The Senate is scheduled to hold a first-of-its-kind vote Tuesday evening that takes aim at Israel’s military operations in Gaza and President Joe Biden’s handling of the war.
Senators will vote on a resolution directing the State Department to issue a report on whether Israel is using U.S.-provided weapons in a way that violates international human rights standards. The Foreign Assistance Act allows lawmakers to force such votes, but this particular provision has never been invoked before.
The effort, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), reflects progressives’ deepening frustrations with the Biden administration’s posture on the war. And it’s sure to reignite tensions within the Democratic Party over U.S. support for Israel.
“The concern that I have is not that Israel does not have the right to defend itself against Hamas — they do have that right,” Sanders told us in an interview on Monday. “The concern that I have is that we are now going to war against the Palestinian people in general.”
We spoke with Sanders about the resolution, the pushback he’s getting from Democrats and how Israel’s war in Gaza may be hurting Biden’s standing with progressives and young voters in an already difficult election year.
The details: The Senate will vote on whether to discharge the resolution from the Foreign Relations Committee. It will fail — by a lot. The White House opposes it, as will all Republicans and most Democrats.
But Sanders is channeling progressives’ anger about how Israel has conducted its military campaign against Hamas since the Oct. 7 terror attacks that left more than 1,200 Israelis, Americans and other victims dead. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages — including Americans — although the group claimed two hostages were killed in Israeli airstrikes. Israeli officials disputed this report.
More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the subsequent Israeli operations in Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis has also unfolded.
“It is totally appropriate for the U.S. Senate to ask what role our weapons and military equipment has played in that reality,” Sanders told us.
The timing: Sanders said it’s “only appropriate for the Senate to be monitoring closely how U.S. military assistance is being used,” calling it ”a very good precedent.”
In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the Biden administration doesn’t believe the resolution is “the right vehicle to address these issues.”
Kirby also said now isn’t the “right time,” noting that Israel may soon be shifting their Gaza operations to a “lower intensity.” And it comes as senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are set to host families of the hostages held by Hamas to mark 100 days since they were first kidnapped.
“If the fact that hundreds of thousands of children are facing imminent starvation is not the right time to raise this issue, then I don’t know when the right time is,” Sanders said in response to Kirby. “Despite what the president has said… [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu continues to go along his merry way.”
The politics: There’s no question in Sanders’ mind that Biden has suffered politically with his base. At nearly every recent public event, Biden has been confronted by protesters demanding a ceasefire and criticizing Israel’s military operations.
Sanders said progressives are concerned about the United States’ “willingness to give more money to Netanyahu’s right-wing government to continue this terrible military campaign.”
As for his own reelection, Sanders told us he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll seek a fourth Senate term.
— Andrew Desiderio