$40 Billion to Israel? Let Us Count the Ways

A screenshot from an episode of The Simpsons.

According to press reports, the Obama administration is offering Israel a new 10-year military aid package – a so-called “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) – totaling $40 billion or $4 billion a year. This would be a boost from the 2007 MOU signed by the Bush administration that earmarked $3 billion annually to Israel. Actual aid to Israel, however, routinely exceeds this official figure: The U.S. Congress often allocates additional funds, such as for Israel’s Iron Dome missile interceptor. According to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report, “To date, the United States has provided over $1.280 billion to Israel for Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, co-production costs, and general maintenance.” Furthermore, since the 1980’s, the same report noted, Israel has opportunistically invited the U.S. to store weapons in the country for American purposes, but as one Israeli official explained to CRS, “Officially, all of this equipment belongs to the US military…. If however, there is a conflict, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] can ask for permission to use some of the equipment.” Ask and it shall receive: “During the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the United States granted Israel access to the stockpile. In July 2014, during Israeli military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Defense Department permitted Israel to draw from the stockpile, paid with [Foreign Military Financing], to replenish 120 mm tank rounds and 40 mm illumination rounds fired from grenade launchers.” Per CRS, the “non-inflation adjusted value of materiel stored in Israel would currently stand at $1.8 billion.”

In short, American military aid to Israel is exceedingly generous and Israel is by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid. For Fiscal Year 2016, Israel will account for 53% of all U.S. military aid (20% of the IDF’s budget is paid for courtesy of the American taxpayer). Moreover, while other recipients must spend 100% of aid money on American-made defense products, Israel may (and does) assign 26.3% towards its domestic industry. As CRS notes, “Israel’s ability to use a significant portion of its annual military aid for procurement in Israel is a unique aspect of its assistance package; no other recipient of U.S. military assistance has been granted this benefit.”

Such generous aid, and on such privileged terms, are never publicly scrutinized in Congress. Not even perfunctory discussion is held; Congress is only too eager to fund the IDF and subsidize the near half century occupation of Palestinians. It is this Congressional obeisance that has convinced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to remarkably dismiss Obama’s offer and hold out for a reported $5 billion annually to be negotiated with a new president come 2017 (especially if the office holder is a Republican).

Whether $40 or $50 billion, the decade sum is extraordinary. Even the current $3 billion (plus other perks) is exceptional. And it’s hard to justify: Israel is the 22nd wealthiest nation measured by GDP per capita at $35,702, according to the International Monetary Fund. Add to this picture that Israel is immeasurably wealthier, technologically advanced, and militarily superior to all its neighbors. Israel is the Middle East’s only nuclear power and the IDF a regional superpower. All its neighbors are either failed states (Lebanon, Syria) or pose no credible threat (Jordan, Egypt). Its erstwhile enemy and strongest neighbor, Egypt, is today an ally but even if the political cards were flipped, a newly hostile Egypt with its feckless military (better suited to bottling water than fighting a modern military) and destitution (GDP per capita is less than 1/10th Israel’s) would be an easy day’s work for the IDF. Even Iran (whose nuclear program has been neutered by Western sanctions while the West plays cutesy with Israel) and militias Hezbollah and Hamas are nuisances rather than formidable threats, and the IDF is capable of rebuffing any attacks without American aid.

Given that billions to Israel is now a luxury rather than a necessity for the Israelis, and that Congress refuses to even debate the merits of foreign aid to Israel, we at Palestine Square thought we’d open up our own discussion and invite your participation. Instead of billions more to an occupying army that commits war crimes as a matter of trade, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, here’s a starting list of shovel-ready projects in the U.S. that could greatly benefit from the same ten-year, tens-of-billions commitment that our Congress is ready to renew for Israel. Just scanning the press, we found some worthy projects. Imagine the gains to American taxpayers – a true return on our contributions – if that $40/$50 billion were put to good use here at home.

National Parks

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Flooding and the combined traffic of thousands of cars, trucks and RVs have torn up the roads at Joshua Tree National Park’s Black Rock Canyon Campground. The majority of the park’s $60 million maintenance backlog is for roads like this. (Nathan Rott/NPR)

 

NPR recently reported that our national parks – American treasures, if there ever were – have fallen into great disrepair due to lack of funds. In fact, “there is a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog of work that needs be done but isn’t because of limited money.” Iconic parks, such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park, need $330 million and $500 million to make needed repairs, respectively. The latter needs $100 million to make “critical” improvements. Joshua Tree has a repair backlog estimated at $60 million, but is expected to get by on an annual budget of just $6 million. Our national parks receive only $3 billion in annual federal funding, which is less than aid to Israel if you add all the supplementary aid. But while Congress cannot be bothered to improve our national parks, it’s prepared to increase the IDF’s budget by up to 2 billion. All our parks – visited by 2 million Americans last year – could be repaired at less than a third of the $40 billion Obama promises Israel.

Clean Water

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A Flint resident holding a bottle of tap water from his drain at a town hall protesting the water crisis. (Associated Press)

National parks are one thing, but clean water is unarguably an essential public good that all responsible governments must provide. By now, everyone has heard the news out of Flint, Michigan: Undrinkable, lead-contaminated water pouring out of residents’ faucets after the cash-strapped municipality decided to change its water supply. Residents reported the discolor and feeling ill, but their alarms were ignored until it became a global embarrassment for the world’s wealthiest nation. Flint, however, is a snapshot of a country with rusty water pipes in desperate need of upgrades. In order to maintain quality control of America’s water supply, the Environment Protection Agency estimates that between now and 2030 private utilities and taxpayers will have to shell out $385 billion to make vital improvements. It just so happens that Israel’s new MOU will overlap with most of these years (starting in Fiscal Year 2019) and diverting that $40-50 billion toward our water infrastructure would cover a good deal of the cost. Private firms will rely on some Congressional funding, but whatever isn’t covered will be passed onto the consumer. $40-$50 billion spent on water at home will insure a safe drinking source and cheaper water.

American Infrastructure

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Collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota in 2007.

Fortune details how our crumbling infrastructure – the average road and bridge is 45 years old – is overdue for repair and the current state of depreciation is costing the U.S. economy untold sums: “Midwest farmers alone lost over $500 million in 2013 and 2014 due to rail delays. . . Our substandard roads, for example, cost urban motorists $700 to $1,000 per driver in repairs, wear and tear, and fuel.” They cite the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis that “a very modest program of $18 billion in annual investment in infrastructure … would yield, a $29 billion increase in GDP and a net addition of 216,000 jobs by the end of the first year.” A $40-$50 billion investment in our infrastructure, which would cover at least 2 years of needed improvements, would seem like the obvious choice, especially as it would net us a return in a larger economy and more jobs.

Israel would rather Americans forget these basic needs at home while it promulgates its propaganda that aid to Israel is an investment in American security since it ostensibly fights the “good fight” on our behalf. But Israel is no asset to the United States: It contributes neither to our efforts in Afghanistan nor Iraq, or against ISIS. It was not part of the American-led coalition in Libya in 2011. In fact, unlike other American allies, Israel has never contributed any forces or material support to any American campaign. Even in Israel’s own region, it has been of no help. The IDF uses American aid, first and foremost, to subjugate Palestinians and, secondly, to ward off threats to Israel (which don’t concern the U.S.) and amplify its regional hegemony. There is simply no gain for the American taxpayer, but, for all that, there is plenty of cost: The paramount source of grievance against the United States among the region’s Arabs and Muslims is U.S. support for Israeli militarism at the expense of Palestinian human rights. American aid to Israel carries a huge burden in reputation cost that squanders the enormous potential goodwill among the vast majority of Middle Easterners. It sours our relations with the rest of the region, harms our image and credibility, undermines our democratic values, and contributes to anti-American radicalization.

Again, this is just a starting list. One could go on ad infinitum with worthy causes more deserving of our taxpayer dollars.

And let us not forget our budget deficit – which was $193 billion just for the month of February – and any money saved lessens the debt burden for future generations of Americans. Let us similarly not forget that in 2014 Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill cutting $8.7 billion out of food stamps over the next 10 years despite the fact that nearly half of recipients are children and “41% have incomes of half [the federal poverty line] or less, and 18% have no income at all.” But America’s most vulnerable families are taking a $8.7 billion cut while Israel can expect a minimum $10 billion increase over a similar ten year period.

Lastly, there was this headline from today’s New York Times: “Obama Criticizes the ‘Free Riders’ Among America’s Allies”. While the president’s remarks were directed at European and Gulf Arab nations, there is no nation that has acted as a free rider on the back of the American taxpayer more than Israel. As CRS reports, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $124.3 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance.”

It would be one thing if Israel were committed to ending its occupation of the Palestinians, which would certainly benefit American interests by resolving a major source of regional instability and anti-American resentment. But Israel is being rewarded ever more lavishly at a time when it’s further entrenching its occupation and demonstrating every intention to interminably prolong its subjugation of the Palestinians and add to America’s woes.

Wouldn’t our country be better served by funding any of the above projects or paying down the debt or restoring our safety-net rather than funding an occupying military accused of war crimes and happily enforcing an apartheid regime? Shouldn’t it be a measure of Congressional respect, nay humility, in the face of us taxpayers who elect them and pay their salaries if they prioritized our neighborhoods rather than backing up the neighborhood bully? What would honor and reflect our national values? Perish the thought.

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