Impeachment isn’t only about Ukraine, but also Israel

Israel is in much the same predicament. It is a country fighting ruthless, anti-democratic powers that the United States considers dangerous, like Hezbollah and Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to unravel a sign for a new community named after US President Donald Trump in the Holan Heights last year. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to unravel a sign for a new community named after US President Donald Trump in the Holan Heights last year.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
President Donald Trump currently awaits an impeachment trial in the Senate over his Ukraine policy. Democrats accuse him of abusing his power by conditioning official acts, like federal aid and a White House visit with the Ukrainian president, on Ukraine’s public announcement of investigations into the Bidens, the family of Trump’s political rival. These allegations should make any pro-Israel American cower.
Ukraine is embroiled in war with Russia and depends on US aid to fight the Russians. America readily gives Ukraine Foreign Military Financing (FMF) dollars – a special form of aid to buy weapons – because it values its alliance with Ukraine and because it considers Russia a foreign adversary.
Israel is in much the same predicament. It is a country fighting ruthless, anti-democratic powers that the United States considers dangerous, like Hezbollah and Iran. It too needs FMF dollars from the United States to counter its aggressors. And thankfully, the US provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually according to a congressional deal reached in 2016.
But Trump has called this type of aid into question. Ordinarily, Congress appropriates foreign aid and decides how US taxpayer dollars are spent. At least that’s what the Constitution says. Trump, however, has now created a precedent for presidents to withhold federal aid for personal reasons. And the scary part? According to the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the Trump administration does this “all the time.” According to Mulvaney, we should “get over it.”
There is a reason that the framers vested Congress with the sole responsibility of allocating aid. They were fearful that a president with too much power could subvert national interests in favor of a personal agenda. They therefore decided that spending plans must pass Congress, where one congressman’s personal agenda is drained out by all the other unbiased members of Congress.
America’s allies around the world are fearful that the US won’t honor its aid agreements anymore and that Trump’s precedent of withholding aid will become the new normal. They are right to be afraid. The Republican Party has fallen in line behind Trump and is likely to acquit him in the Senate. The polls in November are the only place to clearly demonstrate that this type of executive overreach will not be tolerated.
Throughout Israel’s history, Congress has been the important chamber in the US-Israel relationship. That’s why AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, focuses on Congress, and why no president has been able to shake the unbreakable bond that exists between the two countries.
WHILE TRUMP may move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, slap Israeli businessmen with steel and aluminum tariffs, and deny Israeli requests to sanction Lebanon over Syria, these acts pale in comparison to Congress’s power. An American president can only affect Israel so much; Congress holds the key to America’s alliance with Israel.
But consider what happens when Trump’s normal becomes America’s normal. The entire US-Israel relationship is no longer predicated on the broad bipartisan support of members of Congress; it now depends on the whims of one single president, who now assumes the power to benefit – or punish – those whom he likes or dislikes.
Consider Florida Republican Rand Paul, who opposes aid to Israel and tried to mount a Senate filibuster to block the passage of an aid bill. His filibuster failed because Israel has huge bipartisan support in Congress. Paul also launched a moderately successful primary bid in 2016 and could run for president again. If Sen. Paul becomes president in a post-Trump America, where the president is handed power of the purse, Israel is in grave danger.
On the other side of the aisle, several Democratic primary candidates, including Bernie Sanders, have suggested that America leverage aid to Israel to pressure the Israeli government into changing its settlement expansion policy. These candidates were deliberately vague when describing what type of aid they would withhold, but if they withhold the FMF dollars America gives Israel for security, they would be circumventing Congress to implement poor policy.
Obviously, the suspension of aid to Israel by a hypothetical Paul or Sanders administration is not nearly as catastrophic as Trump’s suspension of Ukrainian aid. Trump suspended aid because he sought a political favor; those other presidents could suspend aid over policy matters. But Trump has so outrageously neglected the checks on the White House that a permanently-altered presidency could mortally endanger consistent US support for Israel.
This is why I implore voters to reject Trump in November. If the Senate refuses to hold Trump accountable, or even hold a fair trial, voters must be the responsible actors and restore the Constitution’s checks and balances. Only voters can signal that an overreaching president will not be tolerated, and only voters can restore international confidence in the US. Instead of “getting over” the fact that foreign affairs in currently being determined on one person’s personal impulses, we should choose the candidate who promises to conduct foreign policy by putting America first.

The writer is a high school senior from Chicago who leads his school’s Israel advocacy club.