newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Blinken, Austin argue for Israel-Ukraine funding in $106 billion spending plan

The U.S. secretaries of state and defense were interrupted frequently by protesters as they testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

About an hour into a three-and-a-half hour hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on U.S. President Joe Biden’s $106 billion national security supplemental request, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee chair, posed a question to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“On the $10 billion in humanitarian assistance, some of my colleagues have raised concern that that could end up in the wrong hands, including Hamas,” she said. “Can you just walk the committee through the reason why you requested it, and how you are confident that if aid is provided in places like Gaza, it will not end up in the hand of terrorists?”

Blinken responded that the “needs are desperate” for the “most basic things: food, water, medicine, fuel” in the Gaza Strip, where “these are literally a matter of life and death.” The secretary said that Israel inspects every truck that comes into Gaza, and Washington contacts intended recipients to make sure it arrives where it is supposed to. 

“Can I promise you and this committee that there’ll be 100% delivery to the designated recipients? No. There will inevitably be some spillage,” said Blinken. “We haven’t seen it to date, but I think we have to anticipate that. But the overwhelming majority of assistance thus far is getting to people who need it, and we need more.”

Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were on the Hill making the case for Biden’s package deal of funding for Ukraine and Israel. They were met often with disruptions from protesters, many of whom had their hands painted red.

At many points on Tuesday, the two officials had difficulty getting single sentences out before someone stood and yelled calling for a ceasefire in Gaza or accusing Israel of genocide. Police removed each person who disrupted the proceedings.

Blinken testified that Russia and Iran are increasingly working together “to challenge our leadership, to hem us in globally, to pose a growing threat to our own security as well as to that of our allies and partners.”

“This is all one fight, and we have to respond in a way that recognizes that,” he added. “If we start to peel off pieces of this package, they’ll see that. They’ll understand that we are playing whack-a-mole while they cooperate increasingly and pose an ever greater threat to our security, as well as that of our allies and partners.”

Austin made the case that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be dealt with one way or another. “If Putin is successful, he will not stop at Ukraine. And if you are a Baltic state, you are thinking, ‘I’m next,’” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that sooner or later, he will challenge NATO and we will find ourselves in a shooting match.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

Blinken also testified that “we have about 400 American citizens and their family members, so it’s roughly 1,000 people, who are stuck in Gaza and want to get out.”

“I’m focused on this intensely. My entire department is as well, both in the region and here,” he said. “The impediment is simple. It’s Hamas. We’ve not yet found a way to get them out through whatever place and by whatever means that Hamas is not blocking, but we are working that with intermediaries.”

There are roughly 5,000 citizens of other countries stuck in Gaza as well, he said.

Earlier in his testimony, Blinken, who has visited Israel professionally for three decades, reflected on the horror of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in response to a question from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), vice chair of the committee. 

“It is extraordinary the extent to which that day has receded in memory for so many,” he said. “I have never seen what we have all seen and what Israel experienced on that day.”

“Young people chased down and gunned down at a dance party,” he said. “Children executed in front of their parents. Parents executed in front of their children. Families, in a final embrace, burned alive. People beheaded. I could go on. You’ve seen the pictures. You’ve seen the video.

“These stories recede so quickly. A family at its breakfast table at one of the kibbutzes. By the way, the profound irony of attacks on kibbutzes—the very people who most ardently believe and want a future of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a future of two states,” said Blinken. 

“A family of four, a young boy and girl, 6 and 8 years old, and their parents around the breakfast table. The father, his eye gouged out in front of his kids. The mother’s breast cut off. The girl’s foot amputated. The boy’s finger was cut off before they were executed,” the secretary added. “And then their executioners sat down and had a meal. That is what this society is dealing with, and no nation could tolerate that,” he continued.

“As President Biden has repeatedly made clear, Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself,” he said. “And to try to take every possible step to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We’ve been equally clear that it is vitally important how Israel does this.”

Hamas’s attack on the Jewish state was “cruel, hateful and repugnant,” Austin said. “As former head of Central Command, it reminded me powerfully of the crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

In both Israel and Ukraine, “democracies are fighting ruthless foes who are out to annihilate them. We will not let Hamas or Putin win,” said Austin. “Today’s battles against aggression and terrorism will define global security for years to come. And only firm American leadership can ensure that tyrants and thugs and terrorists worldwide are not emboldened to commit more aggression and more atrocities,” he continued.

Lloyd Austin
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies at the Senate Committee on Appropriations in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza/Department of Defense.

“That is why we have submitted an urgent supplemental budget request to help fund America’s national security needs and to stand by our partners and to invest in our defense industrial base,” he said. “We are requesting $10.6 billion to help Israel defend itself. The supplemental also requests $44.4 billion to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has put forward a plan to fund Israel independently, without attaching it to Ukraine, and cutting Internal Revenue Service funding to pay for it.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, released a statement on Oct. 30 criticizing House Republicans for “politicizing national security.”

“Threatening to undermine American national security unless House Republicans can help the wealthy and big corporations cheat on their taxes—which would increase the deficit—is the definition of backwards,” she wrote.

“Playing political games that threaten the source of funding for Israel’s self-defense—now and into the future—would set an unacceptable precedent that calls our commitment to one of our closest allies into question,” she added. “We cannot afford to jeopardize that commitment as Israel defends itself from the evil unleashed by Hamas.”

Blinken is slated to visit Israel on Friday for the second time since Hamas launched the war on Oct. 7.

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