By Halie Soifer
Vice President Kamala Harris recently spoke to a political science class at George Mason University about democracy and voting rights. When a young woman questioned the use of taxpayer money to support Israel, the Vice President told the student that her “voice, perspective, experience, truth should not be suppressed.” This response was consistent with the Vice President’s overall message — that democracy means ensuring all voices are heard.
The Vice President did not explicitly rebuke the student on Israel because the point of her remarks was that disagreement does not mean silencing those with whom we disagree — as the Vice President said, “our goal should be unity, not uniformity.” This was not a foreign policy discussion; it was a discussion about democratic process and healthy discourse, and the Vice President correctly chose not to let the conversation get derailed by a policy debate on Israel. In case there was any confusion, the Vice President’s Spokesperson, Symone Sanders, stated that the Vice President “strongly disagrees with the student’s characterization of Israel.”
Some critics have attacked the Vice President for not reaffirming her support of Israel in that classroom, even though her views on Israel are well-known. Perhaps they expected her to reiterate the view she expressed while addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), when she affirmed, “I believe the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable — and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us.” Or perhaps they expected her to reassert “her strong commitment to Israel’s security and support for continued normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors,” as she did a few weeks ago on a call with Israeli President Herzog. There are many examples to cite because the Vice President’s public record of supporting Israel is strong, consistent, and unwavering, and it includes both actions and words.
I’m speaking from personal experience, having worked for Vice President Harris in the Senate as national security advisor. I traveled with then-Senator Harris to Israel in November 2017, and saw first-hand her commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israel’s security, and its right to self-defense. I watched as she inspected an Iron Dome missile defense battery and spoke with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tasked with the harrowing decision of whether to deploy the Iron Dome. Given the exorbitant cost and finite supply of interceptors, the IDF explained they have mere seconds to decide whether to deploy the Iron Dome based on a rocket’s trajectory and proximity to an Israeli population center.
These life-or-death decisions were recently made by the IDF during the May 2021 conflict with Hamas, when approximately 4,400 mortar rockets were shot by the terrorist organization from Gaza into Israel. Once Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire after 11 days, President Biden immediately committed the United States to replenishing Israel’s depleted stockpile of Iron Dome interceptors. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House of Representatives fulfilled the Biden-Harris White House’s commitment to Israel last week by passing a bill providing an additional $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome by a vote of 420–9–2.
This specific funding was raised by the George Mason student in her exchange with the Vice President when she expressed concern about U.S. “funds allocated to continue backing Israel.” The student’s narrative sounded similar to that of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) last week on the House floor, when she inaccurately characterized Israel as an “apartheid regime” and erroneously conflated offensive weapons with the Iron Dome.
This student and the nine members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome funding can have their own perspectives on Israel, but they can’t create their own facts. Israel is a democracy and the Iron Dome is a defensive system used to intercept short-range rockets, save lives, and mitigate conflict on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. These are facts understood by the overwhelming majority of House Democrats and Republicans, just as they’re deeply understood by the Biden White House.
In the debate on the House floor immediately prior to last week’s vote, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to support the funding for Iron Dome “if you believe in human rights, if you believe in saving lives, Israeli lives, and Palestinian lives.” This is the truth about the Iron Dome, and — as the Vice President said earlier this week — the truth should not be suppressed. The truth is that there is no reason to doubt or question where Kamala Harris or the overwhelming majority of Democrats stand on Israel. The facts speak for themselves.
Halie Soifer is Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), which is a national organization that endorses Democratic candidates for elected office and advocates for progressive policy. She previously served as national security adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris, as foreign policy adviser to Sens. Chris Coons and Ted Kaufman, and as senior policy adviser to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.