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  /  News   /  Dems rage at Israel after deadly strike on World Central Kitchen convoy

Dems rage at Israel after deadly strike on World Central Kitchen convoy

House Democrats are sounding new alarms over Israel’s military operations in Gaza after a recent strike killed seven workers for an esteemed humanitarian aid group delivering food to famished Palestinians.

The tragedy, and the resulting outcry, has highlighted the strained relations between Israel’s conservative leaders — whose aggressive response to the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 has led to the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians — and liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have grown increasingly vocal in denouncing the tactics of their closest Middle Eastern ally.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the unusual step of issuing a public statement lamenting Monday’s deadly incident, which targeted a convoy of vehicles operated by the World Central Kitchen. He called it “unintended.”

But the rare mea culpa did little to mollify the Democrats, who accused Israel of conducting an indiscriminate campaign that’s done far too little to protect the lives of civilians, journalists and aid workers caught in the ravages of the war against Hamas terrorists.

“The killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers delivering deeply needed food aid in Gaza is an outrage,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former House Speaker, said in a statement. “The government of Israel must allow the flow of life-saving aid to innocent families in Gaza and ensure safe passage for those delivering the aid. Hunger cannot be a weapon of war. We must share our food and our humanity.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) delivered a similar condemnation, characterizing the strike on the aid workers as “shameful” and calling for “an immediate ceasefire” to allow the delivery of more humanitarian help.

“The Israeli government must exhaust all efforts to preserve and protect innocent civilians and humanitarian aid workers caught in the middle of this conflict,” DeLauro said. “Over one million innocent Palestinians in Gaza are facing famine. Food cannot be used as a weapon of war.”

The incident has highlighted long-simmering tensions between liberal Democrats and the conservative Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister.

The Democrats have been quick to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself from regional adversaries, particularly in the wake of the Hamas attacks, which led to the death of roughly 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 250 others. But the Democrats’ tone has shifted sharply in the months since then as the Palestinian death toll has soared above 30,000, Netanyahu has denied journalists free entry into Gaza, and humanitarian aid has been slowed to a trickle, leading to warnings of an imminent famine.

The World Central Kitchen, founded by the celebrity chef José Andrés, had sought to fill part of that void, launching a food program in Gaza earlier in the year. Monday’s strike by Israeli forces led the group to suspend its operations in the region, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and prompting new denouncements from Netanyahu’s Democratic critics.

“The loss of innocent civilians and risk to aid workers throughout this conflict has been devastating – all while PM Netanyahu’s government refuses to facilitate an adequate amount of humanitarian assistance in Gaza,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot. 

Netanyahu, in a video statement Tuesday, said he regretted the incident but also defended the ongoing operations in Gaza.

“This happens in war,” he said. “We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.”

That account was immediately challenged by Andrés, who told Reuters on Wednesday that Israeli forces targeted his group “systematically, car by car.” 

“This was not just a bad luck situation where, ‘Oops, we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,'” Andrés said. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, and one of the top Democratic critics of Netanyahu’s government — echoed that sentiment, writing on Instagram “This attack on seven humanitarian workers of World Central Kitchen was fully intentional.”

“Netanyahu wants Gaza to starve to death and [is] using starvation as a weapon of war,” she added.

The growing Democratic criticism of Israel’s offensive — and Netanyahu’s leadership — will come into sharp focus next week, when the House reconvenes and is set to move on a national security supplemental that will likely include aid for Israel. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the chamber will address foreign aid “right after” the current recess.

For months, a handful of liberals have called for “conditions” on any new military aid sent to Israel in response to the growing number of civilian deaths, further splintering the fractious House Democratic Caucus. Some have said the U.S. should cut off aid to Israel altogether.

In the wake of the attack on the World Central Kitchen workers, progressives are re-upping those positions.

“The latest horror inflicted by Netanyahu’s air strikes on Gaza—killing brave souls at @WCKitchen delivering food to starving Palestinians. Another strike also killed at least 15 Palestinians in Rafah, inclu 5 children. We must stop US military aid used for indiscriminate killing,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote on X.

The House has already voted twice on sending assistance to Israel. One of the attempts was successful, but the bill has since floundered in the Senate as Democrats push to consider a host of foreign aid provisions — including military help for Ukraine and humanitarian assistance for Gaza — in one package.

The White House, for its part, has brushed aside the prospect of placing conditions on aid for Israel. John Kirby, the White House’s top spokesperson on national security issues, told reporters that the U.S. will continue to back Israel as it comes to face a “viable threat” from Hamas.

“We’re still going to make sure that they can defend themselves and that the 7th of October doesn’t happen again,” Kirby said Tuesday.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass,” he added.

The war has put Biden in a political squeeze. He is at once offering the harshest critiques of Israeli leaders to come from the White House in decades, while also providing Netanyahu with the military hardware to continue a military campaign that has decimated Gaza, where women and children constitute more than half the population.

That bind tightened last month after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history — delivered a floor speech that called for new elections in Israel, while offering a searing rebuke of Netanyahu’s leadership.

Biden said Schumer delivered a “good speech,” adding “I think he expressed serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans.” Asked if the president is in favor of new elections in Israel, Kirby told reporters it would be “up to the Israeli people to decide.”

Republicans, by and large, don’t house the same qualms. They’ve defended Israel’s muscular military response throughout the campaign, blaming Hamas militants — who have long used a strategy of embedding with civilian populations — for the spiking casualties. Some have suggested Israel hasn’t been aggressive enough.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), a former pastor, drew controversy last week when he told constituents during a town hall that the U.S. “shouldn’t be spending a dime on humanitarian aid,” and added that Israel’s offensive against Hamas “should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick.” He released a statement Sunday that said “The use of this metaphor, along with the removal of context, distorted my message.”

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), meanwhile, has suggested that all Palestinians in Gaza, even the children, are complicit in Hamas’s attacks.

“These are not innocent Palestinian civilians,” he told human rights protestors in February

While Democratic criticism of Israel is bubbling up in the wake of the World Central Kitchen deaths, it is unlikely at its boiling point. Netanyahu has signaled for weeks that Israeli forces are planning to invade Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than 1 million Palestinians have taken shelter amid the war.

The Biden administration has taken a strong stance against an Israeli invasion of Rafah, urging its Middle Eastern ally to consider alternatives as it eyes its next move in the ongoing war. U.S. and Israeli officials met virtually Monday, and a joint statement released afterward said the Israelis “agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow up discussions between experts.”

The White House contended Wednesday that conversations with the Israelis were ongoing when peppered by questions from reporters about how much influence Biden and the administration has over staving off a full-blown incursion of a city that houses Gaza’s only border with Egypt.

But if Israel plows ahead with an invasion of Rafah, the Democratic criticism will likely skyrocket.

“The Biden administration has a deep concern for Palestinian lives, for civilian lives, and they’ve been very clear that an invasion of Rafah will mean too many civilians dying,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told CNN this week.