Rattling the Cage: Welcome to a wealthy country

...and please keep your money for those who need it.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Mr. President, Knowing your habit of reading every newspaper column that starts "Dear Mr. President," I have a special request on the occasion of your visit. I guarantee you won't hear it from anyone you meet in this country: Please stop giving us money. The $3 billion a year - keep it. We don't need it. We can use it, of course, but we don't need it, and foreign aid - which is nothing but welfare on an international scale - should be given only to those who need it most. Like to countries in Africa, like to the billions of people in the world dying of starvation and disease. Not to a country like Israel, which, as the nations of the world go, is solidly upper-middle-class. I'm sure you'll agree that upper-middle-class people shouldn't get welfare, so why should upper-middle-class countries? Maybe you're not aware how prosperous Israel has become - you're going to Jerusalem, which is a pretty poor city, and the Galilee, which is nothing special economically. You ought to go to Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Ra'anana - check out the hi-tech parks, the neighborhoods of multimillion-dollar homes, the luxurious shopping malls. Look at the way people dress, look at the new cars and jeeps they drive. Look at the Security Olympics we're putting on for your visit - the money we're spending to protect you could feed Sierra Leone for several years. Did your hosts tell you how well our economy is doing? The average Israeli salary is up to $23,000 a year, the economy grew by 5% for the fourth year in a row, unemployment is down, inflation is virtually non-existent, and not only isn't there a budget deficit, there's a surplus. The government isn't even spending all the money it's got. AND ON TOP of this, we're cutting taxes. Israelis are paying lower and lower taxes, and what are American taxpayers doing? Giving us more and more welfare. For each of the next 10 years, American foreign aid to Israel is going up from $2.4 billion to $3 billion. That's another $30 billion total, added to the roughly $100 billion overall that the US has given us until now. So thank you, thank you, thank you, but we don't need America's help anymore. We used to be a fairly poor country, sort of lower-middle-class, kind of shabby, but now? Before you leave Ben-Gurion Airport tomorrow, why don't you take a look at Terminal 3, the one we built a few years ago for international flights. Or go to the new Airport City industrial park. This country is booming, Mr. President. And from what I understand, your country is not. America seems to be heading into a recession, the dollar has gone to hell, Wall Street is jumpy, there are masses of Americans who've suddenly gone broke on this subprime mortgage debacle. How do you explain taking $3 billion out of the American people's pocket every year and giving it to a comfortably bourgeois country with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world? I know. It's all money for defense, and Israel has to spend it on products manufactured by American defense companies, so it's not like you're giving the money away, it all goes back to the US in the end. But America has short-changed its own soldiers in Iraq - it hasn't spent the money necessary, for instance, to reinforce their vehicles against roadside bombs, or supply enough troops with body armor - and you're giving $3 billion in defense aid to Israel? I was relieved to hear that the US is delaying the $600 million or so extra it was going to give us this year because it has to meet an urgent order in Iraq for improved armored vehicles. You know what? You're going to need that money there next year, too, and the year after, and you'll need it in Afghanistan, and you may need it in Pakistan, and Iran, and a few other countries as well. SO KEEP the extra $600 million and the regular $2.4 billion, too, this year, next year and every year afterward. America is in over its head already. You can't afford the war on terror you've got, let alone the one you want, the one you think is necessary. You can't afford your own defense bills, so why are you paying ours when we can afford to pay them ourselves? And we can. People think Israel spends about half of its income on defense, but in fact it only spends 7.5%. Take away the American aid and it goes up to 9.5%, which is what we were spending anyway before the current boom years. (These figures come from Israel's most widely-read economics commentator, Sever Plotzker, who writes for our most widely-read newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. Don't try to pronounce it, sir.) People here say we're entitled to all this American money because we're America's chief ally in the Middle East, we're helping fight America's battle - and this is true. But Britain is probably a more important American ally than Israel, and Britain has a big defense budget, too, and British soldiers have been fighting and dying along with Americans in Iraq, and the average Brit doesn't make much more money than the average Israeli, yet America doesn't give Britain a nickel - because Britain doesn't need it. SO WHY does Israel need it? I know. We have a "special relationship." You're worried that if America stopped giving so much foreign aid to Israel, it might weaken the alliance. Mr. President, don't worry about a thing. America's the best friend we've got, and nothing's going to change that because, let's face it, where else are we going to go? Do we want a special relationship with Russia? Does Russia want one with us? How about China? And who, for that matter, is America going to find for a new chief ally in the Middle East? Egypt? Jordan? Too many Muslim Brotherhood chapters there, too much hatred for the Great Satan, too much ignorance, poverty, backwardness and autocracy. Nope, Mr. President, $3 billion or no $3 billion, we're stuck with each other. The only thing that'll change if America stops giving Israel money is that you'll be able to give it to people who really need it, like poor Americans or destitute foreigners. In Israel, we will have to tighten our belts a little - maybe by raising taxes for the rich and upper-middle-class, maybe by canceling their monthly child allowances - but we will be fine. What's more, we will finally be making good on the promise we made so many times to America, and to ourselves - that we were only asking for help until the day came that we could stand on our own two feet. Well, that day has arrived. In fact, that day arrived about 15 years ago, maybe more. MR. PRESIDENT, I'm sure your hosts have enjoyed teaching you a few Hebrew words, and you've enjoyed learning them. I'd like to introduce you to a Yiddish word that's been part of colloquial Hebrew as long as anyone can remember, and not by accident. The word is shnorrer. It means beggar, or moocher, somebody who's always asking for money. Mr. President, Israel is a shnorrer country, and we're only getting worse. We used to shnor $2.4 billion a year from your country, now we're shnorring $3 billion, and I, for one, am ashamed. When I see the new high-rises in Israel and the new sedans and fancy suits and spas and over-the-top weddings and airplanes filled with Israelis going overseas - I'm ashamed. Disgusted. So please, please, please, Mr. President, keep the money. Spend it in a good place. I'm telling you, we'll be absolutely fine - better, in fact. It'll be good for our character. Thank you so much for your generosity, thanks to the Congress, and above all, thanks to the American taxpayers. You've been instrumental, crucial, to our economic success. Now, after nearly 60 years of sovereignty, it's time the State of Israel became independent.