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'Precedent-setting': Lawmakers demand Biden probe Israel's use of US arms

Progressive Democrats, led by Jamaal Bowman and Bernie Sanders and backed by more than 70 Jewish groups, send strongest statement against Israel yet
The letter was written by Congressman Jamaal Bowman.
The letter was written by Congressman Jamaal Bowman (AFP/File photo)

Some progressive US lawmakers - led by Jamaal Bowman and Bernie Sanders - are spearheading what activists are calling an unprecedented effort to call on the Biden administration to investigate if Israel is using American weapons to commit human rights violations against Palestinians

In a letter drafted to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden, the two lawmakers urged the administration to ensure that US taxpayer money is not being used to support projects in illegal Israeli settlements.

The letter also calls on the administration to determine whether US arms have been used in violation of several American laws: the Arms Export Control Act, Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, or Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act - also known as the Leahy laws.

If the Biden administration were to find Israel in violation of Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act - meaning Israel was found to be engaging in a "consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights" - it would render all security assistance to the country to a halt.

The effort by the two lawmakers is one of the strongest congressional actions taken yet against Israel in its history.

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“At this inflection point, we ask your administration to undertake a shift in US policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights,” read the letter, first reported by Jewish Currents.

According to Jewish Currents, the letter was written by Bowman while Sanders has been spearheading efforts to garner support from other senators.

It has already been signed by eight other progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Summer Lee; Rashida Tlaib; Cori Bush; Ilhan Omar; Betty McCollum; Andre Carson; and Ayanna Pressley.

The letter was welcomed by Palestinian advocates, who said it could pave the way for a serious examination into the US-Israel relationship, in which for decades Washington has maintained uncritical support for the country.

"Until the US holds Israel accountable for its human rights records, it will continue to act with impunity. The US has huge leverage over Israel, it should start using it. Most Americans would agree with this position (sadly, not our elected officials). Kudos to Senator Sanders for leading the way in Congress on this topic," Nader Hashemi, associate professor of Middle East and Islamic politics at the University of Denver, told Middle East Eye.

Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney and associate professor at Rutgers University, told MEE that "any call to investigate Israel’s use of weapons is precedent-setting".

US support for Israel

In addition to the progressive lawmakers co-sponsoring the letter, it has also received the support of more than 70 progressive Jewish groups and over 20 civil society groups.

"Representative Bowman and Senator Sanders’s letter is an important call to action," Jewish Voice for Peace Action political director, Beth Miller, said in a statement.  

"Over 80 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers just since the beginning of 2023, and the Biden administration’s statements of ‘concern’ mean nothing without action and accountability.

"Leaders in Congress who join this letter are following the demands of a rapidly growing number of Americans - including American Jews - who want to see the Israeli government held accountable for its decades of oppression of Palestinians," Miller added.

The letter from the lawmakers comes at a turbulent time in US-Israel relations, as the new far-right Israeli government recently attempted to introduce major judicial reforms that were met with massive protests in the country.

Biden had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the plans, to which Netanyahu said he would not bow down to "pressures from abroad".

US lawmakers have also previously warned about the proposed judicial changes in Israel. However, Bowman and Sanders' letter also hit out at the Biden administration's "bothsideism" in its approach to the Israelis and Palestinians.

Instead, the letter condemns Israel's actions against Palestinians, including military raids on towns in the occupied West Bank as well as settler attacks that the lawmakers called "shocking violence".

It also stated "deep concerns" the Israeli government is moving towards "illegal de facto and de jure annexation" of the West Bank, rather than limiting its concerns to more narrow instances of home demolitions.

"Only clear steps to change political conditions will pave the way for peace," the letter said.

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