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These 11 senators supported Bernie Sanders's resolution to force a State Department report on Israeli human rights violations in Gaza

Bryan Metzger   

These 11 senators supported Bernie Sanders's resolution to force a State Department report on Israeli human rights violations in Gaza
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders forced a floor vote on a resolution on Israel and Gaza.
  • It would've required the State Department to say whether Israel is violating human rights.

Just 11 senators on Tuesday evening supported advancing a resolution from Sen. Bernie Sanders that would have significantly escalated congressional oversight of US military aid to Israel.

Seventy-two senators, including nearly all Republicans, voted to table a motion to advance the resolution; 17 senators missed the vote.

The vote comes as the death toll in Gaza surpasses 24,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel has waged a brutal military campaign in the densely populated territory since the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7.

The issue continues to split Democrats, with some progressive lawmakers calling for a cease-fire as others, particularly Sanders, push to place restrictions on the billions of dollars in military aid that the US provides to the Jewish state each year.

Under a relatively obscure provision within US law, the resolution would have forced the State Department to provide Congress with a report on human rights violations by Israel.

"We will be voting on a very simple question: do you support asking the State Department whether human rights violations may have occurred using US equipment or assistance in this war?" Sanders said during a floor speech last week. "I hope it is not controversial to ask how US weapons are being used."

But Republicans were nearly unanimous in their opposition — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only one to support the resolution.

"The resolution brought forward by Sen. Sanders is little more than performative left-wing politics," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech earlier on Tuesday. "Israel deserves America's firm support as it roots out terrorist killers and restores its security."

And even most Democrats — including those who say they're concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza — did not vote to advance the resolution.

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that he would vote against the resolution because he doesn't support "risking the suspension of all US assistance or publicly rebuking Israel in a way that could embolden its enemies."

'It allows for meaningful conversations to start'

Under Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, either the House or the Senate can request a State Department report on human rights practices by any country that receives aid from the US.

Tuesday was the first time ever that senators had taken a floor vote on that provision.

If the State Department failed to provide a report within 30 days, then US aid to Israel would be halted — a possibility that Sen. Coons alluded to in his statement opposing the resolution.

However, it would be highly unusual for the State Department to fail to respond to an oversight request from Congress.

"To not provide a report in response to a request of a majority of senators would be a pretty significant break with norms," said John Ramming Chappell, an advocacy and legal fellow at the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Despite the vote's failure, it offers the clearest view yet of where Democrats, in particular, stand on the issue — and human rights advocates also hope it marks the beginning of a broader conversation on not just Israel but congressional oversight of US aid more broadly.

"Having members on the record on this issue for the first time since October 7 is very important," said Chappell. "It allows for meaningful conversations to start, and it's a prerequisite to oversight."

In the coming weeks and months, US military aid to Israel is only likely to face more scrutiny.

Sanders's resolution notes several ways that the US is implicated in the ongoing situation in Gaza, including by providing at least 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells to the country as it wages a war that has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Beyond the existing $3.8 billion in military aid that the US provides each year, Congress is considering an additional $14 billion in aid to Israel as part of a broader national security bill that would also provide aid to more Ukraine.

Democratic senators have introduced two different amendments related to Israel aid, including one from Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia and another from Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, requiring that weapons transfers comply with international law.

"This should be the beginning of a broader human rights oversight process," said Chappell. "It's never been more urgent than it is today to examine US arms transfers to Israel."

Here are the 11 senators who backed Sanders's resolution:

  • Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky

  • Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico

  • Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon

  • Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

  • Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland

  • Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts

  • Democratic Sen. Laphonza Butler of California

  • Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico

  • Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

  • Democratic Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont

  • Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

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