Unconditional aid to Israel is no longer the bipartisan certainty it once was as US senators begin to question Israel's campaign in Gaza and the West Bank

  • The US has given about $130 billion in aid to Israel over the last 75 years.

  • Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US military funding.

  • But as the civilian toll in Gaza grows, the US Congress is rethinking its support.

After Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 200 others, much of the world supported a swift Israeli response.

But that support for Israel's "right to defend itself" has since begun to erode, including in maybe the most surprising place of all: US Congress.

The United States has provided Israel with military and economic aid since its founding 75 years ago. In total, that aid amounts to about $130 billion, according to the State Department. Israel is the world's top cumulative recipient of US military aid. It has helped Israel develop one of the most sophisticated militaries — euphemistically called the Israel Defense Forces — anywhere.

But it seems even the United States might have a breaking point.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly called on Israel to dial back its scorched-earth counterattack in Gaza, which has so far killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them innocent civilians. It has further internally displaced about 1.7 million others. Its bombing campaign has decimated Gaza's schools, mosques, hospitals, and apartment buildings. In the latest horror, according to CNN reporters embedded with the IDF, Israeli soldiers desecrated more than a dozen Palestinian cemeteries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has largely ignored Biden's pleas. Netanyahu even went so far as to reject the possibility of a Palestinian state outright, even as Biden publicly supports a two-state solution. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told Axios earlier this month that "at every juncture, Netanyahu has given Biden the finger."

All of this has gotten to be too much for Hollen and some other US senators who are pushing a measure that would force Israel to adhere to international law to continue receiving American military aid.

An amendment from Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, meanwhile, would prevent Biden from transferring weapons to Israel without congressional support.

And a bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who received flack from his progressive supporters early on for his full-throated support of Israel, would have forced Biden to investigate Israeli human rights abuses in Gaza.

Sanders' bill was rejected this week. And even though so far only a small (but growing) number of mainstream Democrats have signed on to some of these other measures, their very existence is significant and a sign of a political shift.

Support for Israel has forever been one of the few bipartisan certainties in Washington. But the scale of destruction and death in Gaza has led to a groundswell of worldwide sympathy for Palestinians and a decrease in support for Israel, changing political calculations.

In a poll released last week by Morning Consult, the percentage of people viewing Israel positively has now dropped globally by an average of 18.5 percentage points. Positive perceptions of Israel decreased in 42 out of the 43 countries polled, according to Time.

Net favorability for Israel only dropped 2.2 percentage points in the United States, but US support for Israel is taking a toll on global perceptions of the United States. In Egypt, for instance, the United States "went from having a positive favorability of 41.1 to a negative favorability of -14.9 from September to December," Time wrote.

The changing sentiment may be hard for Biden to ignore, especially in an election year. A group of staffers on his reelection campaign have even called for a change in policy.

"We joined this campaign because the values that you — and we — share are ones worth fighting for. Justice, empathy, and our belief in the dignity of human life is the backbone of not only the Democratic Party, but of the country," the staffers wrote in a public letter. "However, your administration's response to Israel's indiscriminate bombing in Gaza has been fundamentally antithetical to those values — and we believe it could cost you the 2024 election."

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