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16 House Democrats Vote to Pass Bill Barring Pausing of Israel Arms Shipments

Critics say the bill is a severe overcorrection to Biden’s weapons pause which is likely ineffectual anyways.

Palestinians are checking the damage in a house that was destroyed by an overnight Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip, on April 27, 2024.

The House passed a bill on Thursday that would essentially ban the Biden administration from pausing or canceling weapons shipments to Israel as it carries out its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

The bill, known as the Israel Security Assistance Support Act, condemns President Joe Biden’s decision to pause shipments of thousands of 2,000 pound and 500 pound bombs to Israel earlier this month. It compels the Department of Defense and Department of State to ensure all arms deals for Israel be carried through or else face defunding.

It passed 224 to 187, with 16 Democrats joining Republicans in voting to pass the bill. Three Republicans voted against the legislation. The Democrats who voted for the bill represent the most ideologically conservative lawmakers in the House Democratic caucus and some of Israel’s staunchest supporters, including Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey) and Ritchie Torres (New York).

The vote — the latest show of the extremist fealty to Israel festering within the halls of Congress — is largely symbolic. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has said the bill wouldn’t go anywhere in the Senate. Further, the White House has put out a statement of administration policy stating that it “strongly opposes” the bill and that Biden would veto it.

“This bill could raise serious concerns about infringement on the President’s authorities under Article II of the Constitution, including his duties as Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive and his power to conduct foreign relations,” the White House wrote, while still affirming the Biden administration’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel as it embarks on the most destructive phase of its genocide yet.

Still, the bill is a potent show of Congress’s insistence that the U.S. supply Israel’s genocide — a stance that is wildly out of step with the public’s views on weapons transfers to Israel. Critics say it is a severe overcorrection to Biden’s weapons pause, which is unlikely to dissuade Israel from escalating its genocide and appears instead to be an engineered PR move for Biden’s flailing presidential campaign.

Further, the bill “reeks of McCarthyism” due to a provision that would specifically suspend salaries for employees within the government who facilitate an arms shipment pause or cancellation, as Janet Abou-Elias and Lillian Mauldin, leaders of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency and fellows at the Center for International Policy, wrote in an op-ed on the bill.

“This bill is an unprecedented attack on the administration’s legal obligation to conduct arms transfers in line with U.S. and international law,” they wrote. “[T]he bill’s punitive measures use McCarthyist tactics of intimidation and suppression of dissent and threaten administrative officials simply for upholding their commitments to ensure that U.S. law is implemented.”

Weapons deals typically take months, if not over a year, to carry out between approval and shipment. Barring a deal from being reversed or paused could mean that the U.S. would be locked into sending Israel weapons shipments even if domestic assessments or international court rulings found that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza and beyond — which experts and humanitarian groups have said Israel has been doing for months, if not decades.

For instance, a recently released report from the State Department found that Israel has “likely” used U.S. weapons to violate international law in Israel — something that humanitarian groups have found to be true many times now. The State Department, in following with Biden’s full-throated support of Israel, bizarrely concluded that, despite the likely human rights violations, it is still appropriate for the U.S. to send weapons to Israel; this conclusion was shredded by groups saying that it showed the administration is only interested in following humanitarian law when politically convenient.

If the report had made the alternative conclusion, which is backed by a deluge of experts, that the U.S. cannot send weapons to Israel without breaking domestic or international law, it would have compelled the U.S. to halt weapons shipments immediately — or else be complicit in future findings of genocide and other war crimes on the international stage. The Israel Security Assistance Support Act would bar the administration from doing that, in essence forcing the U.S. into complicity.

“The administration’s recent pledge to pause certain transfers to Israel if it carries out a full-scale attack on Gaza is small, and an inadequate step towards reining in the Netanyahu government’s criminal conduct in Gaza,” said Bill Hartung, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft senior research fellow, per Abou-Elias and Mauldin’s op-ed. “But even this small step is too much for the authors of the Israeli Security Support Act [who] apparently believe that Israel should be allowed to kill civilians in Gaza with impunity.”

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