WASHINGTON – Progressives’ move to block funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system from the continuing resolution caught the Democratic leadership off guard. The fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer didn’t have the votes to pass the provision embarrassed not only the House leadership, but also President Joe Biden, who committed to replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome batteries following Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Trying to minimize the drama, Hoyer rushed to announce that a standalone bill to supply the needed materials will be voted on later this week. That suspension bill is expected to get bipartisan support and easily pass the two-third’s threshold. Hoyer’s announcement may bypass the inside opposition within the progressive flank of the Democratic Party regarding this specific vote, but it also exposes again how divided the party is regarding Israel – and other issues as well.
The fight over the Iron Dome provision is part of a larger internal tug-of-war within the party that is unfolding these days. The major fight is around a $1 trillion infrastructure bill the leadership seeks to pass – one of Biden’s flagship reforms. Progressives threaten to vote it down unless a $3.5 trillion spending bill is attached to it.
“Try us,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal, told reporters on Tuesday, according to CNN.
Some Democrats tried to explain Tuesday’s events in terms of technical disagreement about the process, saying they had no time to review the provision.
“It’s not about Israel, it’s about, 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,” New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman told Bloomberg.
But posts like the one from Rep. Ted Deutch revealed the anger among party moderates about the move.
“I am incredibly angry that a few of my colleagues want to block this life-saving support, and bitterly disappointed that the funding was pulled from the Continuing Resolution rather than standing up for our ally,” the Florida Congressman wrote on Facebook.
Moderate Democrats so far have dismissed progressives’ calls to condition aid to Israel. They argued that those who call to condition aid are a small group who do not represent the majority of the party. However, following Tuesday’s 220-211 vote – along party lines – it is becoming clear that when every vote counts, and given the Democrats narrow majority, even a small group can have a great deal of influence.
The larger question, of course, is whether this was a one-time victory for the Left flank of the party or a new trend. It is still not clear what would happen the next time such funds are part of complex legislation that would come down to a slim majority, and whether Hoyer will again need to find creative ways such as using suspension bills to pass it.
Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, defended the party and told The Jerusalem Post, “The bottom line is that Democrats will ensure that Israel gets this aid.
“Joe Biden made the commitment to Israel after the latest conflict with Hamas that he would replenish Iron Dome beyond the commitment in the MOU [memorandum of understanding], and it will get done; and Democrats will make sure it gets done,” said Soifer. She went on to say that “Democrats have passed aid to Israel numerous times in this Congress, and it will happen again when they vote on a standalone measure later this week.”
Unlike Soifer, Dan Arbell, scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israeli Studies at American University, believes that “bipartisan support for Israel is eroding.” Arbell previously served as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and worked as former ambassador Michael Oren’s second-in-command from 2009 to 2012.
“Public opinion polls show a consistent decline in Democratic support for Israel and rising support and solidarity with the Palestinians,” he told the Post. “The funding for Iron Dome will go through at the end, but Israel must invest great efforts in widening and deepening the dialogue and contacts with elected officials and constituencies who do not feel a strong bond with Israel before it’ll be too late.”