‘Progressive influence taught Israel it needs more independence’

Erdan: “Squad” behavior in Iron Dome vote verges on antisemitism.

 US Reps Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on the four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, US (photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)
US Reps Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on the four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, US
(photo credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)

NEW YORK – The lesson Prime Minister Naftali Bennett learned from the attempt by progressive Democrats to block American funding for Iron Dome missile defense batteries is that Israel needs to make sure it is not dependent on others, a diplomatic source told reporters traveling with Bennett to New York on Monday.

“We have to make our economic abilities even better so that we are never dependent,” the source said. “But America was and remains our greatest partner.”

The comments came after the Democratic leadership gave in to demands from the progressive “Squad” in the House of Representatives that the $1 billion in Iron Dome funding be removed from a bill that was meant to stop a US government shutdown, because otherwise the bill would have been voted down.

Two days later, a bill that was only meant to fund the Iron Dome passed with 420 in favor, nine opposed and two present.

Israeli Ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan said that “the squad’s behavior proves... that they are either ignorant or antisemitic.”

“Iron Dome saves Israeli and Palestinian lives,” Erdan said at an event with Bennett and leaders of Jewish organizations. “If Israel didn’t have Iron Dome... we may have had to respond with a ground operation, which may have ended with many more lives lost.

“It’s one thing to criticize Israel – that is legitimate – and it is a completely different thing to oppose protection for Israel from thousands of rockets fired by a terrorist organization: That verges on antisemitism,” he said.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden chat in the Oval Office last week. (credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden chat in the Oval Office last week. (credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)

Bennett said at the Jewish Federations of North America event that he was “happy with the great result” of the vote in Congress, but said that the message should not just be that Iron Dome is a defensive system.

“It’s broader than that... It’s like [US President Joe] Biden says again and again: If there weren’t an Israel, we would have to invent one. That’s right on,” he says. “We are nine million boots on the ground fighting day in day out, making contact with those terrorists and gaining intelligence. We’re fighting [terrorists] without asking Americans to send even one troop, and we never will.

“We are not the problem: We are the solution, in the middle of the toughest region in the world,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere; we’re here to stay. That’s why it’s not only about Iron Dome. The very essence of us here means the terror is at bay.”

 

CONTRARY TO Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Bennett does not blame former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the situation, though Netanyahu’s “partisan approach was unhelpful,” the source said.

Bennett realizes that there are ongoing trends on the American Left that are problematic for Israel, and even read the recent cover article from The Economist: “The threat from the illiberal Left.”

“If you’re in college and you hate Israel, you feel like you’re woke and you’re cool – and that’s pathetic,” the source said. “[Bennett] came out against it, because it’s the easiest thing to do to try to clean your conscience by attacking Israel.”

The prime minister does not underestimate the influence of the “Squad,” even though they’re a small group, the source said, comparing them to the influence of former MK Moshe Feiglin on the Likud.

Bennett’s “approach is bipartisan: to strengthen ties with Republicans, where they are already strong, but also with Democrats,” the source stated. “In Zoom meetings for now – and when corona calms down, in person, as well.”

The idea that Israel needs to strive for greater economic independence is one that was held by Netanyahu, whose first term included the end of economic aid from the US to Israel, though military aid has continued. More recently, Israel under Netanyahu and the US under former president Barack Obama signed a 10-year $38b. memorandum of understanding (MOU) on such aid in 2016.

But in the context of the growing progressive influence in America, former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren recently wrote an article for Tablet arguing that “the IDF is addicted to credits for shiny new American weapons. But the strategic price may be too high.”

“Why should Israel, still a vulnerable country in the world’s toughest region, allow itself to be seen as open to progressive arm-twisting?” Oren asked.