Dem Leaders Thwart Leftist Attempt To Delay Military Assistance to Israel

Dems divided as anti-Israel flank grows more vocal

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), Rashid
May 18, 2021

Democratic leaders convinced their colleagues on Tuesday to drop an effort championed by the party’s left flank that would have delayed U.S. military assistance to Israel as the country battles Iranian-backed terrorist groups.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), the House’s second-highest-ranking Democrat, told reporters that after pressure from leadership, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), abandoned efforts to delay over $735 million in arms sales to Israel. The Jewish state has used such weaponry during the past two weeks to battle Hamas terrorists as they fire thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. Hoyer is one of the party’s most vocal pro-Israel voices.

Meeks’s bid was widely seen as part of a larger effort by Democratic leaders to placate far-left House members who continue to bash Israel and accuse the country of terrorism for conducting defensive operations. Chief among these anti-Israel voices are Reps. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), Cori Bush (D., Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), and Mark Pocan (D., Wis.). These lawmakers have called for aid to Israel be cut off and sanctions on the Jewish state for striking Palestinian terrorist groups. Omar and Tlaib, who have expressed increasing frustration with their party’s pro-Israel stalwarts, took to social media this week and last to blast the Biden administration and fellow Democrats for issuing statements in defense of Israel.

Meeks’s about-face is another sign of the Democratic Party’s growing divide on Israel, as anti-Israel advocates like Omar, an HFAC member, push for the historically bipartisan, pro-Israel Congress to adopt a hardline stance against the Jewish state, including withholding critical security aid. Republican congressional insiders worry that HFAC Democrats, as well as the party at large, are ditching their longstanding support for the U.S.-Israel relationship as pressure from anti-Israel voices mounts.

"For the chairman to even pay lip service to the anti-Israel members of his caucus is destructive to what we need from this committee right now, and threatens HFAC's bipartisan support of Israel," said one GOP congressional aide.

Republican HFAC members lined up behind Israel when asked for comment on the committee’s consideration of any effort that would delay or withhold military aid.

"It’s vital we ensure our most important ally in the Middle East has the tools they need to defend themselves today and in the future," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the committee’s lead Republican, told the Washington Free Beacon. "That is why I and others approved it, and why I’m encouraging the administration to proceed with the sale as planned."

Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), another HFAC member, expressed concerns that "Democrats, once again, are planning to abandon Israel—this time while she’s being attacked."

"America must do more, not less, for our ally, Israel," he said, "and any delays placating ‘The Squad’ just aid and embolden Hamas terrorists."

Reps. Greg Steube (R., Fla.) and Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) expressed similar sentiments to the Free Beacon calling for both parties in the committee to support robust funding for Israel.

Democratic leaders are having a more difficult time voicing public support for Israel.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a pro-Israel stalwart, has been mostly silent since bombs began falling across Israel last week. The senator made his first public statement about the conflict on Monday, telling reporters, "I agree with the statement put out by Senators Murphy and Young last night in its entirety. I want to see a cease-fire reached quickly. And I mourn the loss of life." That statement supported Israel’s right to self-defense and urged all parties to end the violence.

Schumer’s office declined to comment on the situation further when reached by the Free Beacon. The senator’s silence departs from his past support for Israel. Schumer opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, putting him at odds with the Obama administration, citing his concerns about the dangers the deal would pose to Israel’s security.

Some in the pro-Israel community noticed Schumer’s silence.

"One knows who their true friends are on the hard days, not the easy ones," one official at a pro-Israel organization told the Free Beacon, speaking only on background so as not to damage relations with the senator’s office. "Sen. Schumer has often spoken of his love and admiration for the Jewish state. Now is the time for him to show it."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) also broke her silence about the conflict on Tuesday, indicating that the Democratic leadership has decided to maintain a pro-Israel stance.

"Israel is our friend and ally in the Middle East with whom we have shared values," Pelosi said in a statement. "It is in the U.S. national security interest to support security in Israel. Hamas exploited a volatile situation to initiate hostilities against Israel."