Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Shocked by strike on World Central Kitchen convoy, Democrats push Biden to put conditions on military aid to Israel

By 37ci3 Apr5,2024


The Israeli airstrike that killed seven World Center Kitchen aid workers stunned and angered Democrats in Congress, fueling renewed efforts by lawmakers to force President Joe Biden to impose conditions. US military aid to Israel.

Frustration has been building for months among Democrats in Congress over the handling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s military offensive against the Gaza Strip and the dire humanitarian conditions facing Palestinian civilians. But Monday’s fatal blow to the World Center Kitchen team has rattled many lawmakers and their aides, who say the attack could be a defining moment for America’s approach to the war in Gaza and US relations with Israel.

“This week could be a turning point,” said one congressional official.

Sen. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, told NBC News that the attack on the aid convoy “is an indication that there has been no change in Netanyahu’s war plan” and that “this is causing growing concern among more and more of my colleagues.”

Even MPs who initially refrained from harshly criticizing Israel for its tactics in Gaza joined calls for a ceasefire or warned the Netanyahu government not to enter the southern city of Rafah without a plan to protect civilian lives.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden ally and longtime supporter of Israel, spoke for the first time on Thursday in favor of placing conditions on US arms to Israel if civilians in Rafah are not protected.

Peter Welch and Jose Andres
Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., left, walks in the Capitol with Chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, after a March 14, 2024 briefing with Senators on how to get food aid to Gaza.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

“If Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF into Rafah on a large scale … and made no guarantees for civilians or humanitarian aid, I would vote for conditionality on aid to Israel,” he said. “I’ve never said that before, I’ve never been here before.”

According to Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, a liberal lobbying group that says it is “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” a growing number of Democrats are calling on the White House to back up their criticism with concrete actions.

“I think there’s a growing number of Democrats who want to see the administration do more than what it’s doing,” he said.

Congressional aides said pressure from congressional Democrats could delay the administration’s delivery of certain offensive weapons or military aid. Although such a move would apply to equipment that would be delivered months or years later and would not affect Israel’s current arms and ammunition supply, it would send an unprecedented political message to Israel.

“I think a more limited and symbolic step is a real possibility,” Ben-Ami said.

Officials of the Biden administration also assessed the blow to the aid convoy as an important moment.

In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu on Thursday, Biden According to two US officials, Washington has announced how to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and is ready to provide military assistance to Israel in connection with the ceasefire negotiations.

Following Biden’s warning, Israel announced it would open additional aid routes to allow increased aid flows into Gaza, including the port of Ashdod and the Erez crossing on Israel’s border with Gaza.

Israel’s military said on Friday it had fired two officers over the deadly attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy, and that an investigation had revealed serious errors and protocol violations that led the Israel Defense Forces to repeatedly strike the convoy. Hamas militants were participating.

“The attack on the aid vehicles is a serious error resulting from misidentification, errors in decision-making and an attack contrary to Standard Operating Procedures,” he said.

Welch praised Biden’s public comments condemning the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy, but said it was time for concrete action.

“The president issued a very strong statement expressing his horror and confusion about the bombing of the world center kitchen workers … he went from a calm discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu to statements that did not please the public,” Welch said. “The next step is open action.”

Passports of World Center Kitchen staff.
Passports of World Central Kitchen workers killed in Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza on April 3, 2024.Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

Democrats in Congress are now turning their attention to the looming May 8 deadline, when the administration will have to declare whether Israel is complying with international humanitarian law and US human rights laws. As part of Biden’s February national security memorandum, the State Department must formally assess whether Israel’s assurances are “credible and credible” and report the findings to Congress. If the administration concludes that Israel is not living up to its promises, the president will have the option of halting further arms transfers from the United States.

Growing concerns among Democrats about the situation in Gaza threaten to jeopardize a long-delayed security aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that passed the Senate but has been held up in the House for months.

Until now, the main obstacle has been House Speaker Mike Johnson and some other Republicans, wary of opposing former President Donald Trump’s opposition to more aid to Ukraine. Congressional aides and lawmakers said a growing number of House Democrats are refusing to provide more military aid to Israel, especially after the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy.

If the Biden administration remains reluctant to put conditions on aid to Israel, the top two Democrats on the Senate and House foreign affairs committees could try to increase pressure on the White House by refusing to approve a proposed $18 billion arms package for Israel. this includes more F-15 fighter jets. Sen. Ben Cardin, R-Maryland, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Gregory Meeks, R-N., the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, have yet to publicly say whether they will sign off on the planned sale.

Gregory Meeks
Representative Gregory Meeks, D.N.Y., at a roundtable with family members of those held hostage by Hamas at the U.S. Capitol on November 29, 2023.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP file

The reaction to the airstrike on the aid convoy on Capitol Hill demonstrates a broader shift in how Israel is perceived in Washington. There is no longer unconditional bipartisan support for Israel, and Democrats are now ready to lash out at America’s ally.

The shift is due in part to a shift in attitudes among Democratic voters, particularly American Muslims and younger, progressive Palestinian civilians, who are less sympathetic to Israel’s arguments and bewildered by the plight of the civilian population. Some Democratic lawmakers are under intense pressure from their constituents over the war in Gaza, and worry that the issue could hurt Biden’s re-election prospects.

Even before the October 7 attack by Hamas and Israel’s military assault on Gaza, Biden faced the prospect of a tough re-election fight with the narrowest of margins determining the outcome. The war in Gaza has added another challenge to him and the Democrats as they prepare for possible platform battles and street protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this summer.

“They’re not that far from convention now. What do you want the streets of Chicago to look like in four months?” Ben-Ami said. “There’s a lot of politics under the surface.”



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By 37ci3

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