House Democrats Strip Aid for Israel's Iron Dome to Keep Government Funded

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by blueapples
Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021 - 10:55

Under pressure to approve a stop-gap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, one of the last hurdles to pass the legislation in the house was unexpectedly a matter of foreign and not domestic policy making. On Tuesday, a cadre of progressive democrats triumphed in their charge to remove $1 billion of taxpayer dollars in the bill that was earmarked to fund a replenishment of Israel's Iron Dome missile interception system. Removing the foreign aid from the spending bill was a tipping point, given that it narrowly passed by a vote of 220-211. Had democratic house leadership remained steadfast in keeping the provision included, they would have not only risked an imminent government shut down but also would have failed to extend the federal debt limit beyond the 2022 mid-term elections.

The initiative to have the earmarked foreign aid to Israel removed from the bill was led by democratic Representative for Minnesota's 4th Congressional District, Betty McCollum. Though McCollum has served in her capacity since 2001, the support she gained from less-tenured progressive congressional representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaid, and Ilhan Omar became the focal point of their initiative. With just 3 votes against the spending bill from the democratic majority needed to keep it from passing, the opposition from that small faction would have been enough to cause an impasse.

While the domestic imperative to keep the federal government funded through the calendar year was the focus of negotiations over the resolution, this necessary concession to achieve that has already reverberated internationally. Upon learning of the removal of the funding, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid immediately instigated an emergency phone call to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Any trepidation expressed by the Foreign Minister was quickly quelled as he was reassured that the funding would inevitably be given to Israel, most likely through its inclusion in the forthcoming 2022 Defense Appropriations Bill. Rosa DeLauro, democratic Representative for Connecticut's 3rd District, initially echoed Hoyer's sentiment but would later advocate for a more pro-active initiative to have the funding passed as a stand-alone bill. Regardless of how the $1 billion in aid to Israel is paid out, that apparent inevitability made Lapid's change the tone of his initially fraught tenor following those assurances as he thanked Hoyer for his "friendship and unwavering support for Israel's security" following their phone call.

Though the exclusion of this foreign aid looks to have few ramifications on the U.S.-Israeli foreign relations which are being reforged by the Biden Administration in the infancy of the newly established government under Prime Minister of Israel Neftali Bennett, the occasion was enough to be a rallying cry for most members of congress regardless of their party affiliation. Fellow, though more moderate, democrats such as Rep. Elissa Slotkin characterized the political maneuver against the foreign aid as "devoid of substance." While no single republican representative voted in favor of the short-term funding bill in which the aid was included, that didn't keep House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from expressing his own especially vitriolic disdain, tweeting "While Dem[ocrat]s capitulate to the antisemitic influence of their radical members, Republicans will always stand with Israel."

The Republican-led narrative that the Democratic Party has suddenly become a chorus of anti-semites goes back to the most recent conflict between Israel and Palestine earlier this year. Following an 11-day period of intense bombing of the Gaza Strip where buildings were leveled as part of Israel's purportedly purely defensive strategy, representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib supported a measure introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders to stop a $735 million arms sale to Israel proposed by the office of President Biden shortly after his calls for a ceasefire in the conflict. Over the course of that conflict the Iron Dome intercepted approximately 4,000 missiles fires into Israel while counter offensives into the Gaza Strip cost the lives of over 200 Palestinians, 58 of whom were children. Given the toll of the violence, and the offensive nature of the weaponry included in the sale, its opponents used their defiance to address their concerns regarding Israel's human rights record. The animosity sewn during that occasion has resurfaced during recent negotiations regarding the latest iteration of military aid to Israel unexpectedly included in a piece of legislation which is supposed to be focused on funding the federal government and avoiding the catastrophe of a fiscal cliff.

Critics of the inclusion of this foreign aid will likely point to the abundance of assistance the U.S. has afforded Israel, especially in recent years. Since 2000, a vast majority of U.S. aid to Israel has gone to its military. In 2019 alone, Israel received $3.8 billion in aid with all but $8.5 million of that total going to its armed forces. That allocation of aid is encompassed by a 10-year, $38 billion aid package signed into law by then President Obama which was reaffirmed his successor, President Donald J. Trump. The 2019 foreign aid package included $500 million in aid apportioned for Israel's missile defense system alone with a similar apportionment paid in 2020 and scheduled to be paid in 2021. The $1 billion in additional aid negotiated out of the stop-gap spending bill was not included in any of those aid packages.

Those vast payouts should be of no surprise. Since the formation of the state, Israel has received $243.9 billion in foreign aid when adjusted for inflation, more than any other recipient since the end of World War II. That figure puts them almost exactly $100 billion ahead of Egypt, the second largest recipient, and well ahead of Afghanistan, which comes in third. Despite this exclusionary effort being led by a progressive democratic faction in the house, an effort to reduce spending -- especially through foreign aid -- has been a position supported by many libertarian-leaning republicans. Yet, greater unity across the party lines supporting this financial commitment to Israel from the Democratic and Republican parties means cutting that spending is a cause that won't likely be championed, in spite of the best efforts of those fringe groups.