The US Congress as usual falls over itself in its eagerness to provide aid to Israel, with both parties competing to see which can be more generous to that apartheid state. But recently, progressives in the Democratic party have started balking at this largesse.
The top House Democrat on Appropriations introduced a bill on Wednesday that would provide $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, after the funding was abruptly pulled from a government funding package Tuesday.
Democrats were forced to toss the money from a stopgap spending bill aimed at avoiding a government shutdown at the end of the month amid objections from progressives. The incident, which temporarily derailed a vote on the continuing resolution, illustrated the long-simmering internal tensions within the party over supporting Israel, a longtime U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Iron Dome, which is built by a joint venture of U.S. defense contractor Raytheon Technologies and Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, enjoys wide support on Capitol Hill. The U.S. has consistently funded the missile defense system on a bipartisan basis to help Israel defend itself against rocket attacks from terrorist groups in Gaza, including Hamas.
But those funding efforts have faced progressive resistance in recent years, with more liberal members of the party demanding that U.S. military aid to Israel be conditions-based. Their push has frustrated moderate Democrats, who worry about being portrayed as anti-Israel.
But that was just a temporary pause. The House of Representatives finally voted 420-9 to approve the funding. The devotion of the US Congress to serving Israel’s interest even while it ignores the needs of Americans is so great that even this temporary hold up in the approval is seen as a significant development in breaking the grip that the Israel lobby has in US politics and a sign of emerging splits in the US.
The day-long holdup in the House of Representatives of $1 billion in funding for an Israeli military program is historic, an unprecedented sign of Israel’s politicization in America at last.
The holdup also represents the growing division of the American Jewish community over Israel. Two Jewish progressive groups are trying to block the aid. But mainstream Jewish organizations are enraged by the holdup and even call it antisemitic.
While liberal Zionist groups are once again frozen in the middle (as they were during the Ben & Jerry’s boycott of the occupied territories), and not sure what to say about the funding, which they have supported in the past.
Progressives lost a vote on Israel in the House yesterday, overwhelmingly, by 420-9. But what is being lost in the discussion of the Iron Dome vote is that eight progressive Democrats voted against the additional military funding for Israel, and two others voted present, even after pro-Israel forces cast the aid as a purely “defensive” arms program, against “terrorism.”
Those ten Democrats represent a solid beachhead of opposition inside Congress to the special relationship between the U.S. and the apartheid “Jewish state.” In the past, it was typically one vote, say, Cynthia McKinney or Paul Findley or Charles Percy, and the Israel lobby could zero in on the outlier. Now it’s too late: Pro-Palestinian human rights forces are not going away.
The sooner the American public is exposed to this debate, the better. Because polling shows that people want a more evenhanded policy.
That debate is beginning to happen. The New York Times today has a long news article that takes the vote as seriously as we do, saying it exposes “bitter divisions among Democrats over U.S. policy toward one of its closest allies.” The Times also published a truly vicious opinion piece by Bret Stephens, the most rightwing of the several pro-Israel columnists at the paper, calling those who opposed the funding antisemites and urging the Democratic Party to purge them. This is the second time in the last week that Stephens has boiled over at progressives and presumed to speak for the Democrats, and is an indication of just how concerned the Israel lobby is about the fissures in the Democratic Party.
Israel has a very high standard of living, thanks in large part to US taxpayers. So the question is why Israel can’t pay for the Iron Dome shield itself. By giving them this money, Israel can use the money saved to terrorize the Palestinians. As Branko Marcetic writes in his piece describing the way that the Israeli Defense Forces terrorize Palestinians:
US leaders justify support for Israel on the grounds that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” How differently the American public might see the issue, if only it were informed about what their tax dollars are really paying for.
I am also increasingly irritated by the labels ‘moderate Democrats’ and ‘centrist Democrats’ because it stacks the rhetoric deck in their favor. Who does not want to be seen as ‘moderate’? A more accurate label would be ‘right wing Democrat’ to contrast with ‘progressive Democrat’ or ‘left wing Democrat’.