Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


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  U.S. Aid to Israel in Numbers
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by Delinda C. Hanley is the executive director and news editor at The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Before joining the magazine in 1996, Hanley spent decades in the Middle East, studying in Lebanon, volunteering with the Peace Corps and later working in Oman and Saudi Arabia. From 1990 to 1996 Hanley worked as a researcher, editor and writer for Empire Press (now Weider History Group) and Sovereign Media. Hanley writes for the Washington Report on an array of topics, and her articles have also been published in the Arab News, the Minaret, Islamic Horizons, Jewish Spectator and other publications. She is the winner of the NAAJA 2011 Excellence in Journalism award for her dedication to accuracy and professionalism.

You’ve just heard about the high cost of Israel to our democratic political process. You’ll be hearing much more about the costs Americans have paid for the Israel-U.S. relationship. I’m just going to focus on dollars and good sense.

Americans are concerned about domestic issues as our nation emerges from the 2008 financial crisis: We’re worried about unemployment, rising food, fuel, affordable housing, and healthcare costs.

We’re also concerned about our aging infrastructure: crumbling roads, bridges and decaying schools, deteriorating water systems and electrical power grids.

Despite our domestic economic fears, Americans are generous—many of us believe we should help the poor, not just here at home, where nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty. We also want to give food and medical assistance to help the hungry and vulnerable--especially children—survive conflicts and crises in the developing world.

Most Americans would be surprised to see how little foreign aid our country actually gives, as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product, when compared with other nations.

Foreign aid is only 1 percent of our Federal budget but in tough economic times, like those we are facing today, foreign aid is sometimes considered to be “low-hanging fruit,” easy to cut, because it does not directly benefit Americans. And we’re are cutting back on aid compared to previous decades.

I challenge American taxpayers to look a lot more closely at who gets 3.1 billion dollars of U.S. foreign aid every year. Do you know that more than 5 percent of our foreign aid is subsidizing one of the top ten most powerful nations in the world? Israel, with a population of nearly 8 million people, about the same number of people who live in Hong Kong or New Jersey, is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. And that has been the case for more than a generation.

Sixteen years ago my dad, Richard Curtiss, wrote an article called “True Lies About U.S. Aid to Israel” for the Washington Report. It could have been written today. “Most aid recipients are developing nations, which either make their military bases available to the U.S. or have suffered some crippling blow to their abilities to feed their people,” he said. “Israel, whose troubles arise solely from its unwillingness to give back land it seized in the 1967 war in return for peace with its neighbors, does not fit those criteria.”

Israel tries to give Americans the impression that they are in grave danger. They face annihilation. Their urgent appeals bring in significant charitable contributions, both from well-meaning evangelical Christians and American Jews. Soft-hearted Americans send U.S. tax-deductible donations to 27,000 non-profit organizations in order to help the needy, including Jewish immigrants and Israeli soldiers—who knew that we can get a tax write-off by sending pizzas and sodas to Israeli soldiers in tanks at checkpoints! Birthright Israel sends 37,000 young Jewish people on free ten-day trips to Israel each year.

Wealthy Americans donate $660 million a year for these trips. Students are not permitted to travel to the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem.

Does Israel really need our handouts? Let’s compare Israel’s economy to other countries.

• Israel’s 2013 per capita gross domestic product was $34,900. That put it below Britain at $37,300 and France at $ 35,700 and just above the E.U. at $34,500.

• According to the National Power Index, Israel’s army ranks 6th in the world.

• Israel has nuclear weapons—unlike any of its neighbors.

• Israel ranks 4th in technological capacity and is among the world’s leaders in science.

• According to Haaretz, Israel’s unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, while America’s is 7 percent and Europe’s average unemployment is 12 percent.

• Israel ranks 15 on the UN development index, illustrating the high quality of life for Jews living in Israel.

• Israelis can expect to live until they are 81.8. (Americans life expectancy is 78.6.)

• Israel’s state-funded health care is ranked 4th in the world. The U.S. is near the bottom of Bloomberg’s list of 48 countries.

As I mentioned, Israel receives more than $3.1 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently promised that this aid would not be reduced even while he listed significant cuts to America’s defense budget. In fact in June 2013 the House Armed Services Committee voted to give Israel an extra half a billion dollars in military aid for missile interception systems.

President Barack Obama boasts that the U.S. has never given so much military aid to Israel as under his presidency.

[Conservative Estimate of U.S. Aid to Israel 1949-2014]

Shirl McArthur, the Washington Report’s “Congress Watch” expert tallies up U.S. aid to Israel for our magazine. As a conservative, defensible accounting of U.S. direct aid to Israel McArthur’s estimate does not include the costs resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq—hundreds of billions of dollars, which many believe to have been undertaken for the benefit of Israel.

For 2014 fiscal year Israel has received $3.4 billion from the foreign aid budget and $2 billion in federal loan guarantees.

That’s nine million three hundred fifteen thousand and sixty-eight dollars per day, 365 days a year. If you add grants and loans, Israel has received since 1949 a grand total of $134.21 billion, excluding the $10 billion in U.S. government loan guarantees it has drawn to date. And Shirl McArthur’s calculations are modest. A respected economist, Dr. Thomas Stauffer, estimated that Israel cost the U.S. about $1.6 trillion between 1973 and 2003 alone, more than twice the cost of the Vietnam War.

And that’s not all…. Israel gets some unique benefits.

• Washington has granted Israel $19 billion in loan guarantees in recent years to make it easier to borrow overseas.

• Israel gets its aid money at the start of each year, unlike other nations. This means Israel can start earning interest on the money right away. And the U.S. government, which operates at a deficit, must borrow this money to pay Israel and then pay interest on the amount all year long.

• Israel can use 25 percent of U.S. aid to buy arms from Israeli companies.

• Congressional legislation requires us to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. Anytime another country in the Middle East buys U.S. arms we have to make sure Israel gets better weapons.

• We regularly transfer “surplus military equipment” to Israel. Israel now is storing equipment worth more than $1.2 billion.

• Americans also give $1.5 billion to Egypt’s 85 million people—well, actually most of that goes directly to Egypt’s military—for “meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.”

• Jordan’s 6 and a half million people get $660 million a year for keeping peace with their neighbor.

Aid to Israel is a subject that rarely makes it into the mainstream media. We were stunned when Walter Pincus, who reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post, tackled this normally unmentionable subject. Days after Israel’s cabinet cut nearly two million from Israel’s own defense budget, on Oct. 18, 2011, Pincus pointed out: “If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn’t the United States—which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit—consider reducing its aid to Israel?”

I’d like to conclude by stating the obvious: The U.S. president and congress give aid to Israel for domestic reasons: in order to please Jewish and Evangelical Christian voters who are often more pro-Israeli than Israelis.

It is mind-boggling that when it comes to Israel, U.S. taxpayers’ largesse has no preconditions. Israel has a green light to use American tax revenue for military operations, which destroy Palestinian (or Lebanese) roads, water tanks, sewage lines, electrical power plants and police stations, not to mention shops, homes, schools, orchards and lives. Sometimes Israel demolishes projects like parks, playgrounds, ports and other vital infrastructure paid for by American taxpayers and donors. It’s past time to halt U.S. aid until Israel complies with U.N. resolutions, withdraws from the occupied territories and makes peace.

According to surveys, a growing number of Americans want Israeli aid levels the same, reduced or cancelled.

With the prospect of prolonged fiscal austerity in the United States, overall American public support for foreign aid may diminish in the years ahead. Economic conditions in the United States should affect future aid to Israel.

Cutting off aid to Israel is the logical, economical and ethical thing for Americans to do.

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