Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee backed away on Tuesday from requesting a delay in a planned U.S. arms sale to Israel, but signaled they would continue to pressure the White House on its policy toward the region.
According to multiple reports, Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., had been expected to request a delay in the sale of $735 million in precision-guided missiles amid ongoing clashes between the Israeli military and Hamas militants that have left hundreds dead.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday morning that the committee would not be sending a letter requesting the delay, saying, “Chairman Meeks has indicated that he’s going to pursue discussions with the administration on this.”
The latest violence between Hamas and Israel erupted earlier this month, with an exchange of rocket fire that has so far accounted for an estimated 213 Palestinian and 12 Israeli deaths. Over the weekend, Israeli forces destroyed a building in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press. The renewed clashes have deep roots and were precipitated by a police raid at Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque on April 13, the first night of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The White House has said President Biden is attempting to negotiate a ceasefire with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those diplomatic efforts have come as more Democrats have pressured the president to delay the arms deal to force Israel to find a solution to the violence. On Tuesday, Biden had a discussion with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., during his trip to her state. Tlaib is of Palestinian descent and has been outspoken in her criticism of Israeli policy. After the Washington Post reported the approval of the arms deal on Monday, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed their concerns.
“It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement. “If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, issued his own statement, saying, “I have serious concerns about the timing of this weapons sale, the message it will send to Israel and the world about the urgency of a cease fire, and the open questions about the legality of Israel’s military strikes that have killed civilians in Gaza.”
Despite Biden’s reported work toward a ceasefire, frustrations among liberal lawmakers have been growing.
In a New York Times op-ed last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized Netanyahu’s government, concluding in an echo of U.S. civil rights protesters, “We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was critical of Biden’s statement last week that Israel had a right to defend itself, tweeting, “Blanket statements like these w/ little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence – namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa – dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong.”
“We can’t advance this idea that we’re some neutral party in this situation if our actions are consistently targeting Palestinians,” the congresswoman told reporters Friday.
The pushback is not only coming from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Meeks has been endorsed by AIPAC, Israel’s lobbying arm in Washington. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the typically pro-Israel chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also took issue with the Israeli military’s role in the escalating violence.
“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” Menendez said in a statement released over the weekend.
While support for Israel’s government and condemnation of Hamas remain unwavering among Republicans in Congress, Democrats have become increasingly comfortable speaking out on behalf of the Palestinian people.
“We’re in this moment today because Hamas made a horrible mistake and fired rockets unprovoked into Israel,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told Politico. “But we also got here because the Israeli government has effectively eliminated the prospect of a viable future Palestinian state.”