Tablet magazine’s recent article “End U.S. Aid to Israel” has sparked a badly needed debate over how American administrations, and especially the Biden administration, have used military assistance to coerce Israel and undermine Israeli national security. Because we rely on our Israeli allies for everything from scientific research to intelligence sharing to military cooperation, the Biden administration’s policies are also undermining the security and prosperity of Americans.
The article describes how the Biden administration has tried to distance the United States from our traditional Middle Eastern allies and boost the Iranian regime, and how the pressure they impose on Israel is both part of their campaign to create that distance and a way to keep the Israelis from objecting. As a solution, the article suggests ending American military aid to Israel.
I believe Tablet magazine is one of America’s premier papers of ideas. I deeply appreciate the outlet and its writers, including Liel Leibovitz, who recently wrote a generous profile of me for the magazine describing me as “America’s most Israeli politician,” and who is also one of the two authors of the article.
Nevertheless, Tablet got this one very wrong.
The authors of “End U.S. Aid to Israel,” Leibovitz and Jacob Siegel, are certainly not wrong that the U.S. benefits immeasurably from the aid we provide to Israel. We get back at least 10 times more than what we send. It would take us uncountable billions to recreate some of the military advances and intelligence capabilities that the Israelis provide to us. There are other capabilities we literally could not recreate, for reasons ranging from geography to institutional capacity. The military and intelligence assets that Israel develops and uses protect American lives.
They are also certainly not wrong about the Biden administration’s hostility toward Israel. President Biden and Biden officials are pathologically obsessed with undermining Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship. From the opening days of the administration, they have pursued a campaign against Israel that is granular, whole-of-government, and often conducted in secret. These policies are also uniting Arab countries with Iran, and driving them to shelter beneath a Chinese umbrella.
The problem with the argument made by the Tablet authors is that it still nevertheless underestimates the breadth, depth, and—most importantly—the mechanics of how the Biden administration has been undermining Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel alliance. An enormous amount of how the Biden administration attacks Israel has nothing to do with aid or even pressure. If all military aid was immediately ended, the anti-Israel zealots in the administration wouldn’t miss a beat.
A crucial and underappreciated benefit of military assistance to Israel is that it provides a framework for American and Israeli officials to discuss our mutual interests and how to pursue them. The article’s authors rightly criticize the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as a gambit by the Obama administration to constrain future Israeli actions. One of the most subtly damaging parts of the MOU—and I discussed this with Prime Minister Netanyahu directly at the time—was that it froze levels of military assistance and explicitly prohibited Israeli officials from engaging Congress on the issue. Many members of Congress tend to be overwhelmingly pro-Israel because the American people are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. The Obama officials who penned the MOU knew what they were trying to accomplish by cutting off American lawmakers from Israeli officials by freezing aid levels, and Siegel and Leibovitz understand it as well. However, eliminating aid would repeat exactly that move.
The hostility that the Biden administration has shown toward Israel makes the Obama-era policies look tame by comparison. Again: They have pursued a campaign against Israel that is granular, whole-of-government, and often conducted in secret. Consider 10 examples:
First, in the opening days of the administration the White House instructed the State Department to stop signaling support for the Abraham Accords. The State Department implemented those instructions by issuing guidance that prohibited even using the phrase “Abraham Accords.” None of these changes was acknowledged publicly.
Second, State Department officials issued verbal guidance that prohibited funding for joint U.S.-Israel science and technology projects in Judea and Samaria, including parts of Jerusalem. The guidance did something America has never done before: unilaterally impose territorial restrictions on U.S. scientific research aid to Israel. The projects which are being targeted are for curing cancer and easing aging. It is simply an antisemitic boycott. Decades ago, the U.S. and Israel bilaterally agreed to such limits against the backdrop of unique regional conditions, but in 2020 both sides rescinded and rejected them as discriminatory. But in June 2023 the State Department began distributing in writing their new guidance to all relevant federal agencies—effectively endorsing and implementing BDS. Tellingly, this guidance was not cleared through the State Department’s own special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, and of course administration officials did not formally notify Congress or make the policy public.
Third, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor issued a $1 million Notice of Funding Opportunity grant offer for work by nongovernmental organizations to delegitimize Israel, which likewise was not cleared by the department’s own antisemitism envoy.
Fourth, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) quietly changed the name of the bureau that handles Israel from “Israel and Palestinian Affairs” to “Israeli and Palestinian Affairs,” the idea being to level the relationships that the U.S. has with our Israeli allies and with the Palestinians.
Fifth, the Office of Palestinian Affairs gave a Bronze Age Judean relic to the Palestinian Authority as “an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony,” a literal erasure of the ancient Jewish connection to Israel.
Sixth, State Department diplomats at the United Nations rejoined, engaged, and boosted U.N. organizations that promote anti-Israel and antisemitic incitement.
It is worth pausing here and noting a couple things. None of these policies was advanced by leveraging aid to Israel, and none of it would have been hindered if aid to Israel was reduced. And all those policies were just from inside the State Department. The Biden administration’s assault on Israel, of course, has been whole of government.
Seventh, the Department of Defense and the Israeli military held the “Juniper Oak” military exercises. As with the Obama-era MOU, what could have been a way to enhance military cooperation was instead turned into a way to constrain Israel’s ability to defend itself. According to Dan Shapiro, Obama’s former ambassador to Israel who was on the Biden administration team tasked with securing a new nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S.-Israeli exercises were meant to “make it less likely that one acts independently without close coordination with the other”—in other words, designed to tie the hands of Israel’s military.
Eighth, the Department of Justice unleashed the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Israel in response to an incident in which a Palestinian American journalist was killed covering a firefight between Israeli forces and terrorists, even after other parts of the administration had concluded the death was accidental.
Ninth, the Departments of Justice and State worked together to circumvent multiple congressional sanctions targeting the Palestine Liberation Organization, a terrorist group, so they could bring to Washington, D.C., the group’s secretary general for high-level press briefings—while the administration was simultaneously shunning cabinet ministers from Israel’s democratically elected government. Top officials from across the administration publicly told reporters and testified to Congress that such engagement was advancing American national security interests, but in nonpublic notices the State Department expressly confirmed to Congress that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay for acts of terrorism against Israeli and U.S. citizens.
Tenth, despite such terror financing, the State Department and specifically the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Palestinian controlled areas. Tens of millions of dollars of that funding was incorrectly entered into government databases in ways that prevented public and congressional scrutiny. Roughly $20 million sent to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was entered as going elsewhere. In one case a $5 million award to the Gaza Strip was publicly reported with the wrong amount, the wrong location, and deliberately anonymized (had it not been anonymized, it would have been clear the money was going to Gaza). None of these mistakes was made public by the administration.
This list is not comprehensive.
Again, none of these policies would be hampered by reducing military aid to our Israeli allies. Quite the opposite: Eliminating aid would provide momentum to the deeply reckless policies already being pursued by the Biden administration, which have acutely endangered American and Israeli national security.
Now, some people have called the Biden administration’s policy inexplicable. It’s quite explicable. The Biden administration is controlled by fringe progressives who hate Israel. Their policies are controlled by the Squad, and the Squad detests the Jewish state. As one member of the Squad recently asserted—not even bothering to hide her vicious antisemitism— “we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state.”
There is no doubt that as part of their collective antipathy toward Israel, these Biden administration officials have at times leveraged American aid to Israel to advance reckless policies undermining Israeli security and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Eliminating that aid, however, would not counter those policies and would pile on risks.
The obvious, straightforward solution is to continue to provide the military assistance that our Israeli allies need to protect their security and ours—and at the same time, fight to stop the Biden administration’s reckless anti-Israel policies.
Ted Cruz is a United States Senator representing Texas.