And What the Vote Reveals About Growing Anti-Semitism and Historical Ignorance Within the U.S. Progressive Movement
On Thursday, September 23rd, the United States Congress held a vote to determine the continued funding of the Israeli missile defence system known as the Iron Dome. Despite the outcry from the progressive wing of the Democratic party about American support for Israel over ‘Palestine’, and the objections of a few staunch fiscally conservative Republicans over increased government spending, the vote overwhelmingly passed by a margin of 420 to 9 in favour of approving the $1 billion in funding.
Although the near-unanimous vote reaffirmed the widespread and bipartisan support for continued defence of the state of Israel, vocal dissent to funding the missile interceptors also exposed growing divisions. Not everyone in Congress supports Israel; in fact, several house members have decried the country as an apartheid and colonial regime that oppresses the supposedly innocent Palestinians. This line of thought is especially prevalent amongst the so-called “Squad”, an adjunct grouping of six far-left progressive Democrats formed in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections. The informal coalition initially included representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; later, the “Squad” gained two additional members with the 2020 Congressional elections of rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, and rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York.
Growing levels of anti-Zionist and sometimes anti-Semitic behaviour within the U.S. Congress were exposed when Leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was forced by “the Squad” to remove the $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome (a purely defensive system that also protects Arab Israelis) from the emergency spending bill to keep the Federal Government from shutting down –a fact U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, warned lawmakers it is expected to do by October 18th if Congress cannot vote to raise the debt ceiling. However, partisan political deadlock in Congress has all but stalled attempts to pass a bipartisan bill to fund the government, with Republicans broadly refusing to fund increased spending without implementing strict measures to pay for increases to the budget, which Democrats have tied to raising the debt ceiling. Thus, the “Squad’s” refusal to vote for a raise to the debt ceiling that contained funding for the Iron Dome has seemingly backfired, as removing the missile defence system from a hyper-partisan bill has allowed it to be passed with bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Despite U.S. progressive’s professed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, their refusal to fund the iron dome is counterproductive as the missile defence system is undoubtedly the greatest method to avoid increased retaliation and an escalation of the conflict when Hamas inevitably fires more rockets into Israel. This is because the Iron Dome currently shoots down approximately 90% of the crude rockets fired at Israel from inside the Gaza strip. Due to their simplistic technology, Hamas relies upon overwhelming the Israeli defences with a mass barrage of thousands of rockets, hoping that several will pass through the Iron Dome. Indeed, during the so-called 11-day War, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel, mainly directed at residential neighbourhoods, to maximize the indiscriminate killing of both Jewish and Muslim Israelis. Approximately two-thirds of the rockets missed, and farcically, several landed in their territory, yet more than 1,500 were still on course to explode inside Israel. Because 90% were shot down by the Iron Dome, only around a hundred penetrated Israeli defences, fortunately leading to relatively few casualties. Without the Iron Dome in place, there could have been hundreds or thousands of deaths, not to mention the increased property damage. Such destruction usually precipitates a swift Israeli response, shelling of Hamas’s firing positions, and attempts to take out key terrorist figures within the movement; if 90% of those rockets hadn’t been shot down, we can imagine that Israeli military response would have increased nine-fold. So, if you oppose funding the Iron Dome, you are allowing Hamas to kill more Israeli citizens, which could lead to a disproportionate Israeli response, resulting in more death and destruction on both sides.
Moreover, it has often been posed to American nay-sayers of Israel, “what would the United States do if thousands of rockets were fired from Mexico?” Well, we already know the answer, since, in the wake of 9-11, then-President George W. Bush oversaw the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan for supposedly harbouring terrorists responsible for the death of over 2,000 Americans. Despite growing opposition to both wars amongst the American public, no severe act of terrorism with large-scale casualties has occurred within the continental United States since 9-11. Therefore, it follows that losses in Israel from another Hamas rocket attack would be exacerbated without the presence of the Iron Dome, and that could lead to a new Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip and perhaps a prolonged occupation of the territory. This is a course of action that those who support the Palestinian cause wish to avoid. So, why did the Squad not support the funding of the Iron Dome? Undoubtedly the answer is ignorance of history, with perhaps a dollop of rank anti-Semitism.
So, here’s a brief history lesson for those uniformed progressives. In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egyptian leader Colonel Nassar, a military dictator who ruled the country for sixteen years (1954-1970) and had previously administered the Gaza strip as an Egyptian province until Israel annexed it. Eventually, in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace deal that formalized the armistice. Then in 1982, as a part of this agreement, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for recognition of the Jewish state and a resumption of diplomatic relations, despite public knowledge of the forthcoming deal leading to the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat in 1981 by anti-Zionist Muslim hardliners. Indeed, there was still a great deal of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric within the Arab world, and many Muslims saw it as a great betrayal for Egypt to sign a peace deal and recognize Israel, in the process abandoning the Palestinian cause. In 1987, such tensions boiled over, leading to the First Intifada (an Islamic uprising), undoubtedly in part a result of growing anger from the Israeli occupation as it had been wrongly presumed by most of the Arab population that the territory would have been returned to Egypt along with the Sinai Peninsula in 1982. The Intifada, and the mass killings of Jews which accompanied it, shocked Israeli society and precipitated a large-scale military crackdown of Gaza. Thereafter, the tiny strip was given the moniker of ‘the largest open-air prison’ by pro-Palestinian leftists.
Israel only ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, unilaterally pulling out its military forces as well as destroying the Jewish settlements and forcibly removing its citizens from the territory, in the process handing it over to be governed by the PLO. Yet, despite an end to the occupation, the PLO still funnels much of its tax revenues to Hamas for the creation of rockets which it intermittently and erratically fires at Israel. Each time such reckless actions risk initiating another firm-handed Israeli military response which could be the spark that ignites a regional conflict.
Although Syria is currently embroiled in its own Civil War and would most likely not participate, Israel still has a plethora of regional rivals who could use Israeli intervention in Gaza as a veritable casus belli for war. For example, Lebanon is currently undergoing a financial crisis unseen since the end of their own civil war, which ended in 1990; yet renewed conflict with Israel could be used by politicians to galvanize the public’s patriotism and obfuscate from domestic issues. Moreover, the federal government lacks control over much of the country’s south which has a heavy presence of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, who has used the chaos of the neighbouring civil war in Syria to smuggle tonnes of munitions from Iran, bolstering their arsenal and giving them the capability to fight Israel with or without governmental support. Egypt also is wrangling with its own internal issues, and the electoral success of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood in the 2012 elections is an indicator of the non-secular and anti-Israel trend the country is moving towards. Although nominally a strong ally of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan also has its own internal issues, which could be alleviated through renewed conflict with Israel. Since the Six-Day War, Jordan has lost control over the West Bank to Israel, a situation that led to an exodus of thousands of Palestinian refugees into Jordan who feared Israeli reprisals for the atrocities they committed. However, although it has been nearly 50 years, the Jordanians refuse to naturalize these Palestinians and make them citizens. Instead, they exist as second-class citizens who could be armed and mobilized as irregular forces to infiltrate and subvert Israeli control over the West Bank while giving Jordan a semblance of plausible deniability –a necessity since out of Israel’s neighbours, Jordan is the least likely to enter an outright war, as, like Israel, Jordan is extremely dependent on the U.S. security umbrella.
This course of events: a broader Arab-Israeli War, the invasion of Gaza, a prolonged decades-long occupation, a spontaneous and mass Islamic uprising, then an Israeli withdrawal, could all be repeated if the situation is not handled with great care and tensions on both sides lowered, something which will certainly be accomplished by a decrease in casualties from the Iron Dome shooting down most rockets. Furthermore, Benjamin Netanyahu is out of office, and consequently, the right-wing Likud party has lost much of its power, and thereby the support for increased settlements has been reduced with the introduction of a more left-wing coalition into government. In fact, the Arab party has joined the government as a small but significant part of the coalition. This action will hopefully serve to reduce Arab-Israeli tensions in the region. Nevertheless, in the Middle East, “the price of [peace] is eternal vigilance” and the continued funding of the Iron Dome.