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House Democrats to ask Biden to pause 'appalling' arms sale to Israel

House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Gregory Meeks says he was caught unaware of $735m weapons deal, as Ilhan Omar slams proposed sale
Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza on 18 May (Reuters)

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee will request the Biden administration delay a $735m sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel pending review, US media reported.

The Hill reported on Tuesday that Democrats held an emergency meeting on the proposed sale late on Monday after media reports first surfaced on the sale, which includes Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits that transform bombs into precision-guided missiles.

Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Democrats during the virtual meeting that he was caught unaware of the planned sale and would send a letter to the White House requesting a delay, the Hill reported.

Congress was officially notified of the sale on 5 May, just days before Israel began launching air strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip.

The pressure on the Biden administration comes amid growing calls from leading and progressive Democrats to reconsider how US aid to Israel is distributed.

Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign assistance, and in 2016, Washington agreed to provide $38bn in military aid to Israel between 2019 to 2028.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who sits on the committee, said it would be "appalling" for the administration to go through with the sale "without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians".

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"The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing," Omar said. 

"It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735m in precision-guided weaponry to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians." 

The White House has been repeatedly criticised for placating Israel over its offensive on Gaza, with US President Joe Biden being slammed for not openly opposing Israel's planned forced evictions of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Since Israel began launching air strikes on Gaza on 10 May, at least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women, have been killed - with around 1,500 Palestinians wounded.

According to medical officials, 12 people in Israel have died, including two children, while at least 300 have been wounded.

The strikes on Gaza have also caused power cuts and obliterated a number of buildings and roads, impeding access to vital locations for ambulances and emergency services. 

Senator Bernie Sanders, one of Biden's challengers in last year's Democratic presidential nomination, has called the devastation "unconscionable", and said on Sunday that the US should take a "hard look" at the $3.8bn in military aid it provides each year to Israel.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent progressive Democrat, hinted that Israel was an "apartheid" state.

"The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to self-defence," Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor on Thursday.

"But do Palestinians have a right to survive? Do we believe that? And if so, we have a responsibility to that."

Even Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a reliably pro-Israel voice, said on Saturday that he was "deeply troubled" by Israeli strikes on Gaza that killed civilians and destroyed media offices, calling for "a full accounting".