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Israel Gaza Aid
Democrats remain in the dark over how much humanitarian aid will be included for Gaza in Republicans’ foreign aid package. Ohad Zwigenberg/AP

Progressives to Biden: Don’t Forget About Gaza

After Iran’s retaliatory strikes on Israel, Congress is racing to pass military aid, leaving some Democrats worried about what that means for humanitarian aid.

Democrats in Congress are watching and waiting to see if humanitarian aid will still make House Republicans’ new foreign aid package, worried that Iran’s retaliatory strikes against Israel could mute any momentum there was around addressing the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We can’t have humanitarian aid workers being killed anywhere in the Middle East or Gaza,” Rep. Greg Casar said. “The White House needs to continue to press on the humanitarian aid getting into Gaza, and on those aid workers and innocent civilians being protected too.”

Casar said the White House should “not let off the gas” and keep putting pressure on humanitarian aid issues.

Iran’s direct retaliatory strikes on Israel over the weekend flipped the United States’ debate around military aid to Israel on its head. Less than two weeks ago, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. would change its policies toward Israel if Israel did not address the humanitarian crisis it has created in Gaza. Over the weekend, Biden called Netanyahu to “reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel,” according to a statement released after the call.

After months of delays, House Speaker Mike Johnson is pushing forward with several bills on foreign aid, the details of which are still being hashed out. Democrats remain in the dark over how much humanitarian aid will be included for Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians and a famine is underway, according to Samantha Power, a senior USAID administrator.

“Gaza, and what’s going there, has not changed,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “In the sense that we still got to try to help and get humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

The events over the weekend could complicate Biden’s efforts to hold Israel accountable for the humanitarian crisis, with one former State Department official telling The Washington Post that the Iranian strikes risk Biden’s past comments to Netanyahu getting “swept to the side.”

The administration says, however, that the efforts to defend Israel against Iran’s strikes and the negotiations around Gaza remain on separate tracks, as Politico reported Monday.

“Only a good friend [of Israel] can do what we did Saturday night and still be willing to have tough conversations about the prosecution of the operations they’re conducting inside Gaza,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Still, progressives in Congress, who welcomed Biden’s recent call for a temporary cease-fire, remain worried that the threat of a broader regional conflict could complicate negotiations around a deepening humanitarian crisis.

“Obviously, USAID confirmed that there is famine,” Rep. Ilhan Omar told NOTUS. “I hope that the pressure continues to have greater and wider access to humanitarian aid.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman noted frustration with Netanyahu.

“The president, of course, reaffirmed his support for Israel, but [he] also said, you know, ‘Stay cool, stand down, do not retaliate,’” Bowman said of Biden’s response to Iran’s strikes. “I mean, I know the president wants the humanitarian aid to get in and wants an end to the conflict, but Netanyahu is not listening, which is very, very difficult, very challenging for the president.”

For now, Rep. Hank Johnson said he was happy to see Biden only commit to defensive measures in support of Israel.

“The U.S. is trying to walk a fine line with our traditional allies, and that’s in a very dangerous part of the world, while at the same time, that ally is being controlled by an extremist who has ulterior motives for everything that he does.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.