The US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday night to reject a resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders that would have required the State Department to report to Congress any evidence of human rights violations by Israel in its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
The resolution, which invoked a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act that allows Congress to request information on the human rights practices of any country that receives US security assistance, was seen as a potential threat to the $3.8 billion annual aid that the US provides to Israel.
The resolution also reflected the growing concern among some lawmakers and activists over the humanitarian crisis and the civilian casualties in Gaza, where more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced since Israel launched its offensive on October 9, 2023, in response to a surprise attack by Hamas that killed about 1,200 Israelis.
However, the resolution faced strong opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, who argued that it was unfair, biased, and counterproductive to single out Israel for scrutiny and criticism, while ignoring the role and responsibility of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza and that the US considers a terrorist organization.
The Senate voted 72 to 11 to table the resolution, effectively killing it. Only 10 Democrats and one Republican, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted in favor of the resolution. The rest of the Democrats, including some who have been critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, joined the Republicans in voting against it.
The vote was one of the clearest signals yet that despite the widespread public criticism of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, especially among younger and more progressive voters, the US lawmakers in both parties are unwilling to censure Israel or to condition its military aid on its compliance with international law and human rights.
A Modest Proposal
Senator Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats and who ran for president twice, said that his resolution was a “very modest, common-sense proposal” that aimed to ensure that the US was not complicit in any human rights abuses committed by its ally.
He said that the resolution was not anti-Israel, but rather pro-peace and pro-human rights, and that it was consistent with the US values and interests.
He also said that the resolution was necessary because of the “widespread civilian harm” and the “wholesale destruction” caused by Israel’s bombing of Gaza, which he described as “the most intensive bombing campaign of the 21st century”.
He said that the US had a moral obligation and a legal responsibility to monitor and evaluate how its weapons and assistance were used by Israel, and to prevent any misuse or abuse that could violate the US laws or the international humanitarian law.
“A vote against this resolution is a vote to say, ‘I don’t want more information. I want to keep my head in the sand. I don’t want to see what’s going on,'” Sanders said on the Senate floor before the vote.
However, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the resolution was “much more than just requesting information”, and that it was “a gift to Hamas, a gift to Iran, and an indictment against Israel”.
He said that the resolution was based on a false premise that Israel was the aggressor and the violator of human rights in Gaza, while ignoring the fact that Hamas was the instigator and the perpetrator of the violence and the terrorism.
He said that the resolution was also based on a false assumption that the US had no oversight or accountability over its security assistance to Israel, while ignoring the fact that the US had a robust and rigorous process to ensure that its aid was used in accordance with the US laws and policies.
He said that the resolution was also based on a false hope that it would advance the prospects for peace and stability in the region, while ignoring the fact that it would undermine the US credibility and influence as a mediator and a partner.
He said that the resolution was “a dangerous and irresponsible resolution that would harm the US national security interests, the US-Israel relationship, and the prospects for a two-state solution”.
He urged his colleagues to vote against the resolution and to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration to end the conflict and to address the humanitarian needs in Gaza.
The vote on the resolution came amid the continued efforts by the US and other countries to broker a ceasefire and a political solution to the Israel-Hamas conflict, which has entered its third month with no sign of a lasting truce.
The US has repeatedly expressed its support for Israel’s right to self-defense and its opposition to Hamas’ rocket attacks, while also calling for Israel to exercise restraint and to avoid civilian casualties.
The US has also pledged to provide $360 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, including $150 million to the UN agency that assists the refugees in Gaza and the West Bank.
The US has also expressed its commitment to helping the parties resume the negotiations for a two-state solution that would end the occupation and the conflict, and that would ensure the security and the dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians.