Rep. doesn't explain why she abstained rather than opposing

‘Yes, I wept’: AOC assails ‘unjust, reckless process’ on bill to fund Iron Dome

Progressive lawmaker says Jerusalem does not deserve more money on top of what it already receives, pans House leadership for creating ‘tinderbox of vitriol, disingenuous framing’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

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)
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)

US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday blasted her own party’s leadership for rushing through Iron Dome funding legislation this week, and argued that Israel should not be sent an additional $1 billion in funding on top of what it already receives.

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation to provide Israel with $1 billion for its missile defense system, days after the funding was removed from a government spending bill amid pressure from a small group of progressive lawmakers.

The second-term congresswoman penned a lengthy letter to constituents in which she sought to explain her decision to abstain on the Iron Dome funding bill. Ocasio-Cortez, who was instrumental in having the $1 billion in funding scrapped from the separate government funding legislation, initially voted against the bill, but chose to change to an abstention at the last minute.

“First, let me begin with why I believe this bill should have been opposed: contrary to popular narrative, this bill was not for all US funding of the Iron Dome, and opposing it would not defund US financing of the system in any way, shape, or form,” she wrote.

“Since 2011, the US has provided $1.7 billion for the Iron Dome and is already financially committed to continuing these funds through 2028. This bill adds an additional $1 billion in funding in one year to this system alone — for context, that is an amount in one year that approaches all the funding to this system we have provided over the last decade — and this is in addition to $3 billion authorized earlier this year in other forms of military funding to the Israeli government,” Ocasio-Cortez explained.

“I believe strongly that Congress should take greater scrutiny with all military funding across the world. I also believe that, for far too long, the US has handed unconditional aid to the Israeli government while doing nothing to address or raise the persistent human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, and that this imbalance of power must be centered in any honest conversation about Israel and Palestine,” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez went on to blast the “deeply unjust” process by which the funding was advanced by Democratic leadership in the House, without a debate, which is standard for such legislation.

“The reckless decision by House leadership to rush this controversial vote within a matter of hours and without true consideration created a tinderbox of vitriol, disingenuous framing, deeply racist accusations and depictions, and lack of substantive discussion on this matter,” the congresswoman added. She appeared to refer to colleagues who had branded fellow Squad member Rashida Tlaib an antisemite after she voiced her opposition to the bill and called Israel an “apartheid state.”

Ocasio-Cortez was visibly shaken after casting her vote, leading to reports that she had been crying as well.

“Yes, I wept. I wept at the complete lack of care for the human beings that are impacted by these decisions, I wept at an institution choosing a path of maximum volatility and minimum consideration for its own political convenience,” the congresswoman wrote.

“And I wept at the complete lack of regard I often feel our party has to its most vulnerable and endangered members and communities — because the death threats and dangerous vitriol we’d inevitably receive by rushing such a sensitive, charged, and under-considered vote weren’t worth delaying it for even a few hours to help us do the work necessary to open a conversation of understanding,” she said,

However, given her apparent full-throttled opposition to the bill, Ocasio-Cortez did not explain why she only voted to abstain, rather than oppose the legislation.

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, cast “no” votes against HR 5323.

Only Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson voted to abstain.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas tweeted, “AOC’s ‘present’ may be the most concrete sign so far of her Senate ambitions,” suggesting that a “no” vote on Iron Dome funding would’ve exposed her to too much criticism in pro-Israel circles critical for her Senate run.

There have also been reports of death threats that the congresswoman has received after Israel-related votes, which may have been on her mind while casting her decision on Thursday.

The second-term New York congresswoman had largely avoided the Israeli issue through her early days on Capitol Hill, apparently recognizing its polarizing nature. Last September though, she agreed to attend an event a memorial event for former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin hosted by the left-wing Americans for Peace Now group.

Pressure from progressive groups was immediate after the publication of Ocasio-Cortez’s attendance, and she chose to withdraw several days later, with her office saying that an event memorializing a former IDF general was not the appropriate backdrop for the congresswoman.

Ocasio-Cortez has since become more vocal on Israel, and has also led efforts to block a $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons to Jerusalem.

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