Yet, as thousands of “Israel-first” citizen lobbyists descend on Capitol Hill tomorrow as part of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the largest and most influential of the many groups comprising the “Israel lobby” — concern for these millions of Americans will not be on its legislative agenda. Instead, AIPAC will be lobbying to avert the impact of sequestration on record-breaking levels of U.S. military aid to Israel. It will also be pushing for legislation to boost the U.S.-Israel “strategic alliance” and green light an Israeli attack on Iran, measures which will both inevitably entail demands for additional U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons to Israel.
Israel stands to lose approximately $250 million of its $3.1 billion military aid package from the United States under the terms of the sequestration. The Jewish Week calls AIPAC’s gambit to exempt these cuts a “very risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans will be feeling the bite of the sequestration debacle,” which “could easily backfire and damage Israel far more than any cuts in its very generous grant aid program.”
Indeed, why should AIPAC seek to “single out Israel” and “hold it to a different standard” — unfounded charges, ironically enough, leveled by the “Israel lobby” at those who seek to hold Israel accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law — by lobbying for greater levels of U.S. taxpayer aid for Israel at this time?
After all, Israel is a wealthy country. According to the International Monetary Fund, Israel ranked 27th in per capita gross domestic product in 2011, with its residents enjoying a higher average income than people in Spain, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. It could certainly afford to pay for those U.S. weapons it wanted without relying on the largesse of the American taxpayer.
But instead, AIPAC demands that the United States underwrite approximately 20 percent of the Israeli military budget. Beyond the fiscal absurdity of this policy, what makes it even more galling is that U.S. taxpayers are thereby made complicit in Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, its military occupation and illegal colonization of Palestinian land, and its apartheid policies toward Palestinians which deny them freedom and self-determination. This military aid continues to flow despite the fact that U.S. laws such as the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act are designed to prevent foreign countries from misusing U.S. aid to commit human rights abuses.
This tangible support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians guts the credibility of U.S. claims to promote human rights and makes it exponentially more difficult for the United States to gain the trust of people around the world whose support is needed to confront the scourge of terrorism.
Even Israeli military officials admit that U.S. military aid to Israel undermines broader U.S. interests. In a revealing cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, made public by WikiLeaks, Amos Gilad, head of the Political-Military Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, “acknowledged the sometimes difficult position the U.S. finds itself in given its global interests, and conceded that Israel's security focus is so narrow that its QME [Qualitative Military Edge, a provision written into U.S. law mandating weapons deliveries to Israel to maintain its dominance over any combination of potential enemies] concerns often clash with broader American security interests in the region.”
However, this type of frank talk of diverging interests between the United States and Israel will not be among the talking points of the AIPAC “Israel-first” lobbyists on Tuesday, March 5. Rather, they will continue to foster the fraudulent notion that the United States will benefit strategically from American taxpayers arming Israel with ever-increasing amounts of weapons to maintain its brutal policies toward Palestinians.
More than ever, as the impact of sequestration further devastates the already frayed social safety net in this country, this is an argument that should be rejected on both moral and economic grounds.
Ruebner is the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of the forthcoming book Shattered Hopes: Why Obama Failed to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books).