A solid majority of Americans would redirect $38 billion the Obama Administration pledged to Israel toward other priorities.
The Obama administration last week signed an executive agreement with Israel pledging $38 billion ($3.8 billion per year) in foreign aid for fiscal years 2019- 2028. The majority of the proposed spending is for Foreign Military Financing to provide Israel advanced and upgraded jet fighters, to continue developing Israel’s missile defense systems and to purchase other U.S. weapons. Although the White House has released a Memorandum of Understanding fact sheet, the actual MOU has not been made publicly available.
An IRmep poll fielded by Google Consumer Surveys reveals 80.8 percent of the US adult Internet user population says they would redirect the proposed spending toward other priorities. Caring for veterans (20.7 percent) was their top priority, followed by education spending (20.1 percent) and paying down the national debt (19.3 percent). Rebuilding US infrastructure was favored by 14.9 percent, while funding a Middle East peace plan received 5.8 percent of support.
Only 16.8 percent said the $38 billion of pledged foreign aid should be spent on Israel.
The statistically significant survey of 1,005 adults was fielded September 14-16 and had an RMSE score of 1.4 percent. The findings reflect other survey data revealing low US public support for aid published by Antiwar.com in 2014 and 2016 and May, 2016 polling by Shibley Telhami released by Newsweek on September 16.
Though non-statistically significant, demographic breakouts of the IRmep survey suggest differences between younger and older Americans. Among younger Americans aged 18-44 years an average 11.7 percent said aid to Israel was a priority over other options, while 25.2 percent of those in the 45- 65+ category chose Israel as their top spending priority. Despite an appearance of finality, the aid package may only be a guaranteed "floor" of official US financial commitment to Israel. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has pledged to legislate more aid to Israel than negotiated in the expiring fiscal year 2009-2018 MOU as well as the new MOU. Graham views new MOU restrictions on Israel and its lobby’s ability to constantly petition congress for additional tranches of ad hoc aid every year as an infringement on the separation of powers. Israel and its US lobby appear to be allowed to make special pleadings to Congress for additional aid as long as it goes into Israeli military industrial projects that are not related to anti-rocket and tunnel systems. Campaign advisors have already indicated a Trump administration would not be limited by Obama administration MOU covenants. A Hillary Clinton administration, heavily influenced at all levels by pro-Israel donors and campaign officials, would also be highly unlikely to veto future congressional demands for aid far in excess of MOU caps.
However, the third branch of government – the judiciary – will also have a say on the Israel aid question. An August federal lawsuit seeking to block immanent cash disbursement of military aid to Israel on the grounds successive administrations have long violated laws banning US aid to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty non-signatory countries with nuclear weapons programs has just received two major boosts. The leaked emails of former Secretary of State Colin Powell verify that inside the top levels of government it is common knowledge that Israel has at least 200 nuclear weapons. Last week former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner Victor Gilinsky wrote in Haaretz, citing evidence included in the lawsuit, that most American nuclear officials consider the 1978 "Vela Incident" to be an Israeli tactical nuclear weapons test. Nuclear tests and weapons possession by non-NPT signatories are among the triggers for cutting off or imposing waivers on aid under the Symington and Glenn amendments to the Foreign Aid Act of 1961.
Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges the Obama administration issued an illegal gag order in 2012 in order to quash the release of government information triggering Symington & Glenn through subversion of sunshine laws and gagging statements by government officials and contractors with knowledge of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The legal action to block aid seeks not only an injunction against an expected October financial disbursement, but the claw back of funds already unlawfully disbursed in the past for future redistribution toward uses overwhelming numbers of Americans prioritize.
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America. On August 8, 2016 he filed a lawsuit in federal court to block US foreign aid to Israel and claw back aid illegally delivered since 1976.