Bernie Sanders votes against Ukraine aid package, citing unconditional funding for Israel

By SARAH MEARHOFF

VTDigger

Published: 12-08-2023 4:23 AM

A major foreign aid package designed to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia and Israel’s fight against Hamas failed on a key procedural vote in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as a united Republican caucus — joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — opposed it. The measure needed 60 votes to advance but won the support of just 49 senators, dealing a major blow to President Joe Biden, who said Wednesday that such a result could “kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield.” Among those voting in favor of the $111 billion bill was Vermont’s junior U.S. senator, Democrat Peter Welch. 

Hours before Wednesday’s vote, Sanders told VTDigger in an interview that it was the measure’s funding for Israel — not Ukraine — that prompted his opposition. Republicans, meanwhile, said they objected to the bill because it insufficiently addressed security concerns along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“My view is that the most effective way to change Israeli military policy is to make it clear to (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, we are not going to give him money with no strings attached,” Sanders said.

To send billions of U.S. dollars to fund Israel’s wartime effort without conditions, Sanders said, would signal American complicity in the targeting of innocent Palestinians. Since the Israel-Hamas War began in October, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 16,000 Palestinians — a majority of them women and children — have been killed in the conflict, Reuters reported Wednesday. Hamas fighters killed more than 1,200 Israeli citizens and soldiers during the group’s surprise attack on Oct. 7.

Sanders was the first in the Senate Democratic caucus, in mid-November, to call for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel. But ahead of this week’s vote, his appeals took on a more urgent tone.  In an open letter to his colleagues Tuesday night, he suggested that, absent guardrails on how Israel was able to spend U.S. aid and continue to wage war against Hamas, he would vote ‘no’ on the $111 billion military package, which included $50 billion in funding for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Sanders told VTDigger that he had not seen such guardrails put in place and made clear he planned to vote ‘no’ on the bill as it stood. Most objectionable to Sanders was roughly $10.1 billion in U.S. aid to Israel, which he dubbed “no-strings-attached money.” The supplemental package before Congress would also have allocated roughly $4 billion for Israel’s defense systems, such as the Iron Dome. Sanders said he did not consider that portion of the money a problem.

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As for the conditions Sanders was seeking, he told VTDigger that he wanted Netanyahu’s government to commit, in writing, to the “absolute right” of Gazans to return to their homes once the conflict has ended, to pledge that there will be no long-term military occupation or blockade of Gaza and, “most importantly,” that the Israeli government will truly work toward a two-state solution, “which will finally guarantee the Palestinian people a home of their own, self-rule and stability.”