Daylight was the problem. So New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a passionate defender of Israel, changed the subject, sending forth an intemperate smoke-screen of anti-Semitism accusations and anti-Palestinian bigotry ("Omar, 'squad,' launch another anti-Israel strike," Opinion Exchange, Sept. 24).
Stephens was incensed that Minnesota's Fifth District U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and her colleagues known as "the squad" were among those who opposed sending a gratuitous $1 billion tribute to Israel to restock its Iron Dome. Pro-Israel members of the House had quietly slipped that gift into an unrelated piece of urgently needed legislation intended to prevent a shutdown of the U.S. government.
It was a backdoor way to send more money to an ally that is already the largest recipient — by far — of U.S. foreign aid. But Omar and others objected.
Consequently, the $1 billion for Israel was stripped from the bill to keep our own government running. No big deal really, because the Iron Dome funding passed two days later in H.R. 5323, the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act, a special bill of its own — as everyone in Congress, as well as Stephens, knew it would.
The problem was the daylight.
American taxpayers would now see that their representatives are sending another $1 billion to Israel in addition to the annual $3.8 billion we send them. The vote in the House was 420-9. No one doubts that the Senate will also overwhelmingly approve the extra money for Israel, and that the president will sign it.
Deal almost done. But in daylight.
Lest American readers think too hard about how and why their elected representatives so quickly authorized an additional $1 billion for Israel when they can't agree on most anything else, Stephens diverted our attention by attacking the nine members of the House who voted against H.R. 5323 with his smoke-screen accusations of anti-Semitism.
In particular he excoriated Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress. He called them Israel-haters and "ill-intended bigots." He accused them of wanting to undermine Israel's security by not supporting aid to Israel that should have been a "no-brainer."
The additional $1 billion for Israel is intended to restock Israel's Iron Dome system, which was used to intercept rockets fired at Israel from Gaza during May this year in response to Israeli police attacks on Palestinians at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Iron Dome was credited with keeping Israeli fatalities at 13 during the violent outbreak.
Meanwhile, Israel responded by bombing Gaza, causing about 240 deaths, including 66 children. Israeli bombs in May also destroyed some 2,400 homes in Gaza, displacing 120,000 people.
Minnesota's Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum was among the 420 who voted to approve the additional $1 billion to restock the Iron Dome. She did so, she said in a news release, because the bill is intended to save lives. At the same time, however, she pointed out that "innocent Palestinians who live under military occupation are regularly killed by Israeli security forces" and have no Iron Dome to protect them. She also said Congress "ignores Israel's blatant violations of international humanitarian law, especially against Palestinian children."
McCollum said the $1 billion supplement for the Iron Dome was not requested by the Biden administration and is in addition to the $500 million for Israeli missile defense programs already included in the 2022 appropriations bill, which she authored.
McCollum is the author of another bill that does have Palestinian interests in mind, H.R. 2590, Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation. Her bill would prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars for the military detention of Palestinian children, the seizure or destruction of Palestinian homes or the annexation of Palestinian territory.
That bill currently has 30 cosponsors. If only more of those 420 members of Congress who hastily allocated an extra $1 billion for Israel's defense would realize that McCollum's bill to defend human rights for Palestinians is a clearer road to a just peace than the Iron Dome.
Should McCollum's H.R. 2590 ever make it to the floor of the House for a vote, I wonder what Stephens would write about it. Would he call her attempt to put human rights conditions on Israel's use of American taxpayer dollars "Israel-hating"? Anti-Semitism? Bigotry?
Or dare we hope that he would extend his passionate concern for Israeli lives to the lives of Palestinians who live in the territories Israel has occupied for 73 years?
Mary Christine Bader is a writer in Wayzata and a member of Middle East Peace Now.