(The Center Square) — Democrats are blasting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his calls to make federal aid to Israel conditional on their military actions in the Gaza conflict.
Over the weekend, the progressive lawmaker proposed leveraging U.S. security assistance to force Israel to reconsider its military strategy amid its bombardment and blockade of Gaza, which he said displaced more than 1 million people and killed 12,000 Palestinians “in violation of every code of human decency.”
“While Israel has the right to go after Hamas, Netanyahu’s rightwing extremist government does not have the right to wage almost total warfare against the Palestinian people,” Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement. “That is morally unacceptable and in violation of international law.”
Sanders said Israel “has the right to defend itself” following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1200 Israelis and took more than 200 people hostage. But he said the $14.3 billion in aid to Israel should be tied to a cessation of “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza and a plan to prevent Israel’s reoccupation of the region.
But his statements drew swift condemnation from Democrats, some of whom likened his demands to Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson’s push to condition Israel aid on cuts to Internal Revenue Service funding.
“Conditioning aid to Israel will only have one outcome: it would help Hamas in their goal of completely annihilating Israel and the Jewish people,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, posted on social media. “It would weaken America’s national security and our fight against terror.”
Florida Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., said if Sanders puts political requirements on aid to Israel, he will “work in the House to remove those conditions or condition aid to Gaza that requires the removal of Hamas.”
“Let’s not play this game,” Moskowitz posted on social media. “Send the aid to both.”
Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he “didn’t agree with conditioning aid to Israel when Republicans did it and I don’t agree if Democrats are trying to do it.”
The backlash over Sander’s comments underscores a growing rift between Democrats in Congress, who are debating future conditions for military aid to Israel amid the ongoing Gaza conflict.
The GOP-led House passed a $14.3 billion military assistance package to Israel earlier this month, but the measure has languished in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has backed Israel throughout the conflict, citing the key U.S. ally’s right to defend itself against Hamas, but has also acknowledged the high civilian death toll in Gaza and voiced concern about Israel’s adherence to international human rights law.
Progressives have also criticized Sanders for his reluctance to endorse their push for a ceasefire. Last week, a group of protesters demonstrated outside of his offices, urging him to call for a pause in the hostilities.