There’s little doubt that Congress will pass and President Biden will sign legislation to provide $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome, the Israeli-American missile defense system. Steny Hoyer, the majority leader in the House, promised as much after a handful of progressive members managed this week to get the funding stripped from a must-pass bill to keep the U.S. government afloat.
The Israel-bashing progressives won the news cycle, but Hoyer intends to bring Iron Dome to a vote in a stand-alone bill. It will pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.
That’s the good news. Whatever the tensions between the Democratic Party and Israel, they aren’t anywhere near the point that the mainstream of the party would begrudge the Jewish state funding for a technological marvel that, over a decade of operation, has saved countless civilian lives by shooting down thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately at Israel by Hamas and other terrorist groups.
The bad news: You will almost certainly not see Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan or their fellow travelers in the House progressive caucus paying any serious reputational cost for this supremely foul piece of political grandstanding.
Democrats tried that in 2019 with an effort to rebuke Minnesota’s Representative Ilhan Omar for a string of antisemitic remarks. But the effort fizzled, and Omar’s star in the party has only risen since. Last month, Tlaib gave a talk to the Democratic Socialists of America in which she darkly alluded to certain people “behind the curtain” who “make money” by oppressing people “from Gaza to Detroit.” Wonder who she had in mind? The comment barely registered as a political controversy outside of the narrow precincts of Jewish organizations.
But what happened this week is at a different level. Nasty comments are one thing. Malicious policies are another. The House progressives pulled their stunt on the day Biden told the U.N. General Assembly that “the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question.”
Not quite, as it turned out: Undermining Israel’s security is enough of a priority for at least some House progressives that they’re fully prepared to humiliate a president from their own party, hold hostage funding for the entire federal government and hand Republicans a golden talking point. A classic (if joking) description of an antisemite is someone who “hates Jews more than is strictly necessary.” Bowman, Jayapal, Tlaib et al. have shown that they’re prepared to hate Israel more than is strictly necessary.
This is all the more striking given the particular weapons system they didn’t want to fund. It’s one thing if critics of Israel don’t want American taxpayers to fund Israel’s offensive capabilities. That’s a wrongheaded view, since America has a powerful moral and strategic interest in an Israel that can defend itself by all means necessary. It’s also self-defeating, since Israel could build or acquire most of the weapons it needs without American strings attached.
Still, at least that’s an argument animated by coherent moral considerations. Iron Dome, however, has zero offensive applications: It identifies rockets that are likely to hit vulnerable targets, most of them civilian, and, with an astonishingly high success rate, takes the rockets out. The system also very likely saves Palestinian lives by vastly reducing the political pressure on Israeli leaders to rapidly eliminate Hamas’s vast rocket arsenal by ordering a ground invasion.
In other words, barring some libertarian-style objection to any kind of foreign aid (which was never the issue here), support for Iron Dome should be a no-brainer — all the more so since the system is now being deployed by the United States to protect American troops. There is no conceivable argument that denying funding puts pressure on Israel to show greater military restraint (quite the opposite) or helps advance the cause of a two-state solution. It is not about giving peace a chance. The only coherent rationale is to give Hamas a better chance — to kill Israelis in the next war.
That is what the anti-Iron Domers in the House progressive caucus now stand for. It would be nice if they were more honest about the effects of their desired policies and more transparent about their motives for holding them.
Congress is never without its embarrassing or disreputable members, and no shortage of attention has been paid to Republicans like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. This week, the weight of shame fell on the other side of the aisle. It would behoove Democrats in the honorable majority to start treating their Israel-hating members not as parliamentary nuisances or social media embarrassments but as the ill-intended bigots they well and truly are.
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