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How Vermont's Congressional delegation has shifted its views on U.S. aid to Israel

Three people from three photographs sitting side by side.
Sophie Stephens
From right to left images courtesy of: Associated Press, Vermont Public, Associated Press
Since the latest war between Israel and Hamas broke out on Oct. 7, the stances of Vermont's congressional delegation on Israel's military strategy have shifted, in some cases, significantly.

Since the latest war between Israel and Hamas broke out in early October, the stances of Vermont's congressional delegation on Israel's military strategy have shifted, in some cases, significantly.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and took several hundred hostages when the group attacked Israel on Oct. 7, that's according to the Israeli prime minister's office.

Shortly afterward, on Oct. 10, both Sen. Peter Welch and Rep. Becca Balint strongly condemned the attacks and pledged their full support for Israel.

"The United States must stand by Israel - it must condemn the attack and it must help Israel make certain that it's people are secure," Welch said.

"We are committed to making sure that Israel has what it needs in order to defend itself," Balint said.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Oct. 25, Sen. Bernie Sanders shared a sentiment closely aligned with a statement his office released on Oct. 11. He strongly condemned the Hamas attacks, but also urged the Israeli government to respond with restraint.

"The people of Israel have gone through a horrific and traumatic shock," he said. "It is understandable that they are furious and want to strike back forcefully. Revenge however is not a useful policy."

In the following weeks, lawmakers' positions started to change as Israel conducted a widespread bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, and public pressure has mounted to condemn Israel's military strategy.

Israel has killed at least 14,000 Palestinians since the latest war began, according to the the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

On Tuesday, Welch changed course and called for an indefinite cease-fire, saying he's encouraged by a temporary cease-fire that began last week.

If the fighting does resume, the junior senator is calling on Israel to rethink its military strategy in order to reduce civilian casualties.

"I'm very, very concerned about the Netanyahu government's war plan here that has resulted in an extraordinary loss of civilian life," Welch told Vermont Public. "It is harder for Israel to go after Hamas specifically — that's who the enemy is — it's not the Palestinian people."

Congress is scheduled to consider a $14 billion aid package for Israel.

Balint, who called for a cease fire last month, says it's critical for lawmakers in D.C. to thoroughly debate specifically how additional aid for Israel can be used.

"Bombing civilian targets to try to get at Hamas is not a successful strategy and so absolutely I think the pressure will be applied and has been applied for Israel to think much more carefully and strategically about what needs to happen to disarm Hamas," she said.

Meanwhile, speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday night, Sanders called for conditions to be attached to any aid package because of Israel's "indiscriminate" bombing attacks on Gaza.

"Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people," Sanders said. "Israel cannot bomb an entire neighborhood just to take out one Hamas lieutenant that is simply not acceptable and not something the United States should be complicit with."

Senate Democratic leaders say they plan to hold a vote on the Israeli aid bill next week.

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Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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