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In Rhetorical Shift, Two Democratic Senators Say US Shouldn’t Give Israel Blank Check

© Flickr / Brookings InstitutionUS Senator Chris Murphy
US Senator Chris Murphy - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.11.2023
Some Democrats are beginning to respond to constituents’ anger over the high civilian death toll in Gaza, insisting aid to Israel must be contingent on the country’s compliance with humanitarian law. But President Biden remains firmly supportive of the US ally.
Two Democratic Senators have said US aid to Israel must be conditioned on greater efforts to avoid civilian casualties, marking a shift in rhetoric from the party since the early days of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
“We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with U.S. law and international law,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in an interview with US media on Sunday. “And that will be a conversation we will all be engaged in when we get back to Washington on Monday.”
Sen. Murphy sits on the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, perhaps suggesting a broader institutional shift within the Democratic Party.
“I do believe that the level of civilian harm inside Gaza has been unacceptable and is unsustainable,” added Murphy.
“I think there’s both a moral cost to this many civilians, innocent civilians, children often, losing their life, but I think there’s a strategic cost. Ultimately, Hamas will get stronger, not weaker, in the long run if all of this civilian death allows them to recruit more effectively and ably inside Gaza.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a political independent who caucuses with Democrats, expressed similar sentiments in an op-ed on Thursday, saying the US’ “blank check approach” to funding for Israel should end.
“The United States must make clear that while we are friends of Israel, there are conditions to that friendship and that we cannot be complicit in actions that violate international law and our own sense of decency,” wrote Sanders.
Although Sanders is typically considered a representative of the left wing of the Democratic Party, the Vermont senator and former presidential candidate has resisted calls for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza. Earlier this month, dozens of protesters were arrested while demonstrating at the Senate offices of Sanders and others over US policy in regard to Israel.
Sanders has a mixed track record regarding military policy; the progressive politician famously opposed the Iraq War but strongly supported NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged calls for the conditioning of aid Sunday but confirmed President Biden wouldn’t seek any restrictions at this time. Sullivan suggested that an ongoing four-day ceasefire allowing Israel and Hamas to exchange captives represented a victory for the president’s diplomatic approach.
“He is going to continue to engage in exactly that kind of diplomacy,” said Sullivan in an interview with US media.
The temporary ceasefire has resulted in the release of dozens of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, with most of them reportedly being minors. Some 39 Israelis held captive by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, have been released as well, including a four-year-old American-Israeli girl and a nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl.
Irish lawmakers had cited ongoing negotiations to achieve the girl’s release as they resisted calls to expel Israel’s ambassador in Dublin; opposition to Israel is high among the Irish public.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country’s military incursion in Gaza will “continue full power” after the current ceasefire ends, but the head of state suggested the suspension of hostilities may be extended if a further release of hostages is negotiated.
Tensions remain high over the issue in the United States with dueling protests from supporters and opponents of Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Three Palestinian college students were recently wounded after being shot Saturday evening in Burlington, Vermont. The young men were reportedly speaking Arabic at the time and wearing the keffiyeh, a black-and-white scarf that serves as a symbol of Palestinian culture.
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