WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., penned a lengthy and emotional open letter apologizing to her constituents Friday for effectively abstaining in a vote over funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which overwhelmingly passed in the House a day earlier.
Ocasio-Cortez, who could be seen weeping in the House after the vote, used her letter to criticize both the substance of the bill and what she described as the “reckless” and “rushed” process to pass it. She opposed the “unconditional aid to the Israeli government,” she added in her letter, but ultimately switched her vote from “no” to “present,” meaning a member takes no position in favor or against but records their presence.
The House voted for the measure 420 to 9.
However, Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to effectively abstain attracted ire from some liberal supporters.
“Normally I find AOC a person with moral values … This time though, as a few other times, I must say she should’ve stuck with other ‘Squad’ members,” wrote one person on Twitter. Another said, “AOC primes people to believe she will never compromise, then does.” Meanwhile, an opinion piece accused her vote of being “a tactical mess” and a “worst-of-both-worlds solution,” and suggested that it indicated she could have higher political ambitions.
Describing her actions in her letter, Ocasio-Cortez wrote: “Yes, I wept. I wept at the complete lack of care for the human beings that are impacted by these decisions, I wept at an institution choosing a path of maximum volatility and minimum consideration for its own political convenience.”
She added: “To those I have disappointed — I am deeply sorry. To those who believe this reasoning is insufficient or cowardice — I understand.”
She was not explicit about the reasons for her change of heart but hinted at a lack of time for substantive community consultation, as well as “hateful targeting” and the creation of an atmospheric “tinderbox of vitriol.”
The $1 billion funding for the Iron Dome system, which is designed to counter short-range rockets and mortars from Gaza militants, was originally part of the wider government spending bill. However some liberals threatened to vote it down, upending the entire spending package.
As a result, Democratic leaders opted to instead strip out the Israel funding provision and make it a stand-alone bill, which passed Thursday. The procedural maneuver, however, flared tensions among Democrats, with Ocasio-Cortez slamming the process as “deeply unjust.”
Israel continues to be a fault line across the Democratic Party caucus, with the debate over the Iron Dome funding the latest issue to pit members of the so-called Squad, a group of liberal lawmakers, against establishment Democrats.
A high profile member of the Squad, Ocasio-Cortez is often a lightening rod for conservative criticism, however, in this case, her abstention saw her breakaway from fellow members including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who all voted against the bill.
The vote also saw interparty tensions erupt between Democrats, as Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress, called Israel an “apartheid state,” while Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida in turn accused her of antisemitism.
Amid the fray, Republicans were eager to paint the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel.
“Democrats do NOT support Israel,” Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 in House GOP leadership, wrote on Twitter. “Instead they choose to side with the Hamas Caucus wing of their Party.”
But House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement that the United States’ “commitment to the security of our friend and ally Israel is ironclad.”
The vote was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who thanked “Democrats and Republicans alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and for the commitment to its security.”
The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration before it can be signed into law.