US cuts support for Israel as campus protests rage in Gaza

President Biden is sending billions of dollars to support Israel’s war against Hamas, even as the destruction of Gaza and the deaths of Palestinians fuel growing protests on college campuses.

The $26 billion in new aid to Israel, overwhelmingly approved by Congress and signed by Biden this week, also comes amid a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and an Israeli invasion of the southern city of Rafah. where there are over a million Palestinian civilians. they are refugees

While Democrats have expressed growing concern over how Israel is waging its war on Gaza, they largely rallied to send more weapons when the bill passed the House and Senate last week. .

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said weapons in Israel remain “sacred” in Washington, and that the latest package was helped by a rally around Israel after the bombing. from Iran on April 13 of about 300 missiles and drones toward the nation.

But Elgindy said the aid package highlights a “huge divide” between Democrats in Congress and grassroots voters, including those currently protesting at universities across the country.

“Eventually, that gap will have to be narrowed unless the party wants to remain permanently at odds with their voters, which I can’t imagine they want to do,” he said. “Public opinion has changed very, very dramatically, especially among the left and among people who identify as Democrats.”

“The general trends in this case are that Democrats are moving more and more toward aid conditionality,” he added, “although this particular vote doesn’t reflect that.”

The debate comes as U.S. college campuses are hit by pro-Palestinian students demonstrating against the war in Gaza and calling for universities to divest from Israeli companies or defense companies that supply Israel with weapons.

But Julie Rayman, managing director of policy and political affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said the protests are “emotionally driven” and problematic because some have chanted to free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” which can be interpreted as a call . to eliminate Israel as a state.

He said there is a disconnect between what some of these students are chanting and what lawmakers in Congress are calling for, such as alleviating the suffering in Gaza.

“What we’re seeing now [on] College campuses are, frankly, and I think indisputably, they’re not productive,” he said. “I’m not necessarily concerned that these protests are massive signals of how society is viewing this” war.

Rayman sees support for Israel as “overwhelmingly” strong in Washington, a consensus she says must be maintained.

“There are all kinds of issues that need to be considered” about the US commitment to Israel and how it prioritizes humanitarian aid, he said. “But none of this can come at the expense of ensuring the defense of our most strategic ally.”

The $26 billion package is almost entirely for defensive and offensive weapons for Israel, with some funds for US forces in the Middle East.

Critics of prevailing U.S. policy toward Israel have urged Biden to use Israel’s desire for U.S. weapons as leverage to reduce suffering in Gaza, where more than 34,000 Palestinians have died in nearly seven months of war

The war is in retaliation for Hamas’ invasion of southern Israel on October 7, when militant fighters killed more than 1,100 people and kidnapped about 250 more. About 100 hostages are believed to be still alive in Gaza, and negotiations are ongoing to free them. in exchange for a ceasefire have so far failed.

While Biden has pushed for the release of hostages and a temporary cease-fire agreement and expressed frustration over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, he has continued to send more unconditional weapons to Israel, which is vowing to fight until Hamas is destroyed This target has placed a target on Rafah, a last holdout of Hamas. The United States has said it will not support an invasion of the city unless there is a safe civilian evacuation plan, but Israel has vowed to press ahead regardless of outside pressure.

“My commitment to Israel, I want to make clear again, is firm,” Biden said after signing the $95 billion national security supplement Wednesday, which also includes aid for Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific.

“Israel’s security is critical. I will always make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Iran and the terrorists it supports.”

Biden also stressed how the bill contains $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, where the U.S. military is dropping food and water and nearing the goal of building a port on the coast of the territory for more help. This effort comes while Israel faces accusations that it continues to restrict aid trucks through land crossings.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Biden maintains a disconnect between what he says and how he is acting, with the president expressing concern about Israel’s actions in Gaza but still giving the green light to new weapons

“The picture is pretty clear: What Biden is doing is increasing his rhetorical criticism of Israel, and when it comes to practical policy, the whole movement is geared toward continuing to support what Biden himself criticizes,” he said.

Supporters of Israel say the approval of US aid by the White House and Congress signals relatively consistent support for ensuring the Israeli people are safe from Iran, Hamas and other regional threats.

Yaakov Lappin, a military and strategic affairs analyst at the MirYam Institute, an Israeli-led forum, said the aid package was a “critical development for Israel’s security,” even if the House Blanca is sometimes sounding a more critical note.

“The White House has very strict conditions for its support,” he said, but “congressional support for Israel remains very strong overall, and we saw that just now with the votes.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats willing to oppose aid to Israel remain a small minority, even as concern over the humanitarian crisis grows. In the House, which voted on separate aid packages for each nation, the final tally was 366-58, with only 37 Democrats against.

“Our votes against [Israel aid] are votes against supplying more offensive weapons that could lead to more civilian killings in Rafah and elsewhere,” said a joint statement from 19 Democrats who voted against the package.

“When faced with the question of whether to provide offensive assistance to further this conflict, we believe there is a moral imperative to find another path.”

A growing number of Democrats have called for arms conditioning on Israel after an Israeli strike killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen charity, which Israel blamed on a mistake but still sparked a strong backlash in Washington.

Some of those critical Democratic lawmakers voted for the package last weekend.

Among them was Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who said she still wants to restrict offensive weapons to Israel but supported the aid package because it contained humanitarian aid for Gaza and other places affected by the conflict .

“While I am deeply concerned about increased military assistance to Israel, I could not in good conscience vote against this life-saving humanitarian aid when millions of people around the world are suffering,” Jacobs said in a statement afterward of the vote.

In the Senate, only a small group of Democrats are actively calling for conditionality on aid to Israel, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who tried and failed to pass an amendment to the bill that would have restricted military assistance offensive

“That amendment couldn’t even get a vote,” Sanders he said to the ground this week. “We can’t even discuss the matter.”

However, university students are forcing the issue, with growing protest camps and pressure on university leadership.

Republican House leaders were mocked during a press conference this week at Columbia University, where the wave of demonstrations began. Some universities have cracked down on protesters and arrested dozens of them.

Biden has also condemned the student protesters as “anti-Semitic.”

“This has been a massive disaster for Biden,” said Parsi of the Quincy Institute, referring to the college campus protests. “This is a key voting pool.”

Parsi added that the protests could bring more pressure on Democrats to act on Gaza, as they bring a “new level of energy” and a “whole new level of skepticism” about US policy toward Israel.

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