WASHINGTON — In Ukraine, a pregnant rape victim begged her Russian attackers to spare her. After they did not, she miscarried a few days later. In Israel, a survivor of a massacre by Hamas said women had been raped next to the bodies of their dead friends.
In Ukraine, a hostage had to pick up the brains and “a piece of the back side of the skull” of a slain cellmate with their bare hands. In Israel, a music festival attendee smeared herself with blood from a nearby body to appear dead after she saw a man killed next to her.
The world was shocked by the image of a wounded woman — who later died — being carried out of a Ukrainian maternity hospital bombed by Russia in 2022. In Israel, the discovery of slain babies has similarly horrified the world.
As accounts of atrocities have emerged from the Hamas-Israel conflict that began last week, they’ve had an eerie echo of another conflict: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The similarities mean little to many Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have adopted a stance clearly prioritizing one cause above the other: Israel should be provided with help as soon as possible, while additional aid for Ukraine can wait, ideally until Democrats give some ground in the ongoing debate over securing the U.S. southern border.
The debate raises inherently uncomfortable questions over whether atrocities can even be compared, who deserves more help based on what conditions, and whether the passage of time matters.
“They’re two totally different situations,” insisted U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Greene has been an outspoken opponent of giving more aid to Ukraine on top of the approximately $77 billion the U.S. has sent since the start of the war.
That willingness to distinguish between what U.S. President Joe Biden has called “critical partners” internationally could soon become very important. After the prospects for a $20 billion aid package to Ukraine dimmed because of opposition from House Republicans, the White House reportedly began to mull tying assistance for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan together with border security money in an effort to ease passage of the aid for Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted the similarities between his country’s conflict and the one in the Middle East in a social media post Monday. “Israeli journalists who have been here in Ukraine, in Bucha, are now saying that they saw the same evil where Russia came,” he said, referring to the Kyiv suburb where Russians are accused of brutally killing 1,100 civilians in two months of occupation in 2022.
“They’re two totally different situations.”
– U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)
“The same evil. And the only difference is that there is a terrorist organization that attacked Israel, and here is a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
While the Russians have been accused of being systematic in their violence to demoralize Ukrainians, violence in Israel has recalled ISIS, the Islamic State group known for using vicious tactics in its failed attempt to set up a modern-day caliphate.
Asked if it was inconsistent to treat the Israeli and Ukrainian situations differently, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday it was not. The former House speaker said there was less urgency to help Ukraine because aid was still available to it.
“There’s $9 billion the administration can draw down, so there’s no change in that,” McCarthy said.
“You have 45 days to not only deal with that but also deal with America,” he said, referring to what he said is effectively an open southern border.
A U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, disputed McCarthy’s $9 billion estimate, saying the more relevant figure was only $1.6 billion in resources available to the administration to replenish U.S. stocks of unused weaponry it has donated to Ukraine.
McCarthy is by no means the only Republican willing to use Ukraine as a bargaining chip. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has proposed a bigger Ukraine aid package to ensure no new aid votes until after next year’s presidential election. But he, too, tied the aid to border security enhancements.
And Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Monday that a package consisting of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan along with border security could gain Republican support.
But he also said he could vote for a package of just Ukraine and Israel aid. “I would, but I can’t speak for the rest of the Republican conference,” he said.
Greene represents the other end of the spectrum on aid to Ukraine. She said the U.S. is both completely funding the Ukrainian government and paying for a proxy war with Russia.
Israel, she said, is different.
“They control their own government. They fund their own government. And they defend their own country,” she stated. “They haven’t asked America to come over and fight for them. They haven’t asked (the U.S.) to provide all the weapons. They’re totally different situations.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, totaling about $158 billion — a number not adjusted for inflation. For 2023, about $3.9 billion was appropriated to help Israel buy military equipment, including air defense weaponry, and for some nondefense purposes.
The decades of U.S. funding have given Israel a clear military advantage over Hamas, which the State Department considers a terrorist group. In just a week since the attacks in southern Israel that killed more than 1,000 Israelis, the Israel Defense Forces said it had dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza.
Ukraine has no such clear military advantage over Russia.
The U.S. has also stationed an aircraft carrier group near Israel to deter other armed forces from getting involved in the country’s conflict.
Democrats would likely not object to additional funding for border security — the White House requested more than $2 billion for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies in August — and vulnerable Democrats would likely be eager to cast votes for a harder posture on the border. But it’s possible that GOP hard-liners would insist on immigration policy changes unacceptable to Democrats, like a return to the Donald Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy.
Regardless of the strength of either the Israeli or Ukrainian causes, the politics of the two are massively different for Republicans. Israel has long established close ties with evangelical Christians in the United States, a major voting bloc in GOP primaries. By comparison, a Russophilic conservative media — led by now-former Fox News host Tucker Carlson — has relentlessly worked to drive opposition to Ukraine aid.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) accused Republicans of being “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s mouthpiece here in Congress.”
“It was a particularly vicious and barbaric war that the Russians were launching, and there’s no excuse for these guys on the Republican side not to know about it,” he said. “And yet they don’t seem to give a shit.”
“It was a particularly vicious and barbaric war that the Russians were launching, and there’s no excuse for these guys on the Republican side not to know about it. And yet they don’t seem to give a shit.”
– U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)
McGovern said he did not like to compare the two conflicts “because they’re both horrific in their own way.” But, he said, the bottom line is that “there’s moral clarity on both issues as to why the United States should be, in the case of Israel, on the side of Israel and, in the case of Ukraine, on the side of the Ukrainians against the Russians.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who was given a “B” on so-called report cards from the group Republicans for Ukraine that assessed lawmakers’ support for Kyiv, said the situation may appear more clear-cut in Israel in a way it wasn’t with Ukraine, due to the slow-moving nature of the Ukrainian conflict before 2022’s full-scale invasion.
“I’m not happy that we seem to be running out of the willingness to help people fight for their own country,” Issa said. But helping Israel could also help Ukraine on the Hill.
“I think the ambiguity is going to be mentioned here and everywhere in the weeks and months to come, with total support for Israel and a ‘oh, by the way, how can we not be as supportive for people fighting for their country too?’” Issa said.