The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a nearly $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel, a move that was seen as a rebuke of President Biden’s more cautious approach to the country. The bill, which passed by a vote of 222-212, was largely supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
The Biden administration has warned that the GOP-backed bill would set a dangerous precedent by requiring emergency funds to come from cuts elsewhere. The administration has also criticized the bill for failing to include humanitarian assistance for Gaza, where the Israeli military has been conducting airstrikes in recent weeks.
In a statement, Biden said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk. “I will veto any attempt to undermine our commitment to Israel’s security,” he said.
The bill, which Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas sponsored, also includes provisions that would limit the president’s ability to suspend or reduce aid to Israel and require congressional approval for any arms sales to the Middle East.
The bill passed by a vote of 216 to 208, with no Democrats supporting it and four Republicans voting against it. The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority and can block it with a filibuster. However, even if it did, President Biden has vowed to veto it, calling it a “dangerous and irresponsible” approach that would undermine U.S. national security and regional stability.
Biden has been trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel opposes, and has also expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The GOP bill, on the other hand, would endorse Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem and impose sanctions on Iran and its allies.
The bill’s passage comes amid rising tensions between Israel and its neighbors, especially after the recent war with Hamas in Gaza that killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians. The U.S. has provided $3.8 billion in annual military aid to Israel since 2016, under a memorandum of understanding signed by former President Obama. The GOP bill would increase that amount by $3.3 billion over 10 years, and also provide additional funds for missile defense systems and precision-guided munitions.
The bill’s supporters argue that Israel needs more assistance to defend itself from threats in the region, and that the U.S. should stand by its closest ally in the Middle East. They also accuse Biden of being weak on Iran and endangering Israel’s security.
The bill’s opponents, however, say that it would undermine U.S. diplomacy and make peace more elusive. They also question the wisdom of giving more weapons to a country that has been accused of human rights violations and war crimes by international organizations and activists.
One of the most vocal critics of the bill was Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. She said in a statement: “This bill is nothing more than a giveaway to the Israeli military industrial complex, at the expense of Palestinian rights and U.S. interests. It is outrageous that in the midst of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and climate emergency, some members of Congress are pushing for billions more in weapons to fuel violence and oppression in the Middle East.”
She also quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”
Israel has resisted these calls, arguing that it needs to continue its airstrikes to prevent Hamas from launching rockets into Israeli territory.