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Senate Rejects Sanders Push to Ensure US Isn’t Funding War Crimes in Gaza

Israel’s assault on Gaza “is a tragedy in which we, the United States of America, are complicit,” Sanders said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2023.

In one of its first major votes on military funding to Israel since that country’s current assault on Gaza began, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a resolution brought by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to probe whether or not the U.S. is providing funding for Israel to commit war crimes in its siege.

The Senate voted 72 to 11 to dismiss the resolution on Tuesday evening, with senators from both sides of the aisle voting to table the measure despite the overwhelming evidence from human rights groups and U.S. agency reports that Israel is violating international human rights law in its ethnic cleansing and genocidal assault.

The senators who voted to advance the resolution were mostly Democrats, with one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky), voting against tabling it. Senators Laphonza Butler (California), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Peter Welch (Vermont) also voted with Sanders for the resolution. Though Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) is one of the only three senators who have publicly backed a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, the others being Merkley and Welch, he voted to table Sanders’s resolution.

If the resolution passed, it would have required the State Department to investigate whether or not Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza. U.S. law prohibits American military funding from being used to violate international human rights laws, and the resolution could have spurred a halt or pause in the funding and assistance that the U.S. provides to Israel.

Ahead of the vote, groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Oxfam America had emphasized that Sanders’s resolution was the bare minimum that the Senate could do in the face of Israel’s brutality in Gaza. U.S. officials have already rejected other attempts to uncover whether or not Israel is committing war crimes, including condemning South Africa’s case in the International Court of Justice over whether Israel is committing genocide.

The overwhelming rejection of the resolution is a show of what many anti-war and pro-Palestinian advocates have long said: members of Congress and other D.C. decisionmakers are only selectively concerned with international human rights laws and are happy to cover up or obfuscate war crimes if they advance the goals of the U.S. empire.

“We will soon be voting on a very simple question: Do we support asking the State Department for information on whether human rights violations may have occurred using U.S. assistance in Israel’s military campaign? That’s it. That’s what this resolution is about. It is not controversial and should be passed in large numbers,” said Sanders in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote.

Sanders went on to say that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and the horrifying conditions that it is imposing with its blockade clearly show the need for the U.S. to look into Israel’s human rights violations, pointing out that multiple aid groups have said that the crisis in Gaza is the worst they’ve ever seen.

“The reason as to why this resolution must be passed is that, today, right now as we speak, hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza, innocent children, are starving right before our eyes. We cannot turn away. We must act,” he said. “This is a tragedy in which we, the United States of America, are complicit.”

Other senators who voted for the resolution cited Israel’s slaughter as reasons for their vote. Though the Senate nearly unanimously sides with Israel in its occupation of Palestine, having passed a resolution early into the assault backing Israel in a 97 to 0 vote, the horrific conditions have spurred some senators to renege very slightly on their full-throated support. Some government watchdogs have noted that it is notable that there were 11 votes to advance the resolution at all.

“For decades, I have steadfastly stood by Israel, and I will always stand with the State of Israel and its people and support its right to exist,” said Markey in a statement after the vote. “But the Netanyahu government cannot continue to conduct the war in Gaza the way it has until now.”

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