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Israel: AOC and other progressive Democrats attempt to block $735m US arms sale

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says the US 'should not be rubber-stamping weapons sales to the Israeli government' given its recent attacks on Gaza
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
'We have a responsibility to protect human rights,' says Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez regarding her latest bill to block a US arms deal to Israel (AFP/File photo)

Progressive House Democrats led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution on Wednesday aimed at blocking the Biden administration's recently announced $735m sale of "precision-guided" bombs to Israel. 

The proposed legislation, which currently has the backing of Representatives Mark Pocan, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Betty McCollum, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, comes amid increased criticism of Israel in Washington.

"The United States should not be rubber-stamping weapons sales to the Israeli government as they deploy our resources to target international media outlets, schools, hospitals, humanitarian missions and civilian sites for bombing," Ocasio-Cortez, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday. 

"We have a responsibility to protect human rights," she continued. 

Human rights groups including IfNotNow, Center for Constitutional Rights, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Churches for Middle East Peace, and Defense for Children International–Palestine have all backed the measure.

'This is just one more example of how the political calculus is shifting'

- Beth Miller, JVP Action

Beth Miller, government affairs manager at JVP Action, told Middle East Eye that the group was "thrilled" over the introduction of "this vital and historic resolution".

"Blocking the transfer of weapons to Israel is a key step toward ending the United States' role in enabling the Israeli military’s violent attacks on Palestinians in Gaza," Miller said. "This is just one more example of how the political calculus is shifting with the growing progressive support on Palestine. None of us can stay silent any longer." 

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez stressed the need for voters to contact their representatives and show individual support as well. 

"It must be said here - amplification is necessary but not sufficient. Traction on this issue is very dependent on your calls to Congress," she said in Wednesday's post. 

Congress backs down?

While Congress has the authority to block weapons sales, the review window for the $735m sale to Israel - of which the Foreign Affairs Committee was notified on 5 May - closes at the end of this week.

Ocasio-Cortez's announcement comes just hours after other House Democrats dropped a measure to challenge the sale. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks had initially planned to send a letter to US President Joe Biden requesting a delay in the sale, but later said he decided against the move after the White House offered to hold an "informational session" about the sale for lawmakers on Wednesday.

The original plan to send a letter was announced on Monday after Democrats agreed during an emergency meeting to seek a delay in the sale in the hopes of pressuring the Israeli government to enter into a ceasefire.

But Meeks later said the point of the letter "was to make sure that there's dialogue" between lawmakers and the White House, which is why he was willing to cancel the request for a delay following Biden's outreach. 

Democrats abandon plan to delay Israel arms sale amid Gaza onslaught
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While the White House has been repeatedly criticised for placating Israel over its offensive on Gaza, a handful of progressive Democrats have been vocally opposed to Israel's alleged violations of international law. 

Bombarding the Gaza Strip for more than a week, Israeli air strikes have killed at least 217 people, including 63 children. According to medical officials, Hamas rockets have killed 12 people in Israel, including two children. 

While the Biden administration's $735m sale of missiles would not be finalised for months, critics in Congress have pointed out that arms deals are one of the few leverage tools the US has to push for a ceasefire. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he "expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire", falling short of explicitly calling for an immediate ceasefire. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic party leaders have been clear in their calls. 

Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long spoken out against Israel's aggressive occupation, said on Sunday that the US should take a "hard look" at the $3.8bn in military aid it provides each year to Israel.

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.