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Fast Forward

Iron Dome funding gets caught up in Democratic infighting — but this aid to Israel was never in question

In the end, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a bill to send $1 billion to Israel for its Iron Dome defense system. The 420-9 tally showed strong bipartisan support for Israel’s security.

Yet Israel’s supporters had called the stand-alone vote because they had been thrown a curveball by a small number of progressive Democrats who were able to get their leadership to strike the $1 billion from a stopgap funding bill earlier in the week — a must-pass measure to avert a government shutdown.

The move, orchestrated by about eight progressive Democrats, was about procedure and not the Iron Dome itself, they argued. The problem, they said, was that funding for the defense system had been slipped into the stopgap measure at the last minute.

But it nevertheless unnerved both Democratic and Republican supporters of the Jewish state.

Israel “is getting trapped into partisan warfare that is purely domestic,” said Joel Rubin, executive director of the American Jewish Congress and the former director of Jewish outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

But Israel has also been caught up in Republican legislative maneuvering.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut who sponsored Thursday’s bill, said on the House floor that Republicans would have refused to support the stopgap measure even if it would have included the Iron Dome funding. “My Republican colleagues have voted against U.S. aid to Israel three times thus far in the 2022 appropriations,” she said.

Rubin, who served as the State Department’s legislative liaison to the House during the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza, said that while there is certainly a growing critique of Israel within Democratic circles, progressives are miscalculating if they think curtailing or even delaying Iron Dome funding is going to advance their goals in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are mistaken to think, he said, “that additional dollars to Israel invariably means it’s money for what they view as an apartheid, human rights-violating state.”

One leader of a mainstream American Jewish group, who declined to go on the record to speak freely about the issue, echoed those Rubin’s thoughts. He said Israel’s new government, formed in June, is no longer the hardline coalition it was under Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Progressives haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is not the prime minister because the whole idea that there’s a new Israeli government that is diverse, supported from the right to the left and by an Israeli Arab political party, blows up their narrative that Israel is a pariah state,” he said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was part of the group that threatened to vote against the stopgap measure if it included Iron Dome funding, voted “present” on the standalone vote. Last week she filed an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Biden administration to halt the export of small diameter bombs and a class of munitions to Israel. It recalled a House resolution she co-sponsored in May opposing the administration’s approval of the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, which she had called “weaponry to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Ultimately the overwhelming support for the Iron Dome Thursday showed broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security.

Halie Soifer, chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, dismissed the notion that this week’s dispute over the funding was an indication that the party is moving further to the left. “The Democrats wanted to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to Israel to replenish the Iron Dome stockpile, and they wanted to expedite it because it’s a priority for Israel,” she said. “They thought to expedite it earlier this week, but there was no Republican support for the bill with the Israel funding, and so they had to do it as a standalone because they want to see it pass.”

Matt Brooks, head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said suggesting Republicans would oppose the funding in the spending bill was “hypothetical.” He said the standalone bill was just cover for the fact the Democrats “have a crossed the line” in which it has become acceptable that “a group of leading Democrats, some of the most visible and impactful Democrats driving the policy agenda, will not support critical assistance for the defense of the State of Israel.”

One Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, voted against the bill. He has an anti-Israel record, and was opposed by the RJC and most of his party’s leaders in his 2020 re-election bid.

“Most elected Democrats are strong supporters of the kind of two-state solution that George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice worked so hard to help achieve not so long ago,” noted Stu Loeser, a New York campaign consultant. “Most Democratic voters too.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement following the passage of the bill that “whoever tries to challenge this support received an unequivocal answer today” that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong.

But some foresee more bumps in the road.

“Israel aid issues are going to continue to be partisan, and they’re going to continue to be digs and moves,” Rubin predicted. “For the majority of American Jews who care about Israel, that’s discouraging.”

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