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AIPAC Endorses Fear of Decreased Aid

Group says economy threatens ‘America’s security assistance to Israel’

Marc Tracy
December 15, 2011

A new AIPAC fundraising letter raises the specter of a soured economy lending potency to calls to decrease aid to Israel, despite a ten-year agreement that fixes $30 billion of funding. The letter, which is undated but landed in at least one East Coast mailbox yesterday, is on AIPAC letterhead and is signed by director of national affairs Jonathan Missner. After listing threats Israel faces and insisting on AIPAC’s importance, it reads (emphasis theirs):

Yet even as America has stood by Israel in the past … and even as Israel faces these new threats to her very existence, a critical element of future U.S. support may now be in jeopardy.

As we are all aware, the United States is in the midst of a challenging fiscal period. Lawmakers are under severe pressure to make steep cutbacks across the board.

And that means that despite a 10-year agreement, America’s security assistance to Israel may very well be cut.

Perhaps the most prominent bloc associated with scrutinized aid in the context of larger austerity is the Tea Party, whose members are overwhelmingly Republican and which counts among its ranks the presidential candidates Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Talk of deficits threatening aid followed a Republican debate last month, when several candidates mused on having all foreign aid “start at zero”—something AIPAC opposes even when it’s not Israeli aid (the letter also defends “the overall foreign aid budget”). Those candidates, notably Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry, subsequently clarified that they have no intention of cutting aid to Israel; at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum last week, six candidates vigorously affirmed the importance of Israeli security (though not Paul, who was not invited and who sticks by his questioning of aid).

“All of the leading Republican presidential candidates said that we should start Israel’s foreign aid budget at zero,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, yesterday. “This upends long-standing U.S. support of our important ally, Israel—support that President Obama has dramatically strengthened and increased during his presidency—and would deeply undercut Israel’s safety and security.”

“This is a totally fabricated controversy on the part of the Democrats and particularly the DNC,” said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the RJC. “If you read what Mitt Romney said in his policy papers, he is unequivocally for increasing aid. Rick Perry clarified, and was unambiguous, that aid to Israel under a Perry administration would be increased. Newt Gingrich led the charge in Congress to increase aid.” The RJC has also cited the ten-year Memorandum of Understanding, which sets annual aid.

AIPAC apparently believes that the political climate, in which not a few voters— and most prominently Tea Party members who may prove crucial to deciding the Republican contest—is disquieting enough that they can at least raise money off of it. The letter does not mention either party or any proper names, citing only “the Administration” and “Members of Congress.” AIPAC had no comment.

It is notable that the Democrats are in the position of feeling vindicated by the group that to many represents the last word in being pro-Israel in American politics. Some Republicans have accused the Democrats of abandoning the U.S.’s traditional staunch support for Israel. A new ad from the GOP Emergency Committee for Israel asks, “Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag?”

There seems little reason to be concerned about aid under any of the leading Republican candidates (other than Paul, who is running second in most Iowa polls—he is an exception even the RJC’s Brooks allowed). The suggestion that any of them might fiddle with the billions the U.S. sends Israel’s way each year “clearly does not jibe with the candidates nor the efforts of the Republican Congress right now—even with a lot of new members, they’re unequivocal in their continued support for aid to Israel,” Brooks said.

But the Obama campaign and Wasserman Schultz have cast the question more as a matter of Republicans’ need to pander to their voters. “These guys are so eager to please the most extreme elements of their Tea Party base that they’d forget about one of the most loyal allies our country has,” the chairwoman said in a recent email to supporters.

It’s not like AIPAC has no reason to bring up this fear—it’s a fundraising letter.

AIPAC may fear congressmen and senators the most. “We all agree that America faces a tough budgetary environment,” AIPAC’s Missner says in a post-script. “But any budget cuts should be made thoughtfully and with America’s long-term interests in mind.” He adds, “Unless we work with members of Congress, security assistance to Israel may be cut at exactly the time she needs it most.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.