Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Just How Important Is Aid to Israel? A Congressman's View

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Just How Important Is Aid to Israel? A Congressman's View

Article excerpt

Congressman Don Sundquist (R-TN) has taken issue with some points raised in my column in the September 1989 Washington Report comparing the cost of aid to Israel with the cost of other taxpayer-financed programs.

For much of his letter Congressman Sundquist, a member of the Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over trade and taxation, misses my point, which was to let the reader compare the benefits of aid to Israel with other programs requiring public funding. Instead, he chooses to defend aid to Israel. Since the congressman's response is longer than either my original column or the space my otherwise generous editor has allowed for this one, I will address only some of the points he raises.

A Question of Values

"First, the United States receives direct benefits from the [military] aid program to Israel," the congressman informs me. Perhaps, although that hardly distinguishes aid to Israel from, for example, aid to cancer research, upon which the US spends only half as much money. The real question is, which is more valuable to American taxpayers? The congressman goes on to praise the contributions of Israeli R&D to the American defense effort, without explaining why those dollars shouldn't go to some of our own funding-starved research institutions.

"Second, aid to Israel provides political benefits," the congressman says. "It assists the Camp David peace process." Given the failure of the Camp David process, acknowledged by its creator, former President Jimmy Carter, to address the root cause of instability and major threats to US interests in the Middle East, one wonders if the benefit is worth the very healthy price tag Israel puts on its cooperation. Congressman Sundquist also fails to mention the political difficulties which go with the benefits he describes, as our government tries to maintain mutually beneficial political and economic relationships with Arab governments who stand facing US-financed Israeli guns.

"Third, aid to Israel supports the vital, democratic ally which votes with the US at the UN more often than any other country in the world, including our NATO allies." I suspect that Americans realize by now that the reason Israel and the US often vote together at the UN is because only the US still votes against resolutions by the other members condemning Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, the Geneva conventions and international law in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and Gaza:

"Fourth, aid to Israel advances US strategic and defense interests in the region...Close military cooperation with the [IDF] provides the United States with an effective -- and cost-effective -- deterrent to radical expansionism in the Middle East." This observation unfortunately does not address the difficulties created for the United States when Israel uses its military muscle in irresponsible ways, such as attacking civilians in Lebanon, bombing Tunisia and Iraq, and shooting down Palestinians in the streets in front of their own homes. It is the reaction to such outrages rather than any vaguely defined "radical expansionism" that is at the heart of American problems in the area.

When our genuinely critical interests in the region have needed to be addressed, such as the 1987 decision to send American Navy ships to the Persian Gulf to ensure that our trading partners there could continue to sell us oil, it was friendly Arab governments who provided the necessary political and military muscle. …

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