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Bernie Sanders drops effort to block US arms sale to Israel – report

Senator has previously accused Israeli government of fomenting “racist nationalism”

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 26 May 2021 16:36 BST
Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders (AFP via Getty)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has dropped an attempt to block a $735m weapons sale to Israel authorised by the US government, according to a report.

During the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and Palestine that saw more than 250 Palestinians killed by Israeli air strikes, Mr Sanders – a frequent critic of the Israeli government – wrote that “the provision of US military aid must not enable human rights abuses”, and introduced legislation that would block the enormous arms deal.

“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a Congressional debate,” he said in a press release last week. “I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”

The resolution as written specifically focuses on “ defense articles, defense services, and technical data to support weapons integration, flight test, and hardware delivery of Joint Direct Attack Munition variants and Small Diameter Bomb Increment I variants for end use by the Ministry of Defense for Israel”.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Sanders has now backed away from the plan. The paper cited an aide saying that the State Department has already finalised the sale, and that it is unclear if the senator’s legislation could block it if passed.

Mr Sanders is one of many progressive Democrats who reacted to the recent conflict with anger and frustration at the US’s continued support for the Israeli government, and in particular its military – a position that Joe Biden himself reiterated in public as hostilities flared up earlier in May. The US also blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement condemning the Israeli military’s air strikes on Gaza, which not only killed scores of people but left thousands of others homeless or temporarily displaced.

Among the Democrats taking issue with Mr Biden’s position was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who criticised the president’s “blanket statements” on the conflict, tweeting that they “dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations.

“By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions – which are condemnable – & refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians, Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence. This is not neutral language. It takes a side – the side of occupation.”

Asked about the recent arms sale, a State Department spokesperson said that the department is legally restricted from commenting on details of individual export licensing cases.

Mr Sanders’s office has been asked for comment.

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