package that included funding for both Israel and Ukraine but was ultimately defeated.
“The security of Israel is a top priority for the United States, and it is essential to the country’s national interests that Israel be able to repel the threats it faces. These goals are aligned with the proposed sale,” a State Department spokesperson stated in a statement.
The representative went on to say that Blinken “used his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer” due to “the urgency of Israel’s defense needs,” and that Congress was informed of this.
However, over the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable uptick in the pressure from American officials, some of whom have visited the area, to ask Israel to reduce the intensity of its attacks in Gaza and concentrate on Hamas while causing the fewest number of civilian casualties possible. Although Biden has remained a staunch supporter of Israel since the horrific attacks on October 7, disagreements between Netanyahu, Biden, and other American officials have come to light, particularly regarding Gaza’s post-war status and the level of violence in the Palestinian enclave.
However, senators are beginning to doubt the White House’s messaging and strategy in light of the second arms deal to Israel without congressional approval.
The administration did receive significant support on Wednesday from the highest-ranking Jewish official, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who told reporters at the Capitol that this action was necessary because Israel urgently needed the weapons.
“Israel needs to get the materials it needs to defend itself against Hamas, and the State Department believes this as well,” Schumer stated.
But other leftists, particularly those who disagree with Netanyahu’s handling of the situation, have become less and less trusting of the Israelis. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged lawmakers to deny the nation’s request for more than $10 billion in military funding on Tuesday, claiming that the funds would be utilized to maintain Israel’s “grossly disproportionate” and “immoral” war in Gaza.
Sanders released a statement saying, “While we recognize that Israel’s military response has been grossly disproportionate, immoral, and in violation of international law, we also must recognize that Hamas’ barbaric attack began this war.”
Most Senate Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.), Van Hollen, Warren, and Peter Welch (Vt.), have voiced opposition to the arms sale.
The American public needs more information about this sale, according to a statement made by Senator Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Just as Congress has a crucial role to play in all matters of war and peace, Congress should have full visibility over the weapons we transfer to any other nation. Unnecessarily bypassing Congress means keeping the American people in the dark. We need a public explanation of the rationale behind this decision — the second such decision this month,” he said in a statement.
The Biden administration took the first, extremely unusual step earlier in December to approve a weapons sale with an emergency determination without going through Congress. Blinken gave his approval for the more than $106 million sale of approximately 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel.
Legislators, particularly those on the left of the president’s party, have been particularly critical of the administration’s handling of the war and have criticized the first sale on the grounds that Congress normally has the power to comment on weapons transfers and even to block them.Progressives and other Democrats are also putting more and more pressure on Biden to support a long-term cease-fire, which the administration claims would only benefit Hamas.
Americans “must understand that Israel’s war against the Palestinian people has been significantly waged with U.S. bombs, artillery shells, and other forms of weaponry,” Sanders said in response to the second arms sale.
“The results have been catastrophic,” he continued, citing information from the Palestinian Health Ministry indicating that Israeli strikes have claimed the lives of over 22,000 Palestinians, with women and children accounting for two thirds of the casualties.