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AIPAC raps ‘extremists in Congress’ after Iron Dome funding struck from bill

Pro-Israel lobby accuses progressives of ‘playing politics with Israeli & Palestinian lives,’; Republican Jewish Coalition lashes ‘disgraceful’ move

A long-exposure picture shows Iron Dome anti-missile system fire to intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel, as seen from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, May 16, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)
A long-exposure picture shows Iron Dome anti-missile system fire to intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel, as seen from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, May 16, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)

American Jewish groups on Tuesday condemned the removal of a $1 billion allocation for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a US budget bill.

The move came at the urging of progressives in Congress. The funds are widely expected to be approved, but at a later date. A Congressional aide, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Iron Dome funding would eventually be approved, but instead would be attached to the 2022 Defense Appropriations Bill.

The measure nonetheless drew fierce criticism from some pro-Israel activists and from Republicans.

“Extremists in Congress are playing politics with Israeli & Palestinian lives. Calling to remove funding for a lifesaving defensive system is an affront to our values, risks further conflict, and is counter to the commitment made by Biden & supported by Congressional leadership,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in a statement.

“It’s simple: Iron Dome saves lives. Blocking funding for Iron Dome helps terrorists kill civilians,” it added.

The Republican Jewish Coalition also condemned the move.

“House Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. By cowardly caving to the Israel-hating wing of their party and blocking vital assistance to support our ally Israel, House Democrats have emboldened the likes of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to continue dragging their party even further to the radical Left,” said RJC National Chairman Senator Norm Coleman, calling it “disgraceful.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday night spoke with US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. During the phone call, Lapid was reassured that the move was a “technical delay” related to discussions over the US debt ceiling and that the defense funding would be approved at a later date, the foreign minister said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., speaks at a news conference calling for Senate action on H.R. 8 – Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hoyer underlined his commitment to Israel’s security, emphasizing that it was a view shared by the White House and Democrat House and Senate leaders, while pledging that the Iron Dome funding would soon be allocated, the Foreign Ministry said.

“Minister Lapid thanked Majority Leader Hoyer for his commitment and stressed the need to approve the request as quickly as possible to ensure Israel’s security needs,” his office said.

Israeli officials, speaking to Axios on condition of anonymity, blamed the development on the previous Israeli governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the former prime minister of harming American bipartisan support for Israel.

The clause approving the huge sum to restock Israel’s Iron Dome interceptors — crucial to protecting Israeli towns from rocket attacks and which became somewhat depleted during May’s Gaza war — had caused a hangup in the House of Representatives, as party leaders sought to push forward a bill to raise the debt ceiling.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, September 12, 2021. (Ronen Toppleberg)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must pass the bill by September 30 to keep the government funded through the start of December. She needs all hands on deck to pass the budgetary bill, and could not afford to lose progressive votes because no Republican is willing to support it.

Pelosi may have calculated that adding the Iron Dome funding would be a way to entice Republicans, but this did not bring any onboard.

A Congress member told The Times of Israel that Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Betty McCollum pushed Pelosi to have the Iron Dome funding removed from the spending bill and managed to succeed through mediation by Congresswoman Rosa Delauro.

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Pramila Jayapal also threatened to vote against the bill if the Iron Dome funding was included, a Congressional aid said.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York attends a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman told Bloomberg that the problem was that the Iron Dome provision had been added in at the last minute, and that there had been no proper discussion.

“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.

A Congressional aide from Bowman’s office later clarified to ToI that the his remark was referring to the procedure, not the content of the provision, adding that the quote was taken out of context to suggest he opposed funding for Iron Dome.

Explaining the reasoning behind some in the progressive caucus’s refusal to back the funding, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel, “It was being added to an unrelated bill to keep the government open, with zero strings attached.”

Several Democratic congressmen expressed frustration over the removal of Iron Dome funds.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey said that the system “protects innocent civilians in Israel from terrorist attacks and some of my colleagues have now blocked funding it. We must stand by our historic ally — the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida said that the “Iron Dome is a defensive system used by one of our closest allies to save civilian lives. It needs to be replenished because thousands of rockets were fired by the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza. Consider this my pushing back against this decision.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres tweeted: “A missile defense system (i.e. Iron Dome) defends civilians from missiles. Hence the name. Only in a morally inverted universe would this be considered a “controversy.'”

Congressman Brad Schneider of Illinois vowed to make sure Iron Dome gets funded this year.

“Israel has a new government with the broadest imaginable governing coalition, including Arab parties. Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other again. The Abraham Accords are changing the dynamic of the entire region. All progress starts with and depends on security. And security relies on Iron Dome funding.”

Meanwhile, Republicans lambasted Democrats, with party officials saying that their rivals had succumbed to pressure rooted in antisemitism.

House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted: “Democrats just pulled funding from the Iron Dome — the missile defense system that has saved countless lives in Israel from Hamas’ rocket attacks. While Dems capitulate to the antisemitic influence of their radical members, Republicans will always stand with Israel.”

Sen. Ted Cruz wrote: “Tragic. Dem leadership surrenders to the anti-Semitic Left. They hate Israel so much that Dems are stripping $1 BILLION in funding for Iron Dome — a purely defensive system that protects countless innocent civilians from Hamas rockets. Will any Dems have the courage to denounce?”

Notably, McCarthy and other House Republicans had planned to vote against the bill themselves.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke of plans to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in June, after meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on the matter.

President Joe Biden also pledged to replenish Israel’s stock, bucking calls from some progressive lawmakers to reduce military aid to Israel.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

At the time, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said: “Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives. I would imagine that the administration would say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress.”

Hamas and other Gazan terrorists fired over 4,300 rockets at Israel during May’s flare-up of fighting, according to the IDF, which said the pace of fire was the highest ever.

According to the military, 90% of the missiles fired at populated areas within Israel were downed by Iron Dome.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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