Questioning US military aid to Israel is once again in the news. A recent Jerusalem Post opinion piece by Douglas Bloomfield was headlined, “Time to cut US aid – it isn’t keeping Israel democratic. Have they noticed that while US aid keeps flowing and growing, Israel’s ‘democratic nature’ is being eroded by its own government?”
US support of Israel’s military isn’t a charitable donation; it supports vital American interests – strategic, defense, cyber, intelligence, R&D, and much more.
“Our relationship is deep and enduring... US commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad and has long enjoyed bipartisan support.”The US State Department
Israel’s Iron Dome and David Sling anti-missile systems are a case in point. As former Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger wrote, Israel’s real-world military experience saves the United States “billions of dollars of research and development... If there were not an Israel in the eastern flank of the Mediterranean, the US would have to dispatch a few more aircraft carriers... at an annual cost of $15 billion to $20 billion.”
Finland, a new member of NATO, recently purchased the David Sling system from Israel to counter the growing Russian threat, with American approval.
Economist Dany Bahar, of the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development program, said, “US military aid to Israel has always been, to some extent, a win-win situation: Israel purchases American weaponry from American firms that in turn are subsidized by the United States.... most of the money itself actually stays in the United States.”
There is no shortage of anti-Zionists and other Israel-bashers who want to end or condition aid to Israel. They are a loud and vocal minority, ranging from the antisemitic congressional “Squad” to academics who plays the dual-loyalty card to well-meaning progressives.
Two former US ambassadors to Israel, who have often been harshly critical of Israeli policy for years, told The New York Times’ Nick Kristoff that the time to cut aid to Israel was now. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer said, “Aid provides the US with no leverage or influence over Israeli decisions to use force; because we sit quietly while Israel pursues policies we oppose, we are seen as ‘enablers’ of Israel’s occupation.”
They seem to have amnesia that Israel offered to end the occupation of the disputed territory at least five times, most recently in 2008, with 100% of the land via land swaps and east Jerusalem as its capital.
The primary reason there is still an occupation and no compromise is that Palestinians cannot sign an end-of-conflict agreement accepting a Jewish state and ending all claims, and insisting on the right of return for descendants of refugees, even if they have another citizenship, e.g., Jordan.
The blind spot for this line of reasoning is the failure to differentiate between what one considers to be bad Israeli policy and the state’s absolute right to exist like every other nation in the United Nations. Shared democratic values exist and will exist but are under strain because of the polarization of the judicial debate, where half the Israeli country has claimed that judicial reform in its current form will ruin Israel’s democracy.
Another tactic to undermine support for Israel is to assert that it is an immoral nation. Harvard Professor Stephen Walt has said, “Decades of brutal Israeli control have demolished the moral case for unconditional US support.” He is also notorious for his not-so-hidden assertions of the dual loyalty of American Jews and the Israel lobby, a classic antisemitic trope.
There are arguably legitimate reasons to reduce US military aid to Israel, considering, for instance, Israel’s prosperity and the growing national debt of the US. Unfortunately, the anti-Israel congressional progressives and academics’ motivation is to punish Israel or end the Jewish state altogether.
America’s friends are watching whether the US continues withdrawing from far-flung responsibilities, abandoning its allies. China and Russia watch, too, ready to step in, increasingly far from their borders, wherever we prove to be hands-off.
The US State Department responds
The State Department said, “Our relationship is deep and enduring... US commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad and has long enjoyed bipartisan support.”
US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, this week in Israel, said, “The two things that bind our countries together relate to shared democratic values and shared strategic interests... The need to ensure we maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge will still be with us, regardless of where Israel lands in terms of the judicial reform effort.”
Let’s hope the isolationists and those who want to harm Israel are seen for who they are, and that American interests in the Middle East will continue to be served. Of the 1% of the US budget that goes to foreign aid, the part that goes bolsters Israel’s military presence in the Middle East is a wise investment.
The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm for the Middle East. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report.