Congress votes to send another $1 billion to Israel

Iron Dome Funding

This week progressive House members were able to temporarily halt an additional $1 billion to Israel, which was snuck into the short-term government spending bill. That money was supposed to go toward replenishment of the country’s Iron Dome system, a move that the Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports. It’s important to remember that this is an extra billion dollars, on top of the $3.8 billion in U.S. taxpayer money that Israel already gets every year.

Republicans lawmakers predictably swarmed to social media to claim that the Democrats were conceding to their “radical” and “anti-Israel” members and effectively endorsing antisemitism. This is obviously just political theater, as the GOP wasn’t going to support the bill with or without the Iron Dome.

It’s much more interesting to look at the consternation this caused within the Democratic party. Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey said that Iron Dome “protects innocent civilians in Israel from terrorist attacks and some of my colleagues have now blocked funding it. We must stand by our historic ally — the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres (hilariously dubbed New York’s “superstar progressive” in the New York Times by the ghastly Bret Stephens this week) tweeted, “A missile defense system (i.e. Iron Dome) defends civilians from missiles. Hence the name. Only in a morally inverted universe would this be considered a ‘controversy.’”

A group of rabidly pro-Israel Dems emerged to secure Israel’s billion via a separate vote: Reps. Kathy Manning, Ted Deutch, Haley Stevens, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Dean Phillips, Josh Gottheimer, Elaine Luria, Elissa Slotkin, Ritchie Torres, Kathleen Rice, Juan Vargas, and Brad Schneider.

Today Rep. Rashida Tlaib took to the floor and pointed out that Israel practices apartheid and no one ever talks about how Palestinians should be protected from Israel’s bombs; commonsense sentiments outside of Congress.

Rep. Ted Deutch responded by effectively calling Tlaib (his caucus colleague) an antisemite. “I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on floor of House and label Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state,” he said. “My colleague who just besmirched our ally… when there’s no place on map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism.”

The vote seemingly caught the very House members who pushed for the removal in a state of disarray.

No votes came from: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) , Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

But yes votes came from Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voted present.

There will be time to unpack exactly what happened here, but did this blip ultimately mean anything? After the snag, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer assured Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid that the holdup is merely a “technical” issue and that everything will be fine. He was right, but Israel’s backers seem to have developed some anxiety about the whole situation nonetheless.

The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov warns that more trouble is on the way:

The influence of progressives in the Democratic Party is growing. Hoyer, Pelosi and Schumer are close to retirement, while Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and other members of The Squad are at the start of their political careers, in very liberal districts.

There is some talk about the progressive wing hurting the Democrats’ chances in tighter races in parts of the country that are not as starkly blue as the Bronx or Detroit. But the ranks of The Squad swelled in 2020, and Tuesday’s incident shows that its members are shrewd enough politicians to take advantage of the narrow Democratic majority in Congress, even if they are outnumbered by more moderate members.

This is a dynamic that will last at least until January 2023 – when the next class of representatives is inaugurated – and, in all likelihood, beyond that.

It’s also worth thinking about where the liberal pro-Israel groups were in all of this. Americans for Peace Now and J Street seemed to remain mum on the topic, preferring to tout Rep. Andy Levin’s new Two-State Solution Act, a piece of legislation that feels at least twenty years out of date with the current reality in Palestine. It wasn’t long ago that these kind of groups would be publicly endorsing Iron Dome funding without a second thought. For instance, here’s J Street calling on congress to pass Iron Dome funding in 2013:

Iron Dome is a critical element of robust U.S. assistance to Israel. American assurance of Israel’s security and qualitative military edge is an important anchor for a peace process based on providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move toward the two-state solution essential to its long-term security and survival.

We commend the broad bipartisan support for the bill and urge its swift passage by Congress.

It’s obvious these groups still support funding Iron Dome, but it’s interesting that they seen to see these kinds of public declarations as something of a liability now.

Anyway, here’s some of Tlaib’s comments from the House floor:

We cannot only be talking about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system and our dying from what Human Rights Watch have said are war crimes. We should also be talking about the Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks. We must be consistent in our commitment to human life. Period.

Who is Jeffrey Yass?

He might not get as much publicity as other powerful megadonors, but Jeffrey Yass is a libertarian billionaire, CEO of the Susquehanna International Group, and the richest person in Pennsylvania. He’s helped wage a war against public education, donates money to various right-wing PACs, and helped finance Democratic Andrew Yang’s failed mayoral run in NYC.

Yass is also the primary funder for something called the Kohelet Policy Forum, which one activist described to me as “Israel’s ALEC.” The group pushes libertarian policies in the country and promotes settlement expansion. It even lobbied the Knesset to help pass the 2018 Nation-State law which grants greater rights to Jews than non-Jews (including land rights, language rights, and the “exclusive” right of “national self-determination”).

Philly activists have been targeting Yass, and trying to bring more attention to his influence, since May. This week Jewish Voice for Peace Philadelphia kicked off their “All Eyes on Yass” campaign, setting up a temporary dwelling to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot on Yass’ lawn.

“The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that all people are connected to land – but Jeffrey Yass is supporting the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes,” declared Jewish Voice for Peace Philadelphia member Rachel Kipnes. “Whether funding apartheid and settlement expansion in Israel, or education privatization and right-wing extremists in the U.S., Jeffrey Yass must be held accountable. That’s why we’re here protesting again – for the third time – and launching the ‘All Eyes on Yass’ campaign.”

Jewish Voice for Peace activists put a Sukkah tent on Jeffrey Yass’s lawn. Sept. 23, 2021.

“The violence that Palestinians are facing in their own homes, with Zionist settlers constantly harassing them and Israeli military shooting live ammunition at children, does not ‘just happen,’”, said JVP member Anissa Weinraub. “It is advanced and paid for by actual humans, and Jeffrey Yass is one of them. I can’t just sit by and watch billionaires like Jeffrey Yass fund this right-wing, dehumanizing agenda. And that’s why we’re calling him out today.”

Odds & Ends

🇺🇸 In the last newsletter I mentioned that a few House members were pushing an NDAA amendment that would halt the delivery of U.S.-made bombs to Israel. That effort has gained some additional sponsors in recent days: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Marie Newman, Andre Carson, and Chuy Garcia have all signed on. The original sponsors were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Mark Pocan.

Over 100 civil society organizations have endorsed this legislative effort, including Adalah Justice Project, Defense for Children International – Palestine, Dream Defenders, IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and Working Families Party.

🇺🇸 This week a group of progressive organizations held a rally in front of the White House and delivered a petition (signed by over 300,000 people) urging the Biden administration to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

“The U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is an enduring international symbol of injustice and torture, and it continues to cause profound harm to the 39 men who remain imprisoned,” it reads. “New reports show that President Biden is currently reviewing policies with the goal of closing the prison — we must make sure that he moves quickly to end indefinite detention without charge or trial and close Guantánamo once and for all.”

Although Biden has said he wants to close the prison, the administration is currently seeking out a private contractor so it can relocate Haitian migrants to the facility.

🇮🇱 Steven Salaita has compiled a list of pointers for victims of Zionist defamation campaigns.

🇮🇱 And here’s Salaita on Iron Dome from Twitter: “It is categorically impossible for Israeli weapons to be “defensive.” The state is predicated on conquest and expansion. All of its armaments exist to subjugate and dispossess Palestinians.”

🇮🇱 A new survey found that 65% of U.S.-based Middle East scholars believe that Israel is an apartheid state. That number has increased since Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza, as it was at 59% in February. The study, which was directed by Shibley Telhami and Marc Lynch, also found that 57% of scholars say a two-state solution is no longer possible. In February that number was 52%. Telhami and Lynch wrote about their findings at the Washington Post:

What explains such a significant increase in less than seven months? While it’s impossible to know for sure, two notable events intervened between the two surveys. First, the crisis in Israel following planned evictions of Palestinian families from their Jerusalem homes showed graphically the unequal treatment of Jews and Palestinians under Israeli control. The subsequent Gaza fighting between Israel and Hamas further focused global attention.

Second, two human rights organizations — the Israeli-based B’Tselem and the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch — released widely read reports. The B’Tselem findings describe the reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories as apartheid, while the Human Rights Watch report argues that Israel’s behavior fits the legal definition of apartheid.

🇺🇸 Iraq War veteran Mike Prysner disrupted a George W. Bush speech in Los Angeles before being hauled away by security. Here he is describing what happened on Twitter:

Almost 20 years after he sent me to Iraq, I disrupted George W. Bush’s speech tonight. I tried to read a list of names, mostly of Iraqis killed, as well as my friends who became anti-war activists after Iraq who then died of suicide or other war wounds. (They ripped up my list).

Also on my list of names; the victims in the Collateral Murder video, the Nisour Square massacre, as well as US troops killed in Iraq whose parents then formed the powerful anti-war organization Gold Star Families For Peace. Bush should never know peace for the lives he destroyed

Ok so apparently you can hear in the video Bush tells me to “sit down and behave yourself.” Not exactly the apology I asked for!

🇺🇸 Tulsi Gabbard went on Tucker Carlson to defend the drone strikes that killed civilians in Afghanistan. Remember when people were referring to her as the “antiwar candidate“?

🇹🇷 The Turkish-American National Steering Committee (TASC), a U.S.-based organization with ties to Erdoğan’s government, signed a joint declaration with the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) promoting trade and condemning the BDS movement.

🍖 Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in an Israeli startup that produces cultivated meat (slaughter-free).

🇮🇱 Adam Johnson tweet on Iron Dome vote: “Iron Dome is ‘purely defensive’ even though the bill language clearly involves funding IDF raids and bombings but also no such ‘defensive’ system would ever be offered to Gaza, an open air prison with no freedom of movement or control over air or water thats constantly being starved.”

🇺🇸 From the AP:

A survivor of an errant U.S. drone strike that killed 10 members of his family demanded Saturday that those responsible be punished and said Washington’s apology was not enough.

The family also seeks financial compensation and relocation to the United States or another country deemed safe, said Emal Ahmadi, whose 3-year-old daughter Malika was among those killed in the Aug. 29 strike.

On that day, a U.S. hellfire missile struck the car that Ahmadi’s brother Zemerai had just pulled into the driveway of the Ahmadi family compound as children ran to greet him. In all, 10 members of the family, including seven children, were killed in the strike.

💸 House Republicans and over a dozen Democrats voted to add another $24 billion to The Pentagon budget earlier this month. Along with other House progressives, Rep. Barbara Lee is waging a fight to have that increase rolled back.

“Despite trillions of dollars poured into our endless military spending, this budget has failed to meet the greatest threats that our nation and our world faces today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the needs of 140 million people living in poverty,” Lee said in a letter to House Armed Services Committee chair Adam Smith. “Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs.”

🇵🇸 A Twitter thread from American Friends Service Committee’s Jehad Abusalim:

I met with a member of Congress earlier this year. He asked me what I think of the “two-state solution” and the question of two-states vs. one-state. Here’s what happened.

I gave him a genuine answer, and I explained that honest Palestinian intellectuals and leaders will not hesitate to show the flaws of this solution. Palestinians reject it on moral and legal grounds and believe that the partition of historic Palestine doesn’t guarantee justice.

I explained that even if you share the moral and legal reasons for why Palestinians reject it. There are still many practical reasons why it’s a flawed and unrealistic solution. It simply won’t work.

After all, this solution doesn’t address the core issues of why Palestinians struggle for their freedom and independence. And none of the proposals that have been presented offer serious practical solutions and visions for present and future problems.

I mentioned, as an example, Gaza’s current population density crisis. I presented the numbers. In 2050, the population of the Gaza Strip will double from 2.2 million to 4.4 million. As a result, Gaza’s current population density will also double from 15K/sq mi to 31K/sq mi.

I asked the Congressman: What will happen to Palestinians living in Gaza under this scenario? Will the two-state solution allow 70% of Gaza’s population who are refugees and own lands right across the fence with Israel to return to their lands?

And if not, will they be allowed to relocate to the West Bank? Will Israel accept this? Do you understand what such a population increase means in a depleted place like Gaza regarding the quality of urban life, healthcare, agriculture, access to green areas, etc.?

Why does the Gaza Strip have to stay the way it is? a small territory that encompasses only one percent of historic Palestine. While most of its lands, owned by people who live inside Gaza today, are beyond the fence with Israel for Israelis to enjoy and expand.

And I said that many other examples show how such a solution won’t work, simply because it’s a solution that doesn’t solve problems. The congressman became uncomfortable. So he switched to talk about he’s limited because of his constituents.

It really doesn’t take much for politicians and lawmakers in the US to listen to Palestinians. But unfortunately, only certain Palestinians who know what to sing to the choir are allowed into such spaces, thanks to their allies in liberal Zionist organizations.

But no matter how much people try to convince themselves that the two-state solution would work, the facts on the grounds are the reality that people experience are what matters. They shape the trajectory of the present and the future.

Liberals in the US can create as many delusions as they wish regarding Palestine-Israel. But, at the end of the day, none of these delusions will bring about any positive change; they won’t save lives, they won’t hold criminals accountable, and they won’t solve any problems.

The sad part of this story is that innocent, poor, and powerless people will continue to pay the price of this arrogance and dismissal of the truth. The painful question is how many of them should die so that people here wake up and do the right thing.

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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