Bernie Sanders May Push Vote on Conditioning Aid to Israel in Coming Weeks

The senator’s comments came ahead of a Democratic caucus discussion about placing conditions on $14 billion in military aid to Israel.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Chairman U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives for a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on unions on November 14, 2023 in Washington, DC. Union leader testified before the Committee at a hearing titled, "Standing Up Against Corporate Greed: How Unions are Improving the Lives of Working Families." (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Bernie Sanders arrives for a hearing on unions on Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., may bring a vote on conditioning aid to Israel in the coming weeks, he told The Intercept.

Sanders spoke to The Intercept minutes before a Senate Democratic caucus luncheon, where the question of placing conditions on $14 billion in aid to Israel is on the agenda. “Yes,” he replied gruffly when asked if there was a chance he would push for a floor vote. 

Sanders’s comment comes as the death toll in Gaza is around 15,000 — with some estimating it to have exceeded 20,000 — and amid a temporary pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. The Vermont senator has thus far refrained from calling for a permanent ceasefire, a key demand of activist groups that has broad support among the American public and has gained traction among members of Congress. He has instead only gone as far as calling for humanitarian pauses in fighting. 

The Department of Defense has already sent a variety of heavy weapons and ammunition to Israel to support its continuing war in Gaza, according to a leaked list obtained by Bloomberg. Congress is now seeking to approve another $14 billion, requested by President Joe Biden, to provide advanced weapons systems, support for artillery and ammunition production, and more projectiles for Israel’s Iron Dome system. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has also called for restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel. 

“We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with US law and international law,” Murphy said on Sunday. “I think it’s very consistent with the ways in which we have dispensed aid, especially during wartime, to allies, for us to talk about making sure that the aid we give Ukraine or the aid we give Israel is used in accordance with human rights laws.”

One way the U.S. could place conditions on the aid is through what is known as the Leahy law, named after Sanders’s longtime colleague and former senator from Vermont Patrick Leahy. The Leahy law prohibits U.S. aid to foreign military units that commit human rights violations

While the idea faces opposition within the Democratic caucus, and the U.S. has never before placed conditions on its billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, Biden seems to be considering the proposition. He told reporters the day after Thanksgiving — at the start of the temporary truce — that conditioning aid is a “worthwhile thought,” adding that “I don’t think, if I started off with that, we’d [have] ever gotten to where we are today.”

When pressed on whether he might use his position on the Senate Budget Committee to push for reining in the Israeli military’s onslaught, Sanders said, “there are ways we can approach it and that is what we are exploring right now.” 

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