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Opponents of US funds for Israel's Iron Dome system 'antisemitic or ignorant', says Israeli ambassador

Eleven US lawmakers voted against or abstained a bill renewing US funding to the Israeli defence system last week
A picture taken on 15 June 2021 shows an Iron Dome air defence battery on the outskirts of Jerusalem (AFP)

An Israeli ambassador has denounced American politicians who voted against continuing funding for the Iron Dome Missile system as "ignorant or antisemitic", claiming that the system saved both Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel's UN ambassador Gilad Erdan denounced the 11 lawmakers in the US House of Representatives, particularly the left-wing group nicknamed "The Squad", who last week either voted against or abstained on providing $1bn to Israel for Iron Dome replenishment.

"If Israel didn’t have Iron Dome to protect our citizens from the thousands of rockets that Hamas fired, we may have needed to respond with a ground operation that would have inevitably resulted in many more lives lost," he said at an event organised by the Jewish Federations of North America.

Operational for a decade, Israeli officials say Iron Dome has intercepted and destroyed thousands of short-range rockets and artillery shells launched by armed groups from Gaza before they were able to hit populated areas.

Republican and Democratic representatives slammed progressive Democrats - including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who abstained after initially promising to vote against - for opposing the funding.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy blasted Democrats for capitulating to "the anti-Semitic influence of their radical members," an accusation echoed by conservative Texas senator Ted Cruz, who urged the Democratic rank-and-file to denounce the party's leadership.

Dean Phillips, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota, tweeted he was "incredulous" that colleagues would risk shutting down the government rather than defend "one of our most important allies and only Jewish nation in the world" from Hamas rockets.

'Israel's security'

The cash transfer ultimately advanced from the House on a comfortable 420-9 vote.

"Passage of this bill reflects the great unity in Congress... for Israel's security," Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democrats, said in a speech on the chamber floor. 

"Assistance to Israel is vital, because Israel's security is an imperative for America's security."

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The Iron Dome has been backed by the United States since it was launched a decade ago to the tune of $1.6bn, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked both parties for their commitment to the country's security and the American people for their "steadfast friendship". 

And later in the day, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by telephone with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz, discussing "regional developments including the need to stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing," the Pentagon said in a statement.

"Minister Gantz also thanked Secretary Austin for the continued support of the US administration and the Pentagon for the processes to equip Israel with the means necessary to defend itself and its citizens," according to the Pentagon.

The objections to the funding underlined however that progressives are becoming increasingly sceptical of no-strings-attached aid to Israel, three months after Bennett ousted long-serving ruler Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim US congresswomen, have both tweeted their disapproval of the funding, citing human rights violations against Palestinians and illegal settlement expansion.