The high-profile, pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC is hardly a stranger to sparring with members of U.S. Congress in recent years.
But the latest critic lambasting AIPAC as an agent of “foreign interference” in U.S. politics – and facing angry pushback, including charges of antisemitism – is no member of the far-left “squad” of progressive Democrats. This time, it’s a libertarian Republican from Kentucky with a long record of angering Israel’s supporters, including those in his own party.
Out of the nine House members who voted against the stand-alone bill providing $1 billion in emergency funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system last week, Rep. Thomas Massie was the lone Republican. The vote had an unusually high profile, taking place immediately after progressive Democrats flexed their muscles and had the funding removed from a stopgap spending bill. The other members of Congress who voted against it all hailed from the leftist Democratic camp that held up the funding in the first place.
Following the vote, Massie tweeted an explanation, writing: “My position of 'no foreign aid' might sound extreme to some, but I think it’s extreme to bankrupt our country and put future generations of Americans in hock.”
The next day, he tweeted a more forceful message: “Fantasy: Foreign aid buys U.S. influence abroad. Reality: Foreign aid is the result of foreign influence exerted on U.S. politicians at home.”
AIPAC responded with sponsored tweets featuring a photograph of Massie, declaring in bold red letters that “When Israel faced rocket attacks, Thomas Massie voted AGAINST Iron Dome” inviting readers to click to support the organization if “Thomas Massie does not speak for me.” The caption read: “Efforts to cut, add conditions, or restrict America’s strong, bipartisan commitment to Israel will only harm America’s national interests.”
Massie quickly took aim at AIPAC on Twitter with a screen capture of the ad, asking “How is THIS not foreign interference in our elections?”
A firestorm ensued, with both Democrats and Republicans rising to AIPAC’s defense as a lobby for American supporters of Israel, not a foreign agent.
California congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Eric Swalwell added a dash of snark, tweeting that he “LOVED” the fact that a pro-Trump Republican finally cares “about foreign interference in our elections,” as well as pointing out the “A” in AIPAC “stands for “American.”
The American Jewish Committee thanked Swalwell for calling out Massie’s “latest instance of antisemitism.”
Massie also faced criticism over his “foreign interference” remark from conservatives sympathetic to his congressional vote. National Review writer David Harsanyi tweeted that Massie’s “vote against the Iron Dome is completely defensible. He votes against all foreign aid. Calling AIPAC 'foreigners' is a different story.”
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist frequently critical of Israeli policy, tweeted in a thread that “there are parts of the right very steadfast about objecting to attempts to convert every political disagreement into accusations of racism, misogyny, etc., yet then do precisely that by weaponizing ‘antisemitism’ accusations against their adversaries in the Israel debate.”
He emphasized, however, that “it's completely obnoxious and manipulative to suggest that only antisemitism could explain opposition to funding Israel's military. There's nothing antisemitic about saying: let Israel fund their own military, not U.S. taxpayers,” saying that “it's vital that Americans be free to debate U.S. policy toward and support for Israel – especially members of Congress – without being smeared as antisemites for the slightest questioning of longstanding bipartisan policy.”
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This was far from Massie’s first clash with members of the American Jewish community and supporters of Israel. In August, he tweeted a meme comparing COVID restrictions to the treatment of prisoners in concentration camps during the Holocaust, sparking outrage from fellow lawmakers and the public. Massie had posted an image of a hand raised in a fist with a tattooed number visible on the wrist. The photograph was captioned, in bold capital letters: “IF YOU HAVE TO CARRY A CARD ON YOU TO GAIN ACCESS TO A RESTAURANT, VENUE, OR EVENT IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY… THAT’S NO LONGER A FREE COUNTRY.”
Following the criticism, Massie deleted his controversial tweet. But he has repeatedly defended his position regarding Iron Dome, which is consistent with his long-standing isolationist stance – he has repeatedly called for the United States to withdrawal from the United Nations. Massie is a board member of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, founded by the libertarian former congressman and presidential candidate, who similarly clashed with pro-Israel supporters within his Republican Party.
Paul’s opponents are also at odds with Massie – most notably the Republican Jewish Coalition. In 2020, the RJC’s political action committee made the rare move of backing a GOP challenger to an incumbent sitting congressman by actively supporting Massie’s opponent in the 2020 primaries. It called Massie “the only anti-Israel member of the House GOP caucus,” and cited Massie’s opposition to funding a Holocaust Education Bill earlier in the year.
Massie has also voted against sending emergency aid to support the Iron Dome defensive missile program in the past. In 2014, in the midst of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, he cast a similar vote, opposing the Emergency Iron Dome Replenishment Act.