US Senator Bernie Sanders will support legislation to provide Israel with another $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system after receiving assurances from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that Congress will bankroll additional humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip, the progressive lawmaker’s office confirmed to The Times of Israel on Thursday.
Sanders’s support removes what could have been an obstacle capable of slowing the passing of the Iron Dome funding bill. It also shows that the progressive caucus’s opposition to the legislation does not extend to the Senate, where even the more pro-Palestinian lawmakers have avoided coming out against defense aid for Israel as was the case in the House.
Meanwhile though, it is a member of the Republican party that is holding up the Iron Dome funding, with Sen. Rand Paul again blocking attempts by Democrats on Thursday to fast-track the bill to US President Joe Biden’s desk.
The bill is still expected to pass overwhelmingly, but it is not clear when it will be brought before the floor for a vote, with the Senate’s schedule limited in the coming weeks as it seeks to raise the debt ceiling.
The agreement between Sanders and Schumer, first published by Jewish Currents, was reached after the progressive senator sent a letter to the majority leader late last month in which he wrote, “for us to provide an additional billion dollars in aid to Israel while ignoring the suffering of people in Gaza would be unconscionable and irresponsible.”
Sanders clarified, in the letter obtained by ToI, that he supports the missile defense system, which saves civilian lives. However, he noted that the $1 billion in funding is on top of the $3.8 billion that Israel already receives from the US as part of the security aid package signed during the Obama administration. Israel requested the additional sum after the May war against Hamas and other Gaza terror groups, which saw the missile system used on overdrive as roughly 4,500 rockets were fired by Palestinian terror groups at Israeli towns.
Sanders urged Schumer to advance the same amount of funding — $1 billion for Gaza, pointing out that Israeli air raids during the previous round of fighting left over 1,000 homes destroyed. Dozens of schools along with 17 hospitals and clinics were also severely damaged.
“Sewage systems and water pipes were destroyed, sending wastewater into Gaza’s street and cutting off fresh water and sewer service to many of its people. 72,000 people were displaced,” Sanders wrote. “All of this destruction comes on top of the longstanding economic and humanitarian crises facing Gaza, where 70 percent of young people are unemployed and have little hope for the future.”
It was unclear whether the commitment received from Schumer’s office will amount to another $1 billion in funding for Gaza, and Schumer’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the matter.
The majority leader told Jewish Currents in a statement that he looked forward “to working with Senator Sanders, other colleagues, and the administration to get needed humanitarian assistance, consistent with existing statutory requirements, to the Palestinian people.”