Uncategorized · January 17, 2022 0

Self Interest May Not Be Enough

Marty Levine

January 17, 2022

It has been clear that for years the Senate is a legislative body in which the minority can and will use the body’s rules and traditions as tools for subverting Democracy. They use them as ways to prevent legislation from being considered as well as being voted on.  

In the face of a Republican/conservative-inspired legislative log jam progressive groups face a singular challenge. On which issues do they spend their political capital as they try to get items unstuck. How do they balance the more specific, narrow concerns of their supporters with issues that impact the nation as a whole?

Demonstrators march through the streets of Winston-Salem, N.C., Monday, July 13, 2015, after the beginning of a federal voting rights trial challenging a 2013 state law. Election law experts say the case could determine how far Southern states can change voting rules after the nation’s highest court struck down a portion of the federal Voting Rights Act just weeks before the North Carolina law was passed. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Right now two bills that will protect voting rights, HR1 the For the People Act of 2021 and HR4 the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 have been enacted by the House of Representatives remain untouched by the Senate.  They are just two in a large pile, numbering well over 200, of other pieces of legislation that have passed the House and now sit in the Senate.  Inaction on these voting rights bills empowers reactionary state governments to pass laws limiting ballot access to a level that has the potential to destroy our democracy, eroding our belief that we guarantee equal access to the ballot box and the ability to control the direction of government at all levels that it bestows.

The list of bills that the Senate minority can keep from consideration currently includes the House-approved national budget and the associated appropriation bills that actually fund the work of our government. Other substantive actions sitting in limbo address many of the nation’s most urgent needs. Held up is the compromise Build Back Better Act (HR 5376) that increases investment in combatting the threat of climate change as well as expands critical safety net elements more needed than ever as the nation slogs its way through the pandemic. Other bills being held up are a bill to grant statehood to the District of Columbia (HR51), a bill that will finally end the war in Iraq (HR256), one protecting seniors from being scammed (HR446), another strengthening effort to curtail child abuse(HR485),  a bill to expand support of mental health services for students (HR721),  another to the epidemic of combat Police violence (HR1280), another to control improve registration requirements for gun ownership (HR1446),  a bill protecting farm workers (HR1603), a long-awaited bill to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (HR1620), bills supporting our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (HR3125, HR 3146), and one that would support the Afghan refugees fleeing to our shores after the Taliban’s take over (HR3985). All these bills await unraveling the Senate’s gordian knot of undemocratic procedures.

The urgency of protecting voting rights is critical. If these are not protected everything is at risk. The urgency to respond to the climate crisis, and the human needs addressed by much of the other stalled legislation is clear to me. This is the time to push our Senators to stop the procedural log jam, to allow debate and vote, up or down, on needed legislation.

I was disturbed, then, to read earlier this week how a consortium of pro-Israel nonprofits had decided to use their political muscle. In the name of their constituencies,  Christians United for Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, chose in this moment to lobby on behalf of another item stalled in the Senate. They put their lobbying muscles behind HR 5323 which will make a special allocation of $1 billion to Israel so it can replenish its stock of Iron Dome anti-missile equipment with US taxpayers paying the bill!

During last year’s 11 days of fighting in Gaza, Israel depended on Iron Dome to protect its population while it bombarded the captive population of Gaza. As reported by Jewish Currents, “Immediately after Israel and Hamas announced a ceasefire, Israeli officials told US Senator Lindsey Graham they would need $1 billion to “replenish” the shield. But there are unresolved questions about why Israel needs $1 billion, which amounts to about 60% of the total American funding that has already gone to Israel for Iron Dome in the past decade. Each Iron Dome interceptor costs somewhere between  $40,000 and $80,000, which would suggest that Israel needs $120 million at most to restock its system, as analyst Yousef Munayyer pointed out in a series of tweets. Munayyer wrote, ‘Either the Israelis are lying about the efficiency of the Iron Dome’—meaning Israel actually fired a lot more interceptors at rockets than it claims, leading to a less successful interception rate than the reported 90%—or ‘they are lying about what this is really going to be used for. Either way, US taxpayers are being duped.’”

In their urgent letter, addressed to both Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell, these organizations wrote that, as reported by Haaretz,  “withholding funding for our closest ally while terrorists continue to threaten their people puts Israel in grave danger, increases the likelihood of innocent Palestinian and Israelis being harmed in another round of conflict and hurts American standing and national security interests.”

This is the item that The Jewish Federations of North America, an organization that proclaims that “In Washington, D.C., we’re a powerful advocate for policy changes and reforms that improve quality of life and services for the most vulnerable.” chose this moment as the time to press for. This is the national policy one issue that JCPA features on its website indicating their sense of priority. Not voting rights, not Build Back Better, not the Violence Against Women’s Act, or any of the other urgent legislation stuck on hold, but $1 billion for Iron Dome.

How is it that funding more missiles  for Israel is a lobbying priority for United Synagogue, which sets its mission as “advocating for an authentic and dynamic Judaism?”  Why is it that the ADL, which describes itself as “a global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education and fighting hate online, ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate”, sees this as more critical than voting rights?

Even The URJ, which, to its credit, has called out the Senate for its unwillingness to consider and act on voting rights, saying that “we are entrusting our elected officials to work for the people they represent by enacting filibuster reform and passage of these two bills.”  But, at this moment when the issue hangs in the balance,  see this as the time to deflect legislative attention to this issue of funding Iron Dome.

Is the shortfall, if there is a shortfall, in Israeli resources to bolster this system an American national priority above voting rights? Does it rank above protecting our environment?

Do the interests of Israel come before those of this nation?

This is an example of the inability or unwillingness of these organizations to see the forest for their trees.  At a moment when the rights and freedoms of those who have been marginalized for too long are threatened, how can you see any other issue as more important? How can you divert the attention of your supporters? I’d like to hear their explanations if they dare, or care, to offer one.