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Tammy Baldwin should join Bernie Sanders in questioning military aid to Israel

Gaza mourning
Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital in Deir al Balah, Monday, Jan. 29. AP Photo/Adel Hana

In the face of the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, which has left more than 25,000 people dead, displaced almost 2 million and destroyed much of the region’s civilian infrastructure, the outcry against the wrongheaded policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grows ever louder.

Last week, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, responding to South Africa’s allegation that Israel is committing genocide, adopted provisional measures that require Netanyahu’s government to take steps to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, to prevent and punish incitement to commit genocide against Palestinians, and to assure basic services and humanitarian assistance can get to Gazans.

“The World Court’s landmark decision puts Israel and its allies on notice that immediate action is needed to prevent genocide and further atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza,” explains Balkees Jarrah, the associate international justice director for Human Rights Watch. “Lives hang in the balance, and governments need to urgently use their leverage to ensure that the order is enforced. The scale and gravity of civilian suffering in Gaza driven by Israeli war crimes demands nothing less.”

The Israeli government rejects the ICJ’s determination. So, too, does the Biden administration.

But the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem observes:

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“The provisions of international humanitarian law require that every one of the bombed targets (in Gaza) be defined as a military objective that makes an ‘effective contribution’ to Hamas’ actions, and that its destruction offers Israel a ‘definite military advantage.’ Even if the thousands of targets Israel has struck meet these criteria, the law requires that the resulting harm to civilian life and property be proportionate. Yet there is no way to reconcile Israel’s strikes with these rules. Any claim to the contrary is not only legally flawed but morally unacceptable.”

B’Tselem, which monitors human rights issues in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, is mindful of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israeli kibbutzim and a music festival that left more than 1,200 Israelis dead and 250 others kidnapped. The group recognizes that Israel has a right to self-defense.

“However,” it explains, “the right to self-defense does not confer the right to employ unlimited, indiscriminate violence, nor does it allow parties to ignore the provisions of international humanitarian law and commit war crimes. Israel certainly cannot rely on this right to justify a policy that does away with any protection of civilians and assumes there are no bystanders in Gaza.”

The United States has similar responsibilities. “We must understand,” explains U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, “that Israel’s war against the Palestinian people has been significantly waged with U.S. bombs, artillery shells, and other forms of weaponry. And the results have been catastrophic.”

As Congress has been working to pass a supplemental funding bill that includes as much as $14 billion in unconditional military aid for the Netanyahu government, Sanders says, “Enough is enough. Congress must reject that funding. The taxpayers of the United States must no longer be complicit in destroying the lives of innocent men, women, and children in Gaza.”

That’s a principled position. But, so far, it’s been a lonely one.

In mid-January, Sanders made a baseline request of the Senate. In the face of Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, he asked his colleagues: “Do you support asking the State Department whether human rights violations may have occurred using U.S. equipment or assistance in this war?”

Only 10 senators — Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, and Democrats Laphonza Butler of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mazie Hirano of Hawaii, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Peter Welch of Vermont — sided with Sanders.

Many constituents of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, were disappointed that she did not join them. We share their frustration.

Baldwin offered a thoughtful assessment of the crisis in late December, when she said, “The Netanyahu government’s indiscriminate bombing and military approach has led to unacceptable bloodshed in Gaza and does not appear to be moving us closer to our ultimate goals of removing Hamas from power and achieving a lasting peace in the region through a two-state solution.”

At the time, Baldwin called for the immediate resumption of a humanitarian cease-fire — agreed to by Israel and Hamas — in order to ensure the unconditional release of all hostages and full humanitarian access to Gaza. She also called for “adherence to international humanitarian law by all parties and the protection of all civilians and civilian sites.”

How does Baldwin reconcile her stated position with her failure to vote for the resolution that was proposed by Sanders? To us, it makes no sense to recognize that Israel has engaged in “indiscriminate bombing” that “has led to unacceptable bloodshed in Gaza,” and then refuse to support an effort to determine the extent to which Israel is relying on U.S. equipment in this war.

Further, we see no justification for approving additional U.S. military aid for Israel until a determination has been made regarding the role that U.S. weapons may be playing in increasing the death toll in Gaza.

We hold out little hope that U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, will ever do the right thing for the right reason. But we respect Baldwin enough to hope that she will give serious consideration to the arguments being made by Sanders and a growing number of her constituents.


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