Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman from Michigan, labelled Israel an “apartheid regime” on the floor of the US House of Representatives shortly before the chamber overwhelmingly voted to give Israel $1 billion in additional funds for its Iron Dome missile defence system.
“The Israeli government is an apartheid regime — not my words: the words of Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own human rights organisation, B’Tselem,” Ms Tlaib said before the 420-9 vote in favour of the funding.
Her comments drew condemnation from Republicans and fellow Democrats alike.
Ms Tlaib, who identifies as Palestinian American, had previously called Israel an “apartheid state” in May after Human Rights Watch reached the same conclusion in April.
“I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state,” Democrat Ted Deutch, chairman of the Middle East panel, said in response to Ms Tlaib’s remarks. “I reject it.”
Ms Tlaib’s remarks came after she joined forces with several of her pro-Palestinian colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus to briefly delay the additional Iron Dome funding, which the party’s leaders had initially inserted as an extra provision in a bill to temporarily extend federal funding needed to prevent a government shutdown.
Because Republicans opposed the government funding bill, Democrats could afford few defections.
This forced Democratic leaders to remove the Iron Dome provision and introduce it as a stand-alone bill on the House floor, highlighting the feud between a new generation of pro-Palestinian Democrats and the party’s pro-Israel old guard.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and President Joe Biden's administration had asked Congress for the $1bn in additional Iron Dome funding.
They assert that the sum is necessary to replenish Iron Dome batteries that were depleted during Israel’s latest war against Hamas in May, which killed at least 243 Palestinians and 12 Israelis while devastating the Gaza Strip.
“Iron Dome is a purely defensive system designed to safeguard all civilians living in Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote. “The system was co-developed by the United States and Israel and has saved thousands of lives.”
“Passage of the bill reflects a great unity in Congress on a bipartisan and bicameral basis for Israel’s security.”
The bill is easily expected to pass the Senate.
Ms Tlaib called the $1bn price tag “absurd, an unjustifiable 140 per cent increase for the Iron Dome".
The amount represents a 60 per cent increase over what Congress has provided in funding for the programme over the past decade, said Seth Binder, the advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
He noted that the $1bn in the bill is 14 times more than the $73 million the US gave to Israel for the Iron Dome this year.
The US provides Israel with $3.3bn in foreign military financing every year, and an additional $500m for its missile programmes, which include the Iron Dome.
Congress last passed emergency funding for the Iron Dome after Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas — but that totalled $225m, a fraction of the $1bn that the House passed on Thursday.
An August poll from the Chicago Council Survey found that half of Americans believe the US should restrict military aid to Israel, including 62 per cent of Democrats and 32 per cent of Republicans.
Despite the growing support within the Democratic party to leverage US military aid to Israel, Mr Biden has refused to budge on the issue.
His nominee to serve as ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, also came out in favour of funding Israel’s replenishment of Iron Dome batteries during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.