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138 House Dems urge 'decisive action' from Biden

Ocasio-Cortez drafts resolution to block $735m sale of missiles to Israel

Measure almost certain not to pass, given strong support for Jewish state in Congress, but it’ll spark further debate on Israel, which growing number of Dems now criticizing

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via JTA)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via JTA)

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has drafted a resolution aimed at blocking the $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel that was approved by the Biden administration.

The joint resolution of disapproval (JRD) is almost certain not to pass, given strong support for Israel in both the House and Senate, but the legislation will also spark further debate on the issue of Israel in Congress, where a growing number of Democrats have begun taking a more critical stance against the longtime ally.

“The United States should not be rubber-stamping weapons sales to the Israeli government as they deploy our resources to target international media outlets, schools, hospitals, humanitarian missions and civilian sites for bombing,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “We have a responsibility to protect human rights.”

The resolution is being led by Ocasio-Cortez alongside Reps. Mark Pocan and Rashida Tlaib.

The JRD is a step further than a letter requesting a delay in the weapons sale that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks told members of the panel earlier this week that he was considering. Ultimately, Meeks decided against the move after receiving assurances from the White House that it would keep Congress in the loop about the sale.

President Joe Biden speaks with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, right, as he arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Times of Israel obtained a copy of a draft of the resolution, which would bar the US from issuing a license for the sale of “Joint Direct Attack Munition variants and Small Diameter Bomb Increment I variants for end use by the Ministry of Defense for Israel.”

Unlike the recent purchase of F-35s by the UAE, which was a foreign military sale, the precision-guided missiles for Israel would be transferred as part of a direct commercial sale, where there is far less opportunity for American oversight.

The Biden administration notified Congress of the sale on May 5 — five days before the Gaza violence commenced. The House has 15 days to pass a JRD before the administration is allowed to move forward with the commercial license. That 15-day window ends tomorrow, further complicating efforts to block the sale. However, if a Senate version of the JRD were introduced in the next day, it would be required to come to a vote in the upper house, even if after May 20.

Congress has never successfully blocked an arms deal through use of the JRD.

Support for ceasefire among majority of Democrats

Also on Wednesday, Republican Senator Rick Scott and Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders blocked each other’s resolutions on the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza.

Scott’s resolution reinforced US support for Israel to defend itself by “whatever means necessary” amid its conflict with Hamas.

Sanders’ resolution called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for supporting diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They both sought to pass their respective resolutions by unanimous consent, and because each blocked the others’, neither passed.

Separately, 138 House Democrats penned a letter to US President Joe Biden imploring him to take decisive action to end the fighting between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

“Too many people have already died and more will unnecessarily perish if America does not act with the immediacy this violence demands,” the members of Congress wrote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt (AP/Susan Walsh, Pool)

“We strenuously urge your administration, at the highest levels, to boldly lead and take decisive action to end the violence,” they added.

The letter was organized by Reps. David Price and Gerald Connolly and co-led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Peter Welch, Mark Pocan, Alan Lowenthal, John Yarmuth and Lloyd Doggett.

Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Wednesday phone call that he “expects significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” according to comments from a White House that still appeared to fall short of an outright demand for an immediate ceasefire.

In an earlier call between the two leaders on Monday, Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire,” according to the White House readout. A source familiar with the conversation said the American leader did not demand a timeframe from Israel to end the fighting in that call. However, the president did warn Netanyahu that he would not be able to fend off pressure for much longer from within his Democratic Party and in the international community for an immediate ceasefire.

The call for a ceasefire was echoed by a majority of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, which signed a letter to Biden on Sunday calling for an end to the violence.

“To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” 28 senators said in a joint statement led by freshman Sen. Jon Ossoff from Georgia.

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