WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved $1 billion in new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, after a debate that exposed bitter divisions among Democrats over United States policy toward one of its closest allies.
The vote to support Israel replacing missile interceptors damaged during heavy fighting with the Palestinians in May was 490-9. This is a reflection of the long-standing bipartisan support for Jerusalem in Congress.
However, it was only after progressive Democrats accused Israel for human rights abuses against Palestinians rebelled and threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t support the money. Democratic leaders had to remove it from legislation in order to fund the government beyond a Sept. 30 deadline. The House passed Tuesday’s bill. They also had to approve the Iron Dome money separately.
The liberals’ maneuver roiled centrist and Jewish lawmakers, who said they were appalled and astonished by their colleagues’ refusal to fund a defensive system to protect Israeli civilians.
“Whatever your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using a system that just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a political chit is problematic,” Representative Elissa S. Slotkin, Democrat in Michigan.
The back and forth was the latest flare-up in a long-simmering feud between the energized progressive wing of the party, which has demanded an end to conditions-free aid to Israel, and other Democrats who maintain strong backing for Israel’s right to defend itself. The internal tensions come as a growing number of Democrats in Washington, prodded by the party’s left flank, say they are no longer willing to give the country a pass for its treatment of the Palestinians.
“We must stop enabling Israel’s human rights abuses and apartheid government,” Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Democrat, stated Wednesday night that she would vote against this bill.
Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, on Thursday argued that the United States should no longer continue to provide Israel with funding “without addressing the underlying issue of the occupation.”
“This is not about one country,” Ms. Omar said. “If human rights are truly to guide our foreign policy, we need to act like it everywhere. Otherwise our words ring hollow.”
The episode underlined just how tenuous Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House is — and how any disunity can threaten party leaders’ ability to cobble together the bare minimum votes needed to pass any bill.
The measure was defeated by eight Democrats as well as one Republican, Thomas Massie, of Kentucky. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York and Hank Johnson, of Georgia were the only Democrats who voted for it.
Their comments provoked furious reaction from their colleagues on Thursday. They argued that the legislation was only meant to support an entirely defensive system. The Iron Dome stopped more than 90% of rockets from Hamas being launched into civilian-populated areas during May’s ferocious fighting.
In an angry speech on the House floor, Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, said he would not allow “one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state.”
“To falsely characterize the state of Israel is consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world,” he said. “When there is no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism, and I reject that.”
Determined to show that the party would stand by one of the nation’s closest allies, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, who had lobbied for the aid, downplayed the drama in a phone call to Yair Lapid, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, calling it a “technical delay” and reiterating his “commitment to ensuring Israel receives this needed aid.”
“After years in which the previous government neglected Congress and the Democratic Party and caused considerable damage to Israel-U.S. relations, we are today rebuilding a relationship of trust with the Congress,” Mr. Lapid wrote on Twitter, confirming the call.
Other party stalwarts, such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) and Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, supported the legislation on Thursday. They said that additional funding was vital to protect Israeli civilians and that it was an extension a 2016 deal that was struck by former President Barack Obama.
House Republicans saw the incident as an opportunity to discredit Israel and seek out Jewish voters. They said progressives’ refusal to allow the funding to pass as part of the broader government spending bill was a missed opportunity to support Israel, even though Republicans opposed the spending bill en masse.
“By blocking funding to resupply the Iron Dome, Democrats made the choice to abandon an opportunity to stand with Israel and its citizens,” The No. 2 Republican in Louisiana, Representative Steve Scalise. 2 Republican, said.