A more than $14 billion aid bill that provides military support for Israel, but not Ukraine, is now headed to the U.S. Senate. The GOP-led House passed the measure yesterday along party lines, despite the objection of Democrats. And that includes Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, who spoke with GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel yesterday ahead of this vote. Lynch just completed a visit to Ukraine and Poland and began by describing his trip. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rep. Stephen Lynch: We were able to transit from Poland into Kyiv with the assistance of the 10th Mountain Brigade. There are actually a few South Boston and a few Massachusetts residents on deployment, so it was like old home week there. The situation in Ukraine is perilous, I think, still, as thousands and thousands now of Ukrainian citizens have died in this conflict.
So the meeting with Zelenskyy went very, very well. We were interested in hearing what he thought his most critical needs were. He and his defense minister were very much aware of the seeming duality of aid to Ukraine and aid to Israel in the same bill. While they they certainly understood and appreciated and supported U.S. aid to Israel to resist the terrorist attacks, they were cautioning us not to forget that there's an active ground war in Europe and they're relying on the help of their neighbors to get through this.
Jeremy Siegel: Well, let's talk a little bit about that duality. Israel now ramping up strikes in Gaza after last month's surprise attack. What role do you believe the U.S. should be playing in this conflict when it comes to aid and assistance in Israel?
Lynch: I think, you know, our traditional role has been one of support. I think also we can use the leverage of our financial support to make sure that it is used in an appropriate manner. We certainly support Israel's right to defend itself. But also, as always, in any conflict, we want to minimize the likelihood of civilian death. And I honestly do believe that the Israelis are trying their best to minimize [that], at the same time going after Hamas and those who attacked Israel on Oct. 7. I think they're also trying to minimize civilian deaths because they realize the consequences.
I've been into Gaza quite a few times myself. It's a very densely packed area — very, very young population, lots of kids. And so I think our position should be, we support Israel financially in a way that allows them protect themselves. But also we put pressure on to make sure that we allow certainly women and children to go into Egypt [and] provide humanitarian aid so when they get to Egypt, they receive the food and the health care and the services that they need.
But again, you know, understanding that Israel has its right to defend itself, especially after this brutal, brutal attack.
Siegel: Well, how do you navigate that and how do you push Israel on that? Because as you mentioned, the U.S. has a long history of supporting Israel, is currently negotiating what sort of funding it will be providing. What do you say to your constituents who are watching this conflict, who have seen strikes hit buildings housing Palestinian refugees and are saying, "Why is my government funding this?"
Lynch: Well, we're funding the operation to defeat Hamas, right? These are terrorists. Just as we were attacked on September 11, we didn't declare a cease fire and allow those people to get away with that attack on the United States. I think Israel's in a similar position where they're trying to discourage and eliminate that threat from Gaza. There's a framework there for providing humanitarian relief, the Oslo Accords. And there's a lot of aid that goes into both Gaza and also the West Bank, even though the current Republican proposal includes only military aid for Israel and does not provide any humanitarian aid for Gaza, which is a mistake, and I will not be able to support that. And also in that same bill — and they've combined these, either wisely or unwisely — there's got to be aid for Ukraine as well. We have to meet both those obligations. And we can.
Siegel: There is, of course, bipartisan support for supporting both Ukraine and Israel. But you mentioned the difficulty of negotiating that with Republicans who are pushing for something that purely provides military assistance. You're saying you want to see humanitarian assistance in that as well. But when you're talking about, you know, making sure that there aren't civilian casualties, is there any way that the U.S. could go further in providing assistance in, you know, calling for some sort of guarantee that the funding the U.S. provides will only be used in certain ways where civilians won't be hurt, where refugees won't be hurt?
Lynch: Well, it's a military operation. And it's a densely settled urban area. And Hamas is deliberately using innocent civilians as human shields. So that is difficult. I also think that there's a real possibility that the Israeli forces could take heavy, heavy casualties if they try to operate in a way that guarantees that no civilian will be put in the line of fire. I don't think that's within their control. That's within Hamas' control. And they're using it for that purpose.
Siegel: Before I let you go, congressman, do you believe there should be a cease fire?
Lynch: Eventually, yes. Yeah, eventually. But, you know, I think, just as we pursued vigorously those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on us, there's a requirement, I think, and an obligation on the part of the Israeli government to protect its citizens. And if you're going to let these people go, Hamas, these terrorists who butchered so many people brutally, that is not a step that would be within that obligation to protect your citizens. If you're just going to let people who butcher your people go, that's not in harmony with your overall obligation.
Siegel: Congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, thank you so much for your time.
Lynch: Thank you, Jeremy. Good to speak with you.