US Senator Bernie Sanders has sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to withdraw his support for an additional $10bn in military aid to Israel, as a small number of lawmakers in Congress mobilize against funding Israel’s war in Gaza that has killed more than 18,000 Palestinians and has left two million displaced.
In the letter, dated Monday, Sanders said that the US should not be “rubber-stamping weapons sales” to Israel while it is engaged in a “brutal and indiscriminate” bombing campaign in Gaza, which has also destroyed civilian infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, and media offices.
Sanders, who is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a leading progressive voice in the Democratic Party, said that the US should instead use its leverage to pressure Israel to end the violence and to respect the human rights and dignity of the Palestinians.
He also called for a “fundamental shift” in US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for a renewed commitment to a two-state solution, which envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The United States must be a leader in promoting peace and justice in the Middle East, not in fueling conflict and violence,” Sanders wrote.
Sanders’ letter comes as Biden faces growing criticism from his own party and the international community over his handling of the crisis, which erupted on May 10 after Israel’s actions in Jerusalem sparked a barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza.
Biden, who has publicly backed Israel’s right to self-defense, has also privately urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a ceasefire and to de-escalate the situation.
However, Netanyahu has shown no signs of backing down, telling Biden that he was “determined to continue this operation until its objective is achieved: to restore quiet and security to the citizens of Israel”.
Biden has also faced resistance from some members of Congress, who have blocked or delayed his administration’s proposed sale of $735m worth of precision-guided missiles to Israel, citing concerns over the potential use of the weapons in Gaza.
The sale, which was notified to Congress on May 5, before the outbreak of the war, is part of a larger package of $10bn in military aid to Israel over 10 years, which was agreed by former President Donald Trump in 2016.
The aid package, which is the largest of its kind in US history, includes $5bn for missile defense systems, such as the Iron Dome, which has intercepted most of the rockets fired from Gaza.
However, some lawmakers, mostly from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, have argued that the US should not be providing unconditional support and weapons to Israel, especially when it is violating international law and human rights in its treatment of the Palestinians.
They have also questioned the strategic value and the moral implications of the aid package, which they say enables Israel’s occupation, settlement, and blockade of Palestinian territories, and undermines the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Among the lawmakers who have joined Sanders in opposing the aid package are Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Mark Pocan, who have introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to block the sale of the missiles to Israel.
They have also been joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said that the US should not be “expediting weapons sales” to Israel while it is bombing Gaza.
The resolution, which is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, is seen as a symbolic gesture to express dissent and to pressure Biden to reconsider his stance on the issue.
However, the resolution also reflects a broader shift in public opinion and political discourse in the US, where support for Israel is no longer a bipartisan consensus, and where criticism of Israel’s policies and actions is no longer taboo.
According to a recent poll by Gallup, 53% of Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel, while 78% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians.
The poll also found that 60% of Americans under the age of 35 support imposing sanctions or more serious actions on Israel for its settlements in the West Bank, compared to 40% of those over the age of 55.
The poll suggests that the US is witnessing a generational and ideological divide over its relationship with Israel, which could have implications for the future of US foreign policy and the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.