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Floor debate heats up after Tlaib calls Israel 'apartheid'

US House overwhelmingly advances Iron Dome funding initially scotched by ‘Squad’

420 vote in favor of $1b for Israeli missile defense system; 8 progressive Dems and 1 Republican oppose it, 2 Dems vote ‘present’; legislation moves on to Senate; PM lauds approval

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

Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system is launched to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, above the southern city of Ashkelon, on May 17, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)
Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system is launched to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, above the southern city of Ashkelon, on May 17, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

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

The Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act passed 420-9 with two Democrats, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hank Johnson, effectively abstaining by voting “present.”

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, voted against HR 5323.

A number of Republicans changed their votes after initially voting against the bill. Ocasio-Cortez, who together with Tlaib, Omar, Pressley and Bush form the so-called Squad, had initially voted against the legislation, but changed her vote to “present” at the last minute. She was reported to have been visibly shaken up after casting her final decision.

The bill will next need the Senate’s approval in order to pass, but the Upper House has yet to schedule a date for the vote.

If passed, the measure will earmark $1 billion in emergency aid for Israel to restock interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome anti-missile system, after they were depleted during May’s war with Hamas-led fighters in Gaza. The defense system has successfully intercepted thousands of rockets launched out of Gaza at Israeli towns over the last decade.

US Rep. Ilhan Omar, flanked by US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, left, and US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speaks at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Israeli leaders lauded the vote in a flurry of congratulatory statements issued moments after the vote.

“Thank you to the members of the US House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and for the commitment to its security,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

“Whoever tries to challenge this support received an unequivocal answer today,” Bennett continued. “The people of Israel thank the American people and their representatives for their steadfast friendship.”

Ahead of the vote, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke to his US counterpart Lloyd Austin and thanked the administration “for the processes to equip Israel with the means necessary to defend itself and its citizens,” his office said in a statement.

During the floor debate proceeding Thursday’s vote, several dozen lawmakers from both parties rose to passionately argue in favor of approving the legislation. Republicans blamed Democrats for capitulating to their progressive colleagues to remove the Iron Dome aid from a stopgap emergency government funding bill on Tuesday.

Democrats shot back that the only reason they were forced to drop the $1 billion provision was because not a single Republican was willing to support the spending bill in the first place.

The Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act was introduced on Thursday by House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro following pressure from a group of Democratic lawmakers intent on demonstrating their party’s full-throttled support for Israel after the aid was pulled from the spending bill.

The one-time allotment of $1 billion in aid will come on top of $73 million approved for Iron Dome procurement earlier this year, and won’t count toward $3.8 billion that Israel receives in defense aid from the US annually. The amount is equal to 60 percent of the total that the US has spent on the system since 2011

Since 2011, the US government, which provided aid to help Israel develop Iron Dome, has sent Israel a total of $1.7 billion for the air defense system. In 2014, Congress and former president Barak Obama approved $225 million for Israel to replenish interceptor missiles following that summer’s war in Gaza.

The only lawmaker who spoke against HR 5323 from the House Floor was Tlaib, a Michigander of Palestinian descent.

“I will not support an effort to enable war crimes and human rights abuses and violence. We cannot be talking only about Israelis need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system, and are dying from what Human Rights Watch has said are war crimes,” she said.

“The bill claims to be quote a ‘replenishment’ for weapons apartheid Israel used in a crisis it manufactured when it attacked worshippers at one of the most holiest Islamic locations, the al-Aqsa Mosque, committing again numerous war crimes,” Tlaib claimed, making no mention of Hamas rocket-fire or what Israel Police said were the violent protests on the Temple Mount that forced them to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound ahead of the May Gaza war.

“Israel is an apartheid regime — [these are] not my words, but the words of Human Rights Watch and the words of Israel’s own human rights organization B’Tselem,” she said. “I urge my colleagues to please stand with me in supporting human rights for all.”

After her remarks, Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and Democrat Ted Deutch rose one after the other to accuse Tlaib of antisemitism.

“To advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world, when there’s no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism and I reject that,” Deutch said in a fiery address.

Massie said in a tweet after the vote that he had voted against the funding bill out of concern for pushing the US further into debt.

Omar also tweeted the reasoning behind her vote, writing that “given the human rights violations in Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah, and ever-growing settlement expansion, we should not be ramming through a last-minute $1 billion increase in military funding for Israel without any accountability.”

“This vote is not about simply funding the Iron Dome. It’s about adding an extra billion dollars on top of the $73 million we already allocated this year. That’s 14 times more than we normally spend on it and 60% of what we’ve provided for it over the course of a decade,” she said.

“We continue to pay lip service to human rights, peace and a two state solution. Yet we also continue to provide Israel with funding without addressing the underlying issue of the occupation,” Omar added.

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