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Top Democrat announces $500m. in anti-missile funding for Israel

Support for defense program from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand shows party’s mainstream committed to backing Israeli military despite progressives’ calls for cuts

Defense Ministry and Rafael defense contractor test an upgraded version of the Iron Dome missile defense system in January 2020. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Ministry and Rafael defense contractor test an upgraded version of the Iron Dome missile defense system in January 2020. (Defense Ministry)

JTA — For Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, the announcement was routine, noting the inclusion of $500 million for Israel’s missile defense in a key defense funding bill.

But it was significant in its timing, demonstrating that the party’s mainstream remains committed to funding for Israel’s military at a time that some of its progressive members are calling for cuts.

“The US-Israeli Cooperative Missile Defense Program is critical for the safety and protection of Israel, our close friend and ally,” Gillibrand said in an email Tuesday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’m proud to fight for this vital program, which will promote stability and help keep countless citizens of Israel safe from missile attacks,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand is the top Democrat on the Armed Service’s Committee personnel subcommittee.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 4, 2020. (AP/Alex Brandon)

This is the third year that Gillibrand, along with the senior New York senator, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, led advocacy for the missile defense funding, which goes to the Iron Dome, Arrow and David’s Sling programs. The money is written into the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass bill.

This week, four progressive Democrats in the US House of Representatives are circulating a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding that the United States cut assistance to Israel if it goes ahead with a planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The letter has accrued about 12 signers, including Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Vermont senator who twice ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has asked its activists to call their lawmakers and speak out against the letter.

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