Democrats dither on military sale to Israel

Man ascends escalator

Senator Ted Cruz wants more US arms for Israel notwithstanding the repeated Israeli war crimes resulting from such weapons.

Caroline Brehman CQ Roll Call

The “war” is over. Carry on as before could well be what we see emerge from the US Congress in the next few days and weeks. Certainly President Joe Biden appears unprepared to insist Israel address underlying issues.

Yes, Senator Bernie Sanders broke late last week with the Washington consensus by introducing a resolution to stop $735 million in arms sales to Israel – small diameter bombs and Joint Direct Attack Munitions – so close in time to the latest Israeli onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza.

And, yes, progressives earlier introduced a similar resolution in the House of Representatives.

But on the other side of the equation was Senator Ted Cruz making the case to Fox News – where “Hebron, Israel” was a caption – for his own soon-to-be-introduced resolution in favor of the sale. The numbers appear almost certain to be with Cruz if he gets a vote.

That’s not to say Sanders was wrong to move forward with his resolution, not at all, but the Washington reality remains far behind grassroots Democrats and the increasing ambivalence of the American population as a whole.

Last week

Last week’s swings and reversals in Washington were dramatic to watch.

Most unexpectedly along the way to the newly publicized $735 million in military sales to Israel was the initial decision by Congressman Gregory Meeks, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to put a hold on the sale pending review.

Meeks, journalists thought, would soon send a letter to Biden requesting a delay on the weapons sale.
But as is so often the case, the Democrats settled – or as Philip Weiss titled his commentary: “Democrats rise up against White House sale of missiles to Israel — then collapse.” Instead, they agreed to a mere briefing on the subject from the Biden administration.
Ben Siegel of ABC News tweeted last Tuesday that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a long-time backer of Israeli apartheid, said that Meeks “will not send a letter requesting a delay in an arms sale to Israel after the Biden administration agreed to brief House Foreign Affairs Committee members.”
This was a quick and dramatic capitulation.
Hoyer was thanked later in the day by AIPAC for his statement excoriating Hamas and giving the go-ahead to further Israeli war crimes in Gaza. His statement called only for “respect and dignity” for Palestinians living between the river and sea and not for equal rights and freedom and an immediate cessation of Israeli apartheid.
Politico cited one member of Congress as noting the arms “wouldn’t be sent for months anyway,” but questioning “whether it would be wise to announce licensing now while the bombing is ongoing and we are trying to encourage a ceasefire.”

Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Meeks said to MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin that the problem is Hamas rockets and that there needs to be a ceasefire. Hamas, he said, was a “nefarious” organization and that the US needs to use the Abraham Accords to bring in other countries.

At no time did Meeks cite Israeli apartheid, occupation, or anti-Palestinian discrimination.

Mohyeldin then pointed to Meeks’ double standards regarding his 2019 Yemen-related concerns about arms sales to Saudi Arabia being raised much more vigorously than he’s currently pressing Israel.

Meeks countered he was going to take this arms sale very seriously and would not simply be offering “perfunctory” approval. He contended there would be dialogue, apparently with the Biden administration, to understand what the sale involves.

Meeks, however, is a longtime supporter of Israel and immediately sided with Israel as it bombed Gaza. The ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah was not part of his statement and he has failed to speak up about Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

With all Republicans appearing to support military sales to Israel and with many Democrats on board, it appears very unlikely that Democrats will successfully reject this sale. The few who are in opposition will lose because the Democratic leadership prefers to look the other way at Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid.

That “leadership,” as I noted earlier this month, comes from the very top.

Biden support

The Biden administration obviously supports the sale and, according to three sources speaking to The Washington Post, officially notified Congress on 5 May of the sale as tensions mounted in occupied Jerusalem and just days before Israel employed high-powered American weaponry to kill and injure hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza.

The weapons in question, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, enable “dumb” bombs to be made into precision-guided missiles. Both JDAMs and small diameter bombs are products of Chicago-based Boeing.

Demonstrations on behalf of Palestinian rights and freedom have recently taken place in Chicago.

Israel’s precisely targeted weapons have repeatedly proved entirely capable of killing Palestinian civilians in large numbers.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted that “The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing.”

Omar also stated that “It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians.”

It’s difficult to imagine what “strings” would be sufficient rather than simply insisting that Biden completely reject the sale.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, who like Omar is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that he has “serious concerns about the timing of this weapons sale to Israel and the open questions about the legality of military strikes in Gaza.”

Unsurprisingly, Democrats such as Congressman Ted Deutch, chair of a Middle East subcommittee, continued to push for the sale. In the midst of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, he argued that “the Biden administration is right – we don’t block the sale of weapons to Israel as it defends itself against Hamas attacks.”
Reconsideration from Biden would be shocking and go against decades of precedent. No, he is content to wish the best for “Rashid” Tlaib’s grandmother while vigorously funding the Israeli military killing her neighbors in the West Bank and further afield in Gaza – all over the protests of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
Until Biden calls for a cessation of military aid to Israel, don’t believe the empty words. Congressional Democrats had to drag him toward even articulating a stronger demand for a ceasefire.

Attempt to block arms sale

In the House of Representatives, Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Omar along with Congressman Mark Pocan introduced a resolution on 20 May – termed a joint resolution of disapproval – to block the arms sale.

Alex Kane, who broke the story of the House resolution, notes that “if a senator introduced a resolution before the end of May 20th, the bill would be required to get a vote in the Senate.”

Senator Bernie Sanders advised The Washington Post as the deadline approached that “At a moment when US-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate.” Sanders then introduced his resolution.

American Muslims for Palestine described the House and Senate efforts to block the sale as “the first ones ever introduced in Congress to block weapons to Israel” and “a landmark step toward accountability for Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians.”

An inquiry from The Electronic Intifada to Sanders’ office last week about the expected outcome of such a resolution went unanswered. The US Senate historically has strongly favored military aid to Israel and has put up scant resistance to Israeli human rights abuses.

Regarding the House resolution, Kane commented that “Even if it doesn’t pass, the resolution could set up an unprecedented debate in the House of Representatives on the propriety of a bomb sale to Israel.”

He regards the proposed legislation as “a rebuke of the Biden administration’s policy.”

It is. But the numbers necessary to reject the sale are still woefully short. As noted repeatedly in this space, the Democratic leadership remains well behind the grassroots when it comes to speaking up for Palestinian rights and freedom and against Israeli war crimes, occupation and apartheid. These “leaders” only slowly came around to a ceasefire demand.

Due to the dearth of votes, Jewish Voice for Peace Action quickly rallied its supporters, urging them in an email to call their members of Congress about this “unprecedented opportunity to help end US support for Israeli apartheid.”

This is a start, but progressives need to be doing far more. After a ceasefire, the cycle of colonization will simply begin again with no Senate call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. Silence from Washington on underlying issues means in a few years we’ll be back where we are now.

Calling for a ceasefire and attempting to block an arms sale to Israel is the bare minimum that should be expected of Democrats.

So far even Sanders is tamping down on what critics of Israeli actions can acceptably say, including the obvious term “apartheid,” without being accused of anti-Jewish hatred.

Sanders’ foreign policy adviser Matt Duss should advise him on Israeli apartheid and not stand by as his boss joins the speech police on a term that even Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have employed.

Democrats, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the past, will likely move to other matters unless the grassroots holds them accountable.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.