The vote to approve the annual US Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Funding Bill, which amongst other things green-lights Washington’s yearly $3.3 billion unconditional aid to Israel, threw a major surprise this year.
Democrat representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, Lee Bowman and Pramila Jayapal split with fellow Democrats, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush in securing a narrow victory for the ruling party. All are members of a progressive group of lawmakers known as “The Squad”, famed for their highly critical stance on Israel. They have previously called to end the many decades of America’s unconditional aid to the occupation state.
With the bill passing narrowly – 217 for and 212 against – the “Squads” failure to vote as one is seen as a missed opportunity to strike what would have been seen as a major blow to Washington’s unconditional support for Israel, especially as they have been part of a long campaign to align US foreign policy to progressive values and international law.
In April the likes of Omar and Tlaib were amongst several Democrat members of Congress to introduce a bill which conditions US aid to Israel on human rights. The bill specifically demanded that Israel should not be allowed to use American taxpayers’ money to kill, torture, imprison, displace or otherwise harm Palestinian children and families.
Omar also joined fellow members of the progressive camp in seeking to block a $735 million emergency arms sale to Israel approved by the administration of US President Joe Biden days before Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza which killed more than 250 people including women and children. The sale should not be completed “while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” Omar said at the time.
“It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to [Israeli PM] Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians,” Omar insisted explaining that US support for Israel would be seen as Washington giving a “green light” to Israel to continue its aggression.
The annual vote on US Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Funding Bill, is usually a partisan affair with representatives voting with their party. Along with the three Democrats that voted against the bill, two Republican lawmakers also voted to abstain.
Approval of Israel’s $3.3 billion aid is a small part of the bill. The legislation funds US diplomatic, development and foreign policy agencies and programs, including the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the US Mission to the United Nations. It ensures US support for displaced and vulnerable communities, programmes to rebuild public health infrastructure and initiatives to confront climate change as well as advances women’s rights.
Funds have also been allocated to the UN Human Rights Council with the stipulation the world body is taking significant steps to remove Israel from its “permanent agenda”, referring to the Council’s agenda item 7 which discusses “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”.
This bill has also taken aim at the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Describing BDS as an “international effort to stigmatize and isolate Israel”, the bill has demanded an annual report to Congress on the BDS campaign, which would include a list of companies, international organisations and countries that partake in it.