Middle East

The Iron Dome and Progressive Democrats

Progressives in the Democratic Party in the United States are turning out to be a real thorn in Israel’s side.

In the past few years, this pro-Palestinian group has lambasted Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and denounced Israel as an apartheid state. Of late, they have escalated their campaign by trying to deny military aid to Israel, the United States’ chief ally in the Middle East.

Case in point: several days ago, progressives in the House of Representatives rebelled when $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defence system was included in an emergency spending bill. As a result, the Democratic leadership was forced to remove this provision and schedule a separate vote to approve the Iron Dome funding.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rosa DeLauro, the chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, were instrumental in ensuring passage of this bill.

Rosa DeLauro

Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, argued that the incident was simply a technical delay. But some observers believe it was more serious, highlighting the erosion in the once wall-to-wall bipartisan congressional support of Israel, which receives $3.8 billion in U.S. aid per year and has received about $150 billion in assistance since the early 1960s.

On September 23, the House of Representatives voted to approve the new funding by an overwhelming margin of 420-9. “This bill demonstrates that Congress’ commitment to our friend and ally Israel is bipartisan and ironclad,” said DeLauro. “It fulfills our moral imperative to protect the lives of innocent civilians and helps build the foundations of peace.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for final approval.

The funds will be used to replenish the Iron Dome, which was used extensively during the eleven-day cross-border war in the Gaza Strip in May. Iron Dome, which the United States helped develop, intercepted and destroyed about 90 percent of the 4,000 rockets launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad indiscriminately against civilian targets in Israel.

Since the deployment of the Iron Dome a decade ago, Israel has intercepted thousands of Palestinian rockets from Gaza, saving lives and property and preventing a further escalation of violence.

Eight Democrats — Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Marie Newman, Jesus Garcia, Raul Grivalva — and one Republican, Rep. Tom Massie, who opposes foreign aid in principle, voted against the bill.

Interestingly enough, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez — a leading progressive who has been very critical of Israeli policies and who recently drafted a resolution to block the sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel — did not join her colleagues in voting against the bill. For reasons which have yet to emerge, she abstained.

Jamaal Bowman, a New York member of the progressive camp, claimed that the problem was that the Iron Dome provision was tacked on to the bill at the very last minute, giving lawmakers precious little time to discuss the issue. “It’s not about Israel, it’s about, once again, leadership, throwing something on our table last minute and expecting us to decide in five minutes what to do with it, that’s the bigger problem,” Bowman said.

The last minute inclusion of the Iron Dome funding provision in the spending bill may have irked and alienated progressive Democrats like Bowman. But one suspects this was merely a pretext to harm Israel by undermining its ability to defend itself against aggression.

Two of the most vocal anti-Israel voices among the progressives, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, voted against Pelosi’s bill on false grounds.

Tlaib, a Palestinian who rejects Israel’s existence and calls for a one-state solution, said she could not support “an effort to enable war crimes and human rights abuses and violence.”

Ilhan Omar

Omar, an ethnic Somali Muslim, argued that Congress should not extend funding to Israel “without addressing the underlying issue” of its occupation of the West Bank. “This is not about one country,” she said in a reference to Israel. “If human rights are to guide our foreign policy, we need to act like it everywhere. Otherwise, our words ring hollow.”

Tlaib and Omar clearly missed the point.

While Israel’s occupation is morally wrong, as well as politically counter-productive and unsustainable, the bill that enables Israel to replenish the Iron Dome is not about human rights per se, but about war crimes perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

As a recent Human Rights Watch report noted, Hamas and its partners in Gaza committed war crimes by firing missiles directly into Israeli towns and cities. These projectiles killed 13 civilians, including two foreign farm workers.

It is important to understand that these rockets were intended to kill, maim and terrorize Israeli civilians. They were not aimed at strictly military targets.

It should also be borne in mind that many more Israelis would have died had the Iron Dome failed to intercept enemy rockets, forcing Israel to launch a bloody ground invasion of Gaza, from which the Israeli army withdrew unilaterally in 2005.

If Israel had invaded Gaza, Palestinian casualties would have skyrocketed, prompting Tlaib and Omar to vent indignation and outrage.

Lapid, a centrist, has blamed the entire Iron Dome incident on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. As he put it, “For years, the previous government ignored Congress and the Democratic Party, causing serious damage to U.S.-Israel relations. Today, we are rebuilding a relationship with Congress based on trust.”

Nachman Shai

Nachman Shai, the minister of Diaspora affairs, has also drawn a connection between the Iron Dome incident and Netanyahu’s policies. Netanyahu, a Republican ideologically, made it clear he  preferred Donald Trump and the Republican Party over the Democrats, thereby damaging the spirit of congressional bipartisanship with respect to Israel, says Shai.

This was certainly true. Netanyahu cultivated Republicans at the expense of courting Democrats. But it should be noted that Democratic progressives, like Tlaib and Omar, were anti-Israel from the moment they entered politics.