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Why Are Some House Democrats Opposed to Selling More Weapons to Israel?

F-35I Adir
F-35I Adir. Image: Creative Commons/IDF.

Even as the State of Israel remains one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, some lawmakers are now seeking to block a $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons.

Democratic lawmakers introduced a resolution that would stop the sale as a symbolic response to the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas group.

Disclosure of the commercial sale was first reported by The Washington Post earlier this month, and it immediately prompted a backlash from the progressive wing of the Democratic-held House of Representatives.

Some of the newest and most liberal lawmakers, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, and Rashida Tlaib, have been vocal in recent weeks, claiming the United States has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.

“At a time when so many, including President Biden, support a ceasefire, we should not be sending ‘direct attack’ weaponry to Prime Minister Netanyahu to prolong this violence,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.

The lawmakers have also called for a more concerted U.S. effort to stop the violence, most notably the Israeli airstrikes that have reportedly killed dozens of civilians in the Gaza Strip, where the militant group Hamas is known to have built fortified tunnels and other defensive complexes.

Reuters reported that that President Joe Biden’s administration has already approved the potential sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel earlier this year. It was sent to Congress for formal review on May 5, which gave lawmakers 15 days to object under laws governing foreign weapons sales. As the deadline neared, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi failed to bring it to a full vote in the chamber.

This is not the first time Democratic lawmakers in Washington have been out of step with Israel. The Obama administration had its own public falling-out with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the bulk of the pro-Israel lobby as it negotiated a deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for rolling back sanctions The Washington Post reported.

Matters were further complicated after then-Speaker of the House John A. Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in 2015, while President Barack Obama declined a meeting with the Israeli leader.

Opposition to U.S. policy toward Israel increased under the Trump administration, notably when the former president took the bold but controversial steps of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the Israeli government has maintained is the official capital of the Jewish state. Trump also reversed a long-held U.S. policy that settlement construction in the Palestinian territories violated international law. More than 100 House Democrats signed a letter to Trump’s State Department in 2019 that objected to the settlement move.

However, it has been thirty years, since 1991, when President George H.W. Bush held back on promised loan guarantees to Israel until it halted settlement construction that Washington has actually rolled back promised aid.

Israel maintains a privileged status as a recipient of U.S. military aid, which is required by U.S. law and guarantees that the Middle Eastern nation is able to maintain a “qualitative military edge” over its Arab rivals. That was put to the test last year when the Trump administration agreed to sell the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the United Arabs Emirates, which was reportedly part of a deal to the Arab’s state normalization of relations with Israel.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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