Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez penned a long, emotional letter in which she explained her decision to vote “present” on a bill to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Ocasio-Cortez was seen crying after she switched her vote against the $1 billion bill to “present,” which essentially amounted to an abstention. The measure easily passed the House of Representatives, 420–9. In the letter, Ocasio-Cortez criticized the “deeply unjust” process to get the bill to the House floor and approved quickly as well as what she sees as the way so many in Washington are willing to go along with “unconditional aid to the Israeli government.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s three-page letter doesn’t ever explicitly lay out her reasons for switching from “no” to “present” but she suggested it had to do with what she said was the rush to vote and the consequences. “The reckless decision by House leadership to rush this controversial vote within a matter of hours and without true consideration created a tinderbox of vitriol, disingenuous framing, deeply racist accusations and depictions,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the letter addressed to residents of New York’s 14th Congressional District.
She also explained her tears, saying they were related to the way she felt leaders were trying to rush the vote rather than hear substantive objections. “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 wrote. “And I wept at the complete lack of regard I often feel our party has to its most vulnerable and endangered members and communities.”
What Ocasio-Cortez described as the rushed process to get the bill approved “created very real spillover effects”; she said it made the prospect of civil debate on such a complicated issue even harder. “It created a real sense of panic and horror among those in our community who otherwise engage thoughtfully in these discussions, and fueled the discussion to devolve to a point where it became clear that this vote would risk a severe devolution of the good faith community fabric that allows us to responsibly join in a struggle for human rights and dignity everywhere,” she said.
The debate over funding for the Iron Dome system grew bitter and exemplified divisions that exist within the Democratic Party over Israel. The funding for the system had originally been part of a bigger government spending bill, but Democratic leaders ended up making it a stand-alone bill after objections from some progressive lawmakers. During the debate, Rep. Rashida Tlaib called Israel an “apartheid state,” which led Rep. Ted Deutch to accuse her of antisemitism. In the end, only eight Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill.
With her vote, Ocasio-Cortez managed to anger people on both sides of the issue. Supporters of Israel criticized her for not supporting the funding that they say helps save lives, and pro-Palestinian activists blasted her for not opposing the measure. “To those I have disappointed—I am deeply sorry,” she wrote. “To those who believe this reasoning is insufficient or cowardice—I understand.” The bill now goes to the Senate.