Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system (left) intercepts rockets fired by Hamas toward southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)
Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system (left) intercepts rockets fired by Hamas toward southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)

Bay Area reps unanimously support $1 billion in Iron Dome funding

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JTA contributed to this report.

All of the Bay Area’s U.S. House members voted in favor of providing $1 billion in funding toward Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, as the legislation sailed through the chamber on Thursday despite objections by a handful of progressive lawmakers.

The overwhelming 420-9 vote secured the funding in a standalone bill after a group of Democrats critical of Israel scuttled an attempt to include the monies as part of a comprehensive spending bill on Tuesday. The Iron Dome bill now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to be approved.

“Iron Dome is a purely defensive system, designed to safeguard all civilians living in Israel,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote. “Passage of this bill reflects the great unity in Congress on a bipartisan and bicameral basis for Israel’s security.”

Reps. Barbara Lee, Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, all Democrats, joined Pelosi in voting in favor of the bill.

Among those voting against the legislation were Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, often referred to as members of “the Squad,” who have been at the forefront of criticizing Israel in Congress. Democratic lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted “present” on the legislation.

While the Democratic mainstream, including the Biden administration, remains unchanged on issues related to Israel, the funding fight underscored heated tensions within the party over Israel.

Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida said Tlaib “besmirched” Israel after she labeled the country an “apartheid regime” on Thursday.

“I cannot 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,” Deutch said. “I reject it.”

The vote came after House leaders were forced to remove the Iron Dome support from a comprehensive bill meant to keep the government funded through early December. With the spending bill facing a slim majority in the House and unanimous opposition from Republicans, Democrats withdrew the Iron Dome funding to secure enough votes to pass the larger spending bill.

During the Gaza conflict in May, a number of progressive lawmakers called for diminishing or ending defense assistance for Israel, which runs about $3.8 billion a year, including dollars for Iron Dome.

The San Francisco-based Arab Resource & Organizing Center, which led large demonstrations in the city during the Gaza conflict and spearheaded a blockade of an Israeli-owned ship at Port of Oakland this summer, criticized the vote.

“It’s disappointing that decision-makers are not taking the lead from their constituents, who have overwhelmingly made it clear that there is consensus among social justice movements that the U.S. needs to stop its economic and political support of apartheid and warmaking,” Lara Kiswani, the AROC executive director, told J. by text.

The Biden administration is on board with the $1 billion infusion, as President Joe Biden himself assured Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last month that the money would come through.

Moderate Democrats and Republicans cast the rejection of Iron Dome funding as inappropriately targeting Israel. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a moderate Jewish Democrat from Michigan, said in a Twitter thread that Iron Dome was an inappropriate target because it is strictly used for self-defense.

“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,” she said.

Eliyahu Kamisher

Eliyahu Kamisher is a freelancer and J. contributor who has written for SFGATE, Los Angeles Magazine and The Appeal. He previously covered police and criminal justice for The Jerusalem Post.