It remains something of a mystery to me why Alexandria Ocasio Cortez changed her vote on $1-billion Iron Dome funding from No to Present at the last minute (only nine stalwart members bucked the tide to vote No). Even after reading her message to constituents apologizing for it, I remain confused. She does, in this statement, recount that she received threats and “hateful targeting” and implies that this was at least part of her consideration. But The Squad routinely faces this sort of vitriol. Not that this is acceptable or excusable. But using it as a reason for betraying your principles, seems unpersuasive.
Others have speculated on social media that she is considering a run for Senate and her vote was meant to mollify New York’s pro-Israel Jewish constituency. But again, I don’t see how this vote switch reduces the hostility she will face from them when and if she does run. When you are an unabashed progressive it’s impossible to run away from your commitments. Unless you’re prepared to morph into a centrist as Barack Obama did in the course of his presidency. I sincerely hope AOC doesn’t pursue that route.
Another tweet suggested that NY State Democrats who control Congressional redistricting are contemplating adding a heavily Jewish district to her current one, which would make it much more competitive for a Lobby-supported challenger.
NYC is redistricting and they’re trying to put Ridgewood (I think?), a highly Jewish neighborhood in her district. It seems like AIPAC is cracking the whip on the NY state house. I mean it’s shitty she gave in but I feel bad for her crying because her arm is being twisted.
— balls on SWOLE (@PANTHER_CLAWS) September 24, 2021
There is a hint of the pressure exerted on her and her supporters by the Lobby in this passage from her apology statement:
The damage of this careless process created very real spillover effects into our community. It created a real sense of panic and horror among those in our community who otherwise engage thoughtfully in these discussions, and fueled the discussion to devolve to a point where it became clear that this vote would risk a severe devolution of the good faith community fabric that allows us to responsibly join in a struggle for human rights and dignity everywhere – from Palestine to The Bronx and Queens. In short, the rush of this vote into a matter of hours was threatening to tear our community apart, and permanently close the doors that we desperately need open in order to progress.
I’m guessing that not only did AOC herself face pressure, but that the Lobby got to some of her key supporters, donors and constituents, who themselves threatened to withhold support from her. The key italicized phrase notes that her No vote would have somehow damaged the intersectional struggle for justice that bonded Palestine with the South Bronx. I interpret this as pressure brought to bear against her by the Lobby in the form of threats from within the Bronx’s largely Hispanic community.
Here she also alludes to the tens of thousands of messages supporting the Israeli funding measure almost certainly ginned up by the Lobby:
To those who asked me to quell the volatility of this moment in our community, which constituted the majority of constituent feedback our office received – I hope we can take this moment and opportunity to more deeply engage in and grow a true, substantive movement of community support for human rights around the world – which includes cherishing and respecting the human rights of Palestinian people.
I wrote a recent post documenting thousands of e mails flooding the offices of the Burlington city council opposing a BDS resolution. They were generated by the Israeli American Council and follow the same scenario.
Though her apology is what led this NY Times article, it was another nugget buried near the end which was equally important. Though AOC begged leadership to delay a vote, Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi’s capo di tutti, refused. Why? Because Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, got on the phone and pressured him to hold an immediate vote to restore funding:
His maneuver appeared to be intended to calm Israeli officials, who had watched the dispute with alarm.
Hoyer apparently told a big fib to the Israeli official in order to remove some of the sting related to the progressive-Democratic committee revolt, which defeated the Iron Dome funding:
שוחחתי הערב עם סטני הוייר, מנהיג הרוב בבית הנבחרים ביחס לסיוע האמריקאי למערכת כיפת ברזל.
בשיחה עלה כי מדובר בדחייה טכנית שנבעה מהויכוח בקונגרס סביב תקרת הגירעון בתקציב האמריקאי.
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) September 21, 2021
Lapid’s tweet reads:
I spoke this evening with Steny Hoyer…concerning the American funding for Iron Dome. He assured me the defeat [in committee] arose from an argument in Congress about the budget ceiling.
‘Budget ceiling’ my a*!
Though the article does not mention this, pressure also would have been mustered not only by Aipac, but also by its wealthiest Democratic Jewish donors. They would have pulled out all the stops to rectify the embarrassing (for them) committee vote which had rejected the Iron Dome allocation.
That vote marked the first time that any Congressional body had rejected a military aid package for Israel. Had it not been reversed, it would have been a debacle for the Israel Lobby, which prides itself on its invulnerability.
But the major news here is that Israel intervened in US domestic political affairs to cajole, wheedle and threaten Democratic leaders on its own behalf. This proves once again that Democrats are creatures of the Lobby. They are beholden to it and take marching orders from it. They are frightened of their own shadow when it comes to standing up to it. Similarly, it shows that Israel’s agents in this country, including Aipac and all other Israel Lobby groups, are agents of a foreign power and should be forced to register as such.
The “Iron Dome Saves Lives” Hasbara Hoax
A few words on Iron Dome itself. Supporters argue it is purely a defensive weapon. That’s a misnomer. In reality, Iron Dome facilitates Israeli military adventurism. Khaled Elgindy argues:
…A strong case can be made that by minimizing Israeli casualties and economic disruption, Iron Dome essentially provides Israel a “cushion” that enables it to keep on bombing until its leaders are satisfied they’ve achieved their military objectives — the highly subjective and ever-elusive aim of “restoring its deterrent.” Simply put, the less cost Israel pays, whether in human, material, or political terms, the less incentive it has to hold back militarily or to “sue for peace” via diplomacy.
Netanyahu knew when he provoked Palestinian worshippers at Haram al Sharif during a Muslim holy festival by beating them as they left prayers, that there could be no consequences. When Hamas threatened to launch an attack in response to the Israeli anti-Muslim violence, Bibi knew the missiles would be useless because of Iron Dome. It allowed him to tell Israeli police to riot among the Palestinian population. It, in effect, provoked the war that resulted in May in which 250 Palestinians were murdered. So don’t tell me Iron Dome is defensive. It’s part and parcel of the Israeli war machine. Without it, to stifle Palestinian rocket attacks Israel would have to conduct a ground invasion to root out the missile launchers. With it, it can sit back and let them fly because it knows most will be destroyed before doing any damage.
Iron Dome encourages Israel to refuse to compromise on a peace agreement. It insulates it from consequences of its rejectionism and promotes the rancid status quo in which Israelis and Palestinians will continue to die indefinitely. Elgindy again:
…This raises a more fundamental question of whether an ostensibly defensive weapon like Iron Dome–when used in the service of maintaining Israel’s occupation or its ongoing blockade of Gaza, or simply to allow Israeli leaders to indefinitely defer a political settlement–still qualifies as defensive. In the end, regardless of where one stands on the current controversy, there is simply no evidence to support the claim that Iron Dome saves Palestinian lives or even mitigates violence. In reality, it is more likely to have cost Palestinian lives by deepening an already vastly asymmetrical conflict and extending Israel’s ability to defer a political settlement indefinitely.
Let’s conduct a thought experiment: if the US truly wanted peace between Israel and Palestine in addition to Iron Dome it would furnish defensive weapons to the Palestinians so they could defend themselves as well from Israeli attack. The fact that we only defend one side speaks volumes about our true values. We militarize Israel and promote its worst impulses while leaving Palestinians naked and vulnerable to the worst Israel has to offer, which includes our own weapons.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.