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Analysis

In the end, House Iron Dome fracas only showed Israel support not going anywhere

Serious alarm was voiced after Squad managed to delay funds’ approval; but a hurriedly arranged 420-9 vote to okay the aid 2 days later proved bipartisan backing is near-unanimous

Jacob Magid

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

Final tally of the House vote on Iron Dome funding bill, September 23, 2021. (Screen capture/C-SPAN)
Final tally of the House vote on Iron Dome funding bill, September 23, 2021. (Screen capture/C-SPAN)

Tuesday’s decision by Democratic House leadership to excise new funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a stopgap emergency government funding bill, following pressure from a small group of progressives, sparked alarm in pro-Israel circles.

Republicans sought to draw sweeping conclusions from the legislative kerfuffle, holding up the decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to leave the $1 billion in aid out of the bill, as proof that the Democratic party had officially been co-opted by the Israel critics in the so-called Squad of progressive lawmakers.

Had moderate Democrats, long insisting that such voices in the party represented a loud, yet ineffectual minority on issues relating to Israel, been proven wrong? Here, after all, was that small group affecting actual legislation, potentially causing measurable damage to Israel’s ability to defend itself — at least in the short term.

Pro-Israel organizations issued a plethora of condemnations on the matter, flooding journalists’ inboxes with a sea of outrage.

In Jerusalem too there was concern, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to inquire on the matter, and subsequently issuing a statement tying Pelosi’s decision to years of neglect of ties with Democrats by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But before anyone could finish eulogizing Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party — and perhaps as a response to the uproar that had arisen — a swath of moderate Democrats galvanized and convinced Hoyer to schedule a standalone vote on the Iron Dome funding only two days later.

In this July 15, 2019 file photo, from left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,)

Then came the vote itself: Four-hundred and twenty lawmakers — half Republicans and half Democrats — voted in favor of granting Israel the additional $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome.

By then it was clear that the victory won by the small group of progressives had been short-lived, perhaps even pyrrhic — as the wall-to-wall reaction to it only served to show the depth and breadth of support for Israel’s defense in Congress.

The massive funding allocation will come on top of $73 million approved for the missile defense system’s procurement earlier this year, and won’t count toward the $3.8 billion that Israel receives in defense aid from the US annually. The $1 billion price tag is equal to 60 percent of the total that the US has spent on the system since 2011.

Just nine congress members voted against the bill — eight of them Democrats and one Republican — amounting to less than two percent of the entire House of Representatives.

The small number didn’t even include all of the Squad. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spearheaded the effort to have the Iron Dome funding removed from the government spending bill, chose to abstain, along with one other progressive colleague, Rep. Hank Johnson.

In a lengthy letter to supporters on Friday, she attacked her party’s leadership for jamming the vote through, while insisting that Israel did not deserve or need additional no-questions-asked funding for Iron Dome — and yet, she still voted to abstain, apparently fearful of further crossing pro-Israel constituents and lobbyists.

The bill even won support from some frequent Israel critics.

Rep. Betty McCollum, who has introduced legislation aimed at restricting aid to Israel and has regularly called out the Jewish state over settlement building and treatment of the Palestinians, voted in the same column as Reps. Ted Deutch and Ted Cruz.

And at a press conference introducing legislation to keep the two-state solution alive — which included provisions referring to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as territories illegally occupied by Israel — Reps. Andy Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Sara Jacobs and Peter Welch each proudly announced their plans to vote in favor of the Iron Dome funding later that day.

As for the aforementioned Two State Solution Act, the progressive group Levin leads can only dream of receiving the kind of wall-to-wall backing for that legislation enjoyed by those moderate Democrats who pushed for the standalone Iron Dome funding bill.

Rep. Andy Levin speaks at a press conference introducing his “Two-State Solution Act” on Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2021. He is flanked by, from left: Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now; Rep. Alan Lowenthal; Rep. Sara Jacobs; Rep. Peter Welch; and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)

In the end, traditional pro-Israel stances still reign supreme on Capitol Hill. Those looking to criticize the Israeli government or advocate for Palestinian sovereignty undoubtedly have more of a voice than they once did, but that doesn’t translate into legislative power: Even after another Gaza war further polarized the American debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fewer than 2% of House representatives cast a vote against robust support for the Jewish state.

In her letter to constituents Friday, Ocasio-Cortez questioned why the House leadership had rushed the Iron Dome funding bill through “without any of the usually-necessary committee debate, markup, or regular order.”

Procedural complaints notwithstanding, the answer to her query is, in essence, simple: In Washington, as polarized as it might be, support for Israel’s security remains an issue that’s not up for discussion.

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