U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar bucked most of her fellow House Democrats this week as one of only nine members to oppose $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system.
Omar, a defender of Palestinian human rights and prominent congressional critic of Israel's government, has faced bipartisan controversy during her time in office when it comes to Israel.
Omar declined an interview request on Friday, but in a series of tweets ahead of Thursday's vote, the Minnesota Democrat said that "given the human rights violations in Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah, and ever-growing settlement expansion, we should not be ramming through a last-minute $1 billion increase in military funding for Israel without any accountability." She added in a later tweet, "we continue to pay lip service to human rights, peace and a two state solution. Yet we also continue to provide Israel with funding without addressing the underlying issue of the occupation."
While one Republican and a few other progressives in the group known as the "Squad" also voted no on the bill Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed the measure by a vote of 420-9. Omar's vote was sharply criticized by Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC). "The unfortunate no vote of Representative Omar repudiates in starkest terms essential life or death protection for all who live in Israel," he said.
But Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian American and executive director of the arts organization Mizna, defended Omar's vote. Barkawi, a Minneapolis resident who has donated to Omar's campaign and appeared with her at a 2019 news conference after Israel denied Omar entry to the country, said that "it was really important to take the stand that she took and I know that there are Palestinians and allies across her district who feel the same way."
The decision put Omar at odds with the rest of Minnesota's U.S. House delegation. All four Republicans and Minnesota's three other Democrats in the chamber voted in support of the legislation.
"The Iron Dome defense system has saved many innocent lives, and I was proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to approve its continued funding this week," Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig said in a statement.
During her first term, Omar apologized after House Democratic leadership condemned comments she had made, saying her "use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive." Earlier this year, Omar tweeted that "we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban," in reference to an exchange involving the International Criminal Court during a committee hearing. She issued a clarification following bipartisan backlash.
The latest chapter in Democratic tensions over Israel came into view on Tuesday when $1 billion for the Iron Dome defense system was included, and then removed, from a larger package House Democrats were rushing to pass in an attempt to suspend the debt limit and avoid a government shutdown. Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish, was vocal in his disappointment on the measure being removed, and Republicans were quick to call out Democrats even though no GOP lawmakers voted for the overarching bill on Tuesday.
"Speaker Pelosi should not have bowed to the Progressive Caucus and inexplicably removed our longstanding commitment to Israel to help fund the Iron Dome that protects innocent citizens from terrorist rockets from the Continuing Resolution," GOP U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach said in a statement about Tuesday's activity.
After the defense funding was removed, Democratic House leaders moved quickly to pass a stand-alone Iron Dome bill. Still, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who chairs the influential House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and voted for Thursday's bill, noted in a statement her "serious concerns as to whether these funds can even be expended with current Iron Dome production levels already at capacity."
Omar was also the lone Democrat from Minnesota's House delegation to vote Thursday against the latest National Defense Authorization Act. Republicans Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Fischbach also voted no on the bill, which passed with bipartisan support on a 316-113 vote. Omar's office pointed out that she has voted against passing the annual legislation ever since taking office in 2019.
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559