Leave Israel Alone! (and Cut Off Their Foreign Aid Too)
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! To celebrate the holiday, I thought we’d look at an uncontroversial and timely topic. For years, polls have shown that Americans strongly favor cutting foreign aid. To be sure, Americans are very poorly informed as to how much the U.S. spends in this area, but the idea of cutting foreign aid in general is fairly popular. In an America that is as closely divided as ever on politics, it’s nice that there’s something most of us can agree on.
So no one should have a problem with cutting foreign aid to Israel, right? Not just Israel, of course, but all foreigners including Israel – everyone cool with that?
The story so far…
Foreign aid is another one of those budget items that should be obvious to cut for a nation with a trillion-dollar-plus budget deficit, and yet it lives on forever. In September, when the Obama administration moved to send $450 million in aid to Egypt, some Republican congresswoman said she’d block it. But when a bill sponsored by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to cut aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan actually came up for a vote, it was overwhelmingly defeated.
And that was aid for countries that most Americans don’t have any particular fondness for. If we can’t even cut foreign aid to countries we don’t care about, why would we ever cut aid to allies? The bloody obvious reasons are that they don’t need our aid and we can’t afford it in any case, but the U.S. government will never let the bloody obvious stand in its way.
Take Israel (please), a country in the Middle East you may have heard of. Israel has been in the headlines recently with its military operations in the Gaza Strip, where it is fighting the democratically elected terrorist group Hamas. The highlight of Israel’s offensive was the targeted assassination of a Hamas military commander last week (results pictured above).
Although some Republicans have always criticized President Obama as being soft on his support Israel, his public statements regarding the longtime U.S. ally have been indistinguishable from anything Mitt Romney (remember that guy?) or any other prominent Republican has ever said. In the wake of Israel’s Gaza attacks, Obama said, “Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”
(Fun fact: Obama is responsible for raining down missiles on civilians using drones on a routine basis.)
One would think that a nation like Israel that has the capability to target individuals with missiles and intercept incoming Hamas rockets would not be in need of aid from outsiders. And yet the U.S. gives Israel something like $3 billion a year, and has received more aid than any other American ally since World War 2.
Although Israel is a small nation, its military strength is well documented. It is the only state in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. Its resources in terms of tanks, aircraft, personnel, and defense budget make it essentially a military superpower in the region. Although countries like Iran and Syria try to talk a good game, no one else in the Middle East can compete with Israel’s military superiority.
Cutting foreign aid to Israel should be uncontroversial – they obviously don’t need it. But any suggestion of cutting aid to Israel – or indeed treating Israel as anything other than America’s bestest friend forever – is essentially political blasphemy in the U.S. In January 2011, the aforementioned Rand Paul said the U.S. should end all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, and he has had to explain himself ever since.
Why is it that Israel holds this oddly special place in American political discourse? Canada is by far the best ally the U.S. has ever had, and no one seems to get emotional about them.
There are certainly plenty of Jewish folks in America, but support for Israel extends far and wide. Presumably that has to do in part with the way the American media covers the Middle East, which is in the context of a longstanding alliance between the U.S. and Israel, and framed accordingly. Certainly, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Americans felt antipathy toward Palestinians who appeared to celebrate the murder of civilians. And I have to assume that the still-overwhelmingly-religious U.S. supports Israel due to its status as the birthplace of Christianity.
Unraveling the heart of America’s long history of support for Israel would be an arduous and probably thankless undertaking. Suffice to say (prepare for a massive understatement) that throughout the decades, both Israelis and the Palestinians have done things that no one should be proud of. But the thorny moral questions that define the conflict have little to do with whether Israel needs U.S. foreign aid (it doesn’t) or whether it deserves unqualified support (it doesn’t).
Part of the reason Rand Paul faces skepticism is that his father, libertarian heartthrob Ron Paul, did not always toe the party line on unquestioning support for Israel. But even if we assume the Pauls’ support for Israel is relatively lukewarm, they always claim to have Israel’s best interests in mind. As an advocate of non-interventionism, Ron Paul frequently argued that ending U.S. foreign aid would actually benefit Israel:
“I also don’t think we should tell them what to do. If they want to have a peace treaty with their neighbor and think they can work it out, they shouldn’t have to ask us for permission…they shouldn’t have to ask us permission to defend their borders, that should be their business. I also…believe I should not take money from anybody here and send money to Israel….
“The benefit to Israel, first you give money, that implies we own you, and second is if you cut out all foreign aid, Israel comes out ahead because their neighbors get about five times as much assistance than Israel gets….We should be friends, we should trade with them, I would encourage them to become the Hong Kong of the Middle East…have a really affluent society.. to control them…and hold them back, I think that is not necessary….Netanyahu was before Congress this year…he said we do not need American troops to defend our country…Israel can take care of itself and I think we should respect that.”
By that logic, supporters of Israel should have no trouble eliminating its $3 billion in aid. Not only does Israel not need it (I can’t emphasize that enough) it also comes with strings attached that prevent Israel from doing what it feels it needs to do. Cutting their aid – along with all other foreign aid – should be a no-brainer.
So obviously, it will never be cut, unless the U.S. defaults on its debt. And when that happens, hopefully Israel will lend the U.S. some money. It would only be fair.