Biden’s Israel funding request gets scrutiny, hits early hurdle

US rights group says president’s request to Congress for Israel aid suggests US may ‘bankroll’ displacement of Palestinians.

A Palestinian woman walks past building rubble
A Palestinian woman walks past the rubble of a fallen building in the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 31 [Said Khatib/AFP]

Washington, DC – A rights group in the United States has raised alarm over President Joe Biden’s request for $14bn in funding for Israel, noting that the push contains language that suggests efforts to remove Palestinians from Gaza.

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) warned on Monday that Biden’s funding request could “bankroll” the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

“These resources would support displaced and conflict-affected civilians, including Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank” and “address potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighboring countries”, a White House letter about the funding request explains.

“This would include food and nonfood items, healthcare, emergency shelter support, water and sanitation assistance, and emergency protection. This would also include potential critical humanitarian infrastructure costs needed for the refugee population to provide access to basic, life-sustaining support.”

The letter, addressed to Congress and sent on October 20, goes on to say that the Israel-Hamas war “could well result in displacement across border and higher regional humanitarian needs, and funding may be used to meet evolving programming requirements outside of Gaza”.

Concerns about Palestinian displacement were amplified after +972 Magazine reported it had received a leaked Israeli government document outlining a plan to transfer Gaza’s entire population abroad. The magazine added that a source in Israel’s Intelligence Ministry confirmed the document’s authenticity.

“The Biden administration isn’t just giving a green light for ethnic cleansing — it’s bankrolling it,” Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Gaslighting Americans into facilitating long-held Israeli plans to depopulate Gaza under the cover of ‘humanitarian aid’ is a cruel and grotesque hoax.”

Gaza is home to an estimated 2.3 million people, the majority of whom are refugees or descendants of people who were displaced from historic Palestine during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

The White House did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment, but the Biden administration signalled this week that it does not endorse plans to remove Palestinians from their homes.

On Sunday, Biden discussed with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “the importance of protecting civilian lives, respect for international humanitarian law, and ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other nation”.

A day later, White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said the US is still working on “safe passage” abroad for Gaza residents seeking to escape the ongoing Israeli bombardment, but he acknowledged that not many “want to flee forever and go somewhere else in the world”.

“So, at some point, you’ve got to start thinking through what that’s going to look like,” Kirby said. “And I just don’t know that we’ve had any solid answers to that right now.”

Egypt has rejected moving Gaza’s population into its territory.

Domestically, Biden’s funding request hit an early snag in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, despite its overwhelming support for Israel.

Republican lawmakers, under newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, introduced a bill that separates aid for Israel from assistance for Ukraine. Biden’s proposal had combined the funds for a total request of $105bn.

Moreover, the Republican bill would offset the Israel aid by slashing funding from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US tax agency — and a longstanding target for conservatives.

Several Democrats have voiced opposition to the Republican proposal, suggesting that the two parties would need to compromise to push forward any legislation for aid money. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, whose approval is needed to pass laws.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected the Republican bill on Tuesday, accusing right-wing lawmakers of seeking to help rich people avoid paying taxes by siphoning money away from the IRS.

“It’s insulting that the hard right is openly trying to exploit the crisis in Israel to try and reward the ultra-rich,” Schumer, a staunch Israel supporter, said in a statement.

“The new Speaker knows perfectly well that if you want to help Israel, you can’t propose legislation that is full of poison pills. And this kind of unnecessarily partisan legislation sends the wrong message to our allies and adversaries around the world.”

But far-right Congresswoman Lauren Beobert welcomed the bill.

“We can’t spend unlimited money. We’re $33 trillion in debt. The money has to come somewhere and it should come from the IRS which is being weaponized against the public,” she wrote on the social media platform X.

“Now, Democrats can decide if they prefer helping our allies in Israel or targeting Americans with the IRS.”

Progressive lawmakers have long called for conditions to be placed on aid to Israel — to discourage abuses against Palestinians — but those voices remain a small minority in Congress.

Israel, which is accused of imposing apartheid on Palestinians by major rights groups like Amnesty International, receives approximately $3.8bn in US military assistance annually.

Source: Al Jazeera