Poll: Americans Oppose Cutting Aid to Countries That Condemn US Jerusalem Policy

The Trump administration threatened to end billions of dollars in US foreign aid to countries opposing recent US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On December 21, despite US threats, 128 UN member states voted to uphold long-standing international consensus that the status of Jerusalem can only be settled through a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians. An additional 35 countries abstained. Both Palestinians and Israelis want Jerusalem to be their capital.

According to a poll conducted between December 22-January 2, the majority of Americans (56.6%) oppose using US foreign aid as a tool to coerce international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Question: The Trump administration threatened to end foreign aid to any country that condemned its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Do you approve of such tactics?

The IRmep poll was fielded by Google surveys to 2,505 adult Internet users from December 22-January 2 and has an RMSE score of 7.6%. Demographic filtering and raw data are available online from Google.

The results are unusual since other polling consistently reveals widespread public support for cutting US foreign aid, which most Americans believe is much more than it actually is. American popular opposition to reducing US foreign aid may therefore be opposition to using US aid to advance what is inherently an Israeli, rather than American, foreign policy.

Donald Trump and Nikki Haley’s foreign aid cutoff threats attempt to make UN member states become as responsive to foreign aid inducements as US politicians are to Israel lobby campaign contributions. As explained by one major campaign fundraiser, obtaining such contributions, subject to prior approval by Israel’s US lobby AIPAC, is a prerequisite to even forming a credible political campaign

However, making UN members responsive to such foreign aid threats will only work if member states view US foreign aid to be as indispensable as US politicians view pro-Israel campaign contributions. Benny Johnson at the Daily Caller meticulously detailed how the Trump administration could cut $24 billion in foreign aid if it makes good on its threat to punish all countries that condemned US demands over Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the Trump administration, US spending on foreign aid, which is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, just isn’t enough to generate an avalanche of support, such as Guatemala’s recent announcement to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

US foreign aid to most countries is insignificant as a percentage of GDP, except for Afghanistan, where US foreign aid makes up 26% of GDP. Most other countries would have difficulty noticing the disappearance of relatively insignificant allotments from the US. For most, such aid is far from a "top ten" income category.

This stands in stark contrast to financial incentives given to US politicians advancing Israeli causes from the US Congress, such as the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 or more recent Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Among Israel Anti-Boycott Act’s sponsor Senator Ben Cardin’s top 20 year 2017 campaign contributors, 86% were associated with Israel affinity organizations. Pro-Israel stealth PACs provided 31% of his top-20 2017 political action committee revenue.

The other problem with cutting off US foreign aid to countries that refuse to advance Israel’s foreign policy objectives is much more daunting. Almost half (44%) of the "foreign aid" identified by the Daily Caller as being subject to the chopping block is not cash money doled out to foreign governments or NGOs by the State Department for worthy causes such as disaster relief. Rather, over ten billion of it is implemented by the Department of Defense. DOD takes the funds and pays US military contractors for weapons, munitions, military supplies and services that only then are channeled into recipient countries as "foreign assistance." Cutting ten billion in such contracts would mean fighting the bloated military-industrial-congressional complex, a task the Trump administration has shown no signs of pursuing.

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.