Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Will the Holy Cow of Aid to Israel Survive the Dull Blade of Across-the-Board Budget Cuts?

Another budget battle has ended as Congress has agreed to fund the government through next fall including a record-breaking $3.075 billion in military aid to Israel.  At the same time though, the failure of the super committee to come up with a deficit reduction plan will trigger across-the-board budget cuts in 2013, including a loss of $250 million per year in military aid to Israel.  As our National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner writes, this is the time for Congress to review U.S. policy towards Israel, a policy which the United States cannot afford "morally, politically or financially." Military aid to Israel makes the average American taxpayer complicit in Israel's human rights abuses as well as takes away resources from funding the projects Americans need at home, including providing affordable housing and primary healthcare. 

Will the Holy Cow of Aid to Israel Survive the Dull Blade of Across-the-Board Budget Cuts?
Posted: 12/20/11 11:52 AM ET

The Israel lobby can breathe a sigh a relief now that Congress has agreed to fund the government through next fall, including a record-breaking $3.075 billion in military aid to Israel. This earmark may have emerged unscathed in this year's budget battle, but because the super committee failed to produce a deficit reduction plan, triggering across-the-board budget cuts in 2013, this heretofore sacrosanct and perennially expanding budgetary line-item is suddenly and deservedly on the chopping block.

Budgets are always moral documents and budgetary priorities always reflect trade-offs. With the annual average $3 billion appropriation of U.S. military aid to Israel, the United States could provide instead each year 350,000 low-income families with affordable housing, or 500,000 unemployed workers with green jobs training, or 900,000 at-risk youth with early reading education, or 24 million uninsured people with access to primary health care, according to www.aidtoisrael.org, a project of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Despite the deteriorating fiscal position of the United States, military aid to Israel has been increasing and crowding out these more urgent, unmet domestic needs because in 2007 the United States and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding for the United States to provide Israel with $30 billion of taxpayer-financed weapons from 2009 to 2018. This agreement represented an annual average increase of 25 percent above previous levels of military aid to Israel, which even beforehand took the lion's share of U.S. foreign aid despite per capita income greater than New Zealand and Saudi Arabia, according to the International Monetary Fund. The Bush and Obama Administrations faithfully implemented the proposed increases in weapons to Israel in their budget requests to Congress from a baseline of $2.4 billion in FY2008 to $3.075 billion in the FY2012 budget.

President Obama was to have requested $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel in his FY2013 budget, the level at which weapons to Israel was expected to plateau until the memorandum expires fives years hence. However, it appears these projected increases in aid to Israel will not be immune from the ramifications of the super committee debacle. According to Nathan Guttman, writing in the Jewish Daily Forward, Israel will lose an estimated $250 million yearly from its military aid package when across-the-board budget cuts take effect.

Surprisingly, Guttman notes, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the organizations within the Israel lobby, has yet to publicly protest the upcoming cuts in military aid to Israel, because it "may fear a backlash if Israel is singled out for special treatment in the face of broad cuts favored by both Democrats and Republicans." This despite the fact that the lobbying outfit's primary purpose is to advocate for additional weapons to Israel, one of the central reasons its tax-exempt front group, the American Israel Education Foundation, led a record-breaking delegation of 81 Members of Congress to Israel this August.

Questioning military aid to Israel has long been a taboo topic in U.S. politics, a third rail issue even more electric than abortion and guns. Led by a cadre of Congressional true believers and backed by the fearsome power of the Israel lobby to reward acquiescence and punish deviance, Congress has, for the most part, unquestioningly toed the line that saturating Israel with weapons will conjure up peace. Those few in Congress who have raised doubts about this received wisdom have tended toward the feather tips of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

The across-the-board budget cuts that will affect future levels of U.S. military aid to Israel should allow Members of Congress to reexamine this policy more broadly in an atmosphere devoid of the usual ideological cant of zealots and the menacing glare of AIPAC if it continues to sit out this battle.

Such a review is long overdue since providing Israel with taxpayer-funded weapons is a policy that the United States cannot afford, either morally, politically, or financially. From 2000-2009, the United States gave Israel more than $24 billion in military aid, from which the United States licensed, paid for, and delivered more than 670 million weapons valued at nearly $19 billion. (The remaining money was gobbled up by Israel's own weapons industry due to a unique budgetary provision that allows Israel to spend up to 26 percent of its U.S. military aid domestically.)

During this same period, Israel killed at least 2,969 unarmed Palestinian civilians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, while enforcing its illegal 44-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. The extensive databases at weaponstoisrael.org, a project of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, make clear that by providing Israel with hundreds of categories of weapons, the United States is intimately and intricately connected to every Israeli military action in some fashion.

Not only does U.S. military aid to Israel make the average taxpayer complicit in Israel's human rights abuses committed against Palestinians; it also serves as a perverse disincentive to the attainment of U.S. policy goals such as ending Israeli settlement expansion, loosening the blockade of Gaza, and establishing a Palestinian state.

With the super committee's failure necessitating cuts across-the-board to reduce the deficit, Israel and its supporters in Congress should be forced to share the pain. Israel's impending loss of $250 million per year in military aid should also open up a conversation about ending all U.S. military to Israel at least until it complies with its obligations under international law to end its illegal military occupation of Palestinian territory.