The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is back in the news in recent days, so it should come as no surprise that some House Democrats have taken the opportunity to show their true colors. The Biden administration and both parties’ congressional leaderships passed a new $1 billion funding bill for upgrades to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The legislation was included in the annual government appropriations package, a bill whose passage is required in order to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.
The Iron Dome is one of the most complex missile defense systems in the world and has been essential to protecting Israel from short-range rocket attacks since the system began operating in 2011. It fires rockets to intercept incoming rockets before they can do any damage to Israel. It may seem strange, then, that American lawmakers would seek to disrupt funding critical to the national security of one of America’s staunchest allies. However, that is precisely what a number of progressive Democrats have chosen to do.
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. — despite ultimately voting for the bill — claimed that progressives’ opposition to funding the Iron Dome was “not about Israel,” saying instead that “once again, leadership, throwing something on our table last minute and expecting us to decide in five minutes what to do with it, that’s the bigger problem.”
At face value, that sounds like a legitimate complaint. It is often the case in Congress that rank-and-file members are expected by leadership to simply vote with their parties, notwithstanding the material of the legislation or the process by which it was crafted. It should come as no surprise that many members would have a problem with their lack of consultation, especially pertaining to late amendments to a bill.
But while Bowman can support his rhetoric with his vote for the bill, his defense does not cover his progressive colleagues who voted against it because progressive Democrats, especially in the House, have spent much of the last year lambasting Israel. In May, during an intense conflict between Israel and Hamas, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., blasted Israel as an “apartheid government”; recently, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called Israel a “human rights abuser”; and Bowman himself, in April, supported a failed bill which, in its title, described Palestinians as “living under Israeli military occupation.”
Knowing all of this, it is hard to see progressives’ challenge as anything other than anti-Israel sentiment rather than opposition over a legislative technicality. This is the culmination of a months-long effort by progressive Democrats to paint Israel as an aggressive opponent of human rights. However, even if we were to take as a given that Israel systematically abuses the human rights of its Arab minority population, the legislation the progressives are making hay over would do nothing to aid Israel in that alleged impropriety.
The Iron Dome is a purely defensive national security tool. It has but one singular purpose: stopping short-range missiles from landing on and harming Israeli civilians. Such technology would have no means of enabling Israel to establish or maintain Rep. Tlaib’s idea of an apartheid state — as it has no offensive prerogatives. When some progressives hold up a critical defense bill to stand for the rights of the Palestinian community, they are transitively putting those same rights at risk themselves — not just for Palestinians, but for every single man, woman and child in the State of Israel. It should be plainly obvious that it is incumbent upon the U.S. to stand for the right to live free from violence regardless of race, ethnicity or social status. In opposing a defense system for a country that regularly faces rocket attacks, this group of progressive lawmakers has chosen to stand for the rights of only some.
This is no full-throated defense of Israel’s policy on the occupied territories. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pushed Israel to the far-right on just about every issue. Netanyahu, desperate to cling to power in the face of sprawling corruption allegations, repeatedly advocated for annexing much of the West Bank before leaving office earlier this year. While the direct annexation stalled, Israel has been widely expanding its settlements into the West Bank since its inception, antagonizing local Arab populations and complicating plans for a potential two-state solution. No one is attempting to paint Israel as a military boy scout, but its security and prosperity are both a moral and strategic imperative to U.S. foreign policy that cannot, under any circumstances, be used as a political pawn.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about as complex a foreign policy quandary as exists for the American government. However, the one true democracy in the Middle East — not to mention the only truly safe home for Jews anywhere on Earth — must be protected at any and all costs. The leadership of both parties, and the White House, must be commended for their commitment to Israeli security and Israeli-American relations.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., came out with a defense of the Iron Dome legislation, while House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced a standalone $1 billion bill separate from the government spending bill to appropriate funds for the Iron Dome. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., deserve some criticism for folding under progressive pressure and removing Iron Dome funding from the larger bill, but they should be commended for supporting DeLauro’s bill.
Perhaps most importantly, the White House has been steadfast in its support for Israel — while there may be some doubt in Israel about their relationship with the Democrats, some comfort should be taken in the man who leads the party.
Jack Roscho is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.