Will Budget ‘Cuts’ Impact US Aid to Israel?
Given the kind of society we have become – a country of whining spoiled brats who have been living above our means for years – every special interest group is up in arms over the alleged tragedy known as Sequestration. While these automatic across-the-board spending cuts are portrayed as nothing less than draconian by various lobbyists and their congressional sock puppets, in reality these are not even real cuts as you and I understand them, but merely cuts in projected spending increases. Like the temperature in Hell, the imperative in Washington is that spending must always increase: “austerity” means the tempo has momentarily slackened.
From military contractors to the academic establishment, all the lobbyists are crying bloody murder: we are told air traffic controllers will be taken off duty, and hospitals are warning of cuts to vital services. Some of these cuts will hit hardest those who can afford it least: the very poorest of the poor. In this atmosphere, one would think a foreign lobby would be more discreet about calling for an exemption in the foreign aid category. However, in the case of AIPAC, the biggest pro-Israel lobby in Washington, subtlety is not at the top of their agenda.
At the beginning of this month, AIPAC’s annual conference featured a Capitol Hill blitz, in which thousands of pro-Israel activists descended on Washington to pressure Congress to exempt Israel from the cuts. This was coupled with a demand that Congress vote to designate the Jewish state a “major strategic ally,” a characterization meant to divorce aid to Israel from the general foreign aid budget and put it in a special category of its own. After all, that’s what the “special relationship” is all about – right?
As Tim Carney points out, the corporate bunch affectionately known as the Military-Industrial Complex have a big stake in all this: two-thirds of the $3.1 billion in annual aid to Israel must be spent in the United States. US arms manufacturers reap the profits, and the Israelis get free stuff. Yet Carney is wrong about whose lobbying efforts make the difference in this case: I don’t think Lockheed-Martin could mobilize thousands of people to descend on Capitol Hill the way AIPAC, or Christians United for Israel, can.
According to Israel Hayom, the most widely read Israeli newspaper, Tel Aviv has already been granted special treatment: instead of the expected 8 percent across the board cut all other federal programs will suffer under sequestration, the Israelis were recently assured by the White House that their share will amount to only 5 percent.
Yet these “cuts” have already been circumvented by the President himself, who, on his trip to Israel, presented Netanyahu will a new ten-year aid “package” totaling some $40 billion – a $10 billion increase over the last such agreement. And since our special alliance with Israel is “eternal,” as the President rhapsodized, this amount will presumably increase unto eternity. Or until the American people put a stop to it – whichever comes first.
It isn’t as if Israel is a poor, struggling, Third World country: its GDP puts it in the top forty richest countries on the world. Israeli propagandists are always boasting about how they’ve made the desert bloom: the endless parading of Israel’s technical achievements, particularly in the booming high tech sector, is a major hasbara theme. Yet somehow a minuscule “cut” in aid – in reality, a cut in the rate of increase – is going to bring about the downfall of the Jewish state? The days when the Israeli settler colony depended on outside assistance for its very survival are well over.
At a time when domestic programs are on the chopping block, why should the Israelis expect – nay, demand – an exemption? Why can’t they suffer the sequestration in silence, and be happy it wasn’t worse for them?
Apparently some in the pro-Israel community have been thinking the same heretical thought, because AIPAC’s aggressive “Israel first” strategy reportedly caused a bit of a stir, prompting fears of a backlash from some. As the Forward reports:
“J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group, immediately understood the implications of AIPAC’s rhetorical shift after getting word of the pitch made by AIPAC members on Capitol Hill. Dylan Williams, J Street’s director of government affairs, told the Forward that ‘it seems a little tone deaf. We have a unique public perception issue.’ He added that congressional aides had told him they were ‘surprised that some groups – that people from AIPAC – were asking for this.’”
Seen in the larger context of the administration’s ongoing feud with Tel Aviv – from Netanyahu’s informal endorsement of Mitt Romney to the fight over Chuck Hagel – AIPAC’s chutzpah shouldn’t be at all surprising. In the world of Washington lobbyists, it’s all about power – having it, keeping it, and using it. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
It is vitally necessary for the Israel Lobby to tamp down dangerous talk that they’re losing it, because fear is their greatest weapon. The fear they strike in the hearts of politicians who don’t want to wind up like many of the other legislators who thought they could escape the Lobby’s wrath – and soon learned otherwise. It’s much easier to give in to the Lobby’s demands than go the way of Senators Chuck Percy, William Fulbright, and Roger Jepsen, all three felled by Lobby-coordinated campaigns. Congressmen Paul Findley, Earl F. Hilliard, and Pete McCloskey are among the scalps the Lobby can rightfully claim. And while their smear campaign against Hagel didn’t succeed in stopping his confirmation as Secretary of Defense, it was a useful exercise in that it serves as a warning to others who might be thinking of straying off the reservation: Don’t go there!
J Street issued a statement soon after AIPAC’s assault on Capitol Hill, denouncing any effort to separate out aid to Israel from the requirements of sequestration as appearing to put Israel’s demands “above those of the millions of ordinary Americans who are being hurt, or the vital domestic programs that are taking a hit.” While this may be true, J Street is rather missing the point. To wrest an exemption granted to no others is precisely the demonstrative way in which AIPAC needs to flex its lobbying muscles. Isn’t this what the “special relationship” is all about? As Ayn Rand put it, “Love is exception-making,” and the romantic relationship between the US and Israel, whatever its ups and downs, continues unabated in Washington.
Out in the sticks, however – i.e. outside the Beltway – this exception-making for Israel is not all that popular, as J Street rightly worries. The problem, however, is that the American people have very little to say about it – and don’t know about it, in any case. As long as the political class lives in fear of the Lobby, our annual tribute to Israel will be paid in full – yes, even before we feed our own people. Because that’s what love is all about.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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