Thanks to the members of The Squad, there’s again turmoil in Washington over Israel.
On the one hand, the aid package that has long been a bipartisan consensus is suddenly being used as a political tool by anti-Israel members of Congress to prove a point and stir up trouble.
On the other hand, the response to the games of Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), and other Squad members has been a decisive shutdown of these anti-Israel elements in the Democratic party.
There are two major takeaways from last week’s events in Congress that are important to understanding the evolving US-Israel relationship: first, that it’s not as bad for Israel today as we initially thought it was, and second, that it’s about to be a lot worse for Israel if we don’t act.
After The Squad strong-armed the Democratic party and insisted on removing $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome system from the proposed US budget, the Democratic party immediately sprung into action and pushed a new standalone piece of legislation to fund Israel’s replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense.
No doubt, the fact that the few anti-Israel members of Congress were able to have such influence over an issue that literally means life or death for Israelis is frightening, and the reaction from Israel and the Jewish community in the US reflected that.
At the same time, the fact that the Democrats (and Republicans) immediately banded together in a humiliating rebuke of The Squad’s cynical agenda says a lot about the current US-Israel relationship.
Ultimately, the funding for the Iron Dome was passed 420-9. As of today, the US-Israel alliance remains strong, so much so that it may just be one of the only issues that Democrats and Republicans can agree on. But there’s more trouble brewing ahead.
What The Squad’s actions led to was a stark increase in anti-Israel chatter, and more extreme arguments than we have previously seen. Unsurprisingly, their actions and statements (both before and after the votes) had a direct relation to an increase in antisemitic rhetoric surrounding Israel and US support for Israel online, even from the right.
Twitter was suddenly riddled with commentary about how, if missile defense is important, then “Israel should pay for it themselves,” a point that demonstrates a complete ignorance of the background of the US-Israel joint efforts in missile defense, and that the original Iron Dome systems were developed and funded in full by Israel.
There were also claims circulating that the US funding of missile defense somehow comes at the expense of Palestinians, and perhaps the most absurd, that the Iron Dome is used to “commit war crimes against Palestinians.”
Make no mistake, these claims didn’t just come out of nowhere. They were insinuated or in some cases explicitly stated by members of Congress like Rashida Tlaib, who tweeted about how she would vote against funding the Iron Dome because she opposes “war crimes against Palestinians.” This of course leaves the average person with the impression that the Iron Dome somehow harms Palestinians when the reality is it is completely a defensive system that protects civilians.
Ironically, after Tlaib and others received push back and accusations of antisemitism for opposing the Iron Dome bill, they changed their tune and disingenuously pretended they opposed the bill because it was, as they called it, frivolous military spending that should be spent at home.
In AOC’s case, after switching her vote at the last minute from “no” to “present,” she claimed it was because the vote was “rushed” and she wanted to do more research about the “controversial” bill (despite the 420-9 final vote). She also added that she wept over the bill on the House floor because of the lack of concern for vulnerable groups the bill impacts, referring to the Palestinians – who again, have nothing to do with the Iron Dome.
These types of theatrics from The Squad have absolutely no factual basis, and as such lend credence to emotionally-based pleas that fuel antisemitism.
Perhaps most problematic about the rhetoric and tactics of Tlaib, Omar, Bush and AOC is that their deeply rooted bigotry against both Israel and Jews is intentionally couched in “progressive” language despite being regressive, bigoted, dangerous and antisemitic.
When the facts of issues like the Iron Dome are obscured in emotional claims that aren’t related to the actual issue, antisemitism is bound to eventually crop up, and crop up it did.
In the days following the vote on the Iron Dome funding, the New York Times ran an article claiming powerful lobbies and “rabbis” pressured AOC into switching her vote. Similarly, the Democratic Socialists of America – the faction of the Democratic party that Tlaib and AOC are a part of – released a lengthy statement riddled with antisemitic canards about how Israeli civilians don’t deserve to have missile defense.
While it’s a relief that the US Congress unequivocally stood up for human rights by supporting the Iron Dome bill, the longer the intentional efforts to obscure the truth and emotionalize issues by representatives from The Squad, the more we will see a rise in antisemitism.
Emily Schrader is CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.