U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford said his vote against emergency military aid for Israel was prompted by concerns about unfunded spending and the national debt, and he considers himself a friend and supporter of Israel.
Sanford said he voted twice during his current term in the House to support legislation funding Israel's "Iron Dome," prior his vote Aug. 1 against giving Israel an additional $225 million for the missile defense system. The funding was approved by the House 395-8.
"Nobody wants to see missiles going into Israel," Sanford said Thursday, while addressing a meeting of The Exchange Club of Charleston. He said Congress skirted rules about paying for new spending, by calling the missile defense funding an emergency, and he couldn't support that.
In nearly four weeks of fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Hamas fighters have rained about 3,000 missiles on Israeli territory. The Iron Dome missile system is credited with destroying about 90 percent of the incoming crude rockets.
Nearly 1,900 people have been killed in the conflict, the majority of them Palestinians. As of Thursday, 66 Israelis had been killed, BBC News reported.
Sanford said he's heard concerns from constituents about his vote against the Iron Dome emergency funding, which was later approved by the Senate and signed by the president.
Myrtle Beach state Rep. Alan Clemmons, a fellow Republican, blasted Sanford's vote in a Facebook post titled "For Shame, Mark Sanford!!!" in which Clemmons said he's never been more disappointed by a vote cast by an elected South Carolina official. Clemmons also posted a link to those comments on his Twitter account, and said Thursday that his opinion has not changed.
"Dress it up as a fiscal-scruples vote, or any way you please; it was a vote against US support of Israel's defense, the defense of our chief ally in the Middle East, at a time of war," Clemmons said in the posting. "It was an irresponsible and disappointing vote that sends an anti-Semitic signal to the world from an American state that has supported Jewish citizens and immigrants since pre-Revolutionary days, and the modern Jewish nation since her inception!"
Sanford said Israel is an important U.S. ally, that he is on good terms with AIPAC, America's pro-Israel lobby. Last year the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation paid for Sanford and his fiancee to visit Israel, along with other members of Congress.
On Thursday, AIPAC did not respond to a request for comment about Sanford's Iron Dome vote.
Sanford considers the national debt to be America's greatest security threat. He said one of the problems in Congress is that members will support spending that increases the nation's debt if the cause is popular. In addition to the Iron Dome funding, Sanford cited the recent $16.3 billion bill to overhaul Veterans Affairs Department, which he voted against. The legislation passed, and was signed by the president Thursday.
Sanford has a history of opposing federal spending on principal, regardless of whether his vote will change the outcome. As S.C. governor he tried to block $700 million in federal stimulus funds meant to support South Carolina schools. The federal funds would have been sent to other states had a court ruling not forced South Carolina to accept the money.
Sanford said the government can't keep spending borrowed money, and unchecked spending "is very much going to affect the trajectory of our civilization."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552