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Ending Aid Won’t Stop the Demonization of Israel

Tampering with something that works would put Israelis in danger

Ritchie Torres
July 27, 2023

Corinna Kern/picture alliance via Getty Images

Corinna Kern/picture alliance via Getty Images

This article is part of Ending U.S. Aid to Israel.
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Lately, I have heard more and more pro-Israel Americans, still a small minority within the pro-Israel community, grow increasingly convinced that U.S. aid to Israel is no longer worth the political scrutiny it attracts. If the U.S. were no longer providing aid to Israel, then the anti-Israel zealots, the argument goes, would stop obsessing about Israel and stop singling out the Jewish state for delegitimation.

I, for one, am skeptical that the hyperbolic and hysterical hatred for Israel, reinforced by decades of demonization, would magically disappear with the end of U.S. foreign aid.

There is no reason to think that BDS activists here in the U.S. would suddenly stop promoting the delegitimation of Israel simply because foreign aid for the Jewish state is no longer a line item in the federal budget.

For the BDS movement, which would retain its raison d’etre regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C., ending U.S. aid to Israel is a distant second to ending Israel itself. The anti-Zionist crusaders in U.S. politics will not declare mission accomplished until the Jewish state ceases to exist.

Tablet magazine recently published a controversial piece, “End U.S. Aid to Israel,” that alleges that “America’s manipulation of the Jewish state is endangering Israel and American Jews.” The article’s assault on U.S. aid to Israel is so provocative that Tablet has invited me, as a pro-Israel member of Congress, to offer a response.

The article asserts that U.S. aid to Israel provides “Congress and the White House with a tool to leverage influence over a key strategic ally.” Exactly which White House and Congress the authors have in mind the article doesn’t say but the claim here is readily refutable by the recent history of the American-Israeli relationship.

No recent American president or congressional majority has ever proposed conditioning or otherwise leveraging aid to Israel. Nor has any recent American president or congressional majority ever actively attempted to do so in order to impose its will on Israel. Quite the contrary: Both the White House and Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have never wavered in affirming that, no matter what policy differences emerge between the two democracies, U.S. aid to Israel should be unconditional, much like the friendship itself. Indeed, Israel is an oasis of bipartisan cooperation in the D.C. desert of partisanship and polarization.

The article then proceeds to provocatively portray U.S. aid to Israel as an exploitative arrangement that subsidizes the U.S. defense industry at the expense of Israel’s own defense base. Although the argument might contain a kernel of truth, I disagree with the cynical conclusion it ultimately draws.

For the BDS movement, which would retain its raison d’etre regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C., ending U.S. aid to Israel is a distant second to ending Israel itself.

The value of U.S. aid to Israel is no abstraction to Israelis.  It has led to lifesaving inventions like Iron Dome, which has been extraordinarily effective at saving the lives of civilians and deescalating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would be far more destructive and deadlier without an American-Israeli missile defense system. 

If Israel were to ever find itself engaged in new hostilities with Hezbollah, which has the capacity to fire infinitely more rockets and missiles than Hamas, an Iron Dome system replenished by U.S. aid would become even more critical, not less.

The article raises doubts not only about the value of U.S. aid to Israel but also about the overall U.S. contribution to the founding and flourishing of Israel as a Jewish state.  That President Harry Truman was the first international leader to recognize the independence of the fledgling Jewish state is brought up only in passing as though it were a trivial development.  That the U.S. has been the leader of the free world since Israel’s rebirth goes entirely unmentioned.

The success of democracies like Israel or Japan or Germany or Taiwan did not happen in a vacuum.  It was neither accidental nor inevitable.  It took root within a liberal democratic order that the U.S. not only built after WWII but also singularly sustained in the eight decades since then. It seems ahistorical to separate the stunning success of Israel—which is undoubtedly a testament to the resiliency and resourcefulness of the Jewish people—from the American-led international order that rendered it possible, or at a minimum, raised the probability of its improbable success.

To read the article, one would be forgiven for thinking that Israel is America’s battered spouse, desperately in need of a divorce.  It laments that U.S. aid has shrunk Israel to “an adjunct to American power in a crucial region.” “Adjunct” is hardly the word that comes to mind when one thinks of Israeli military might.  To the extent that Israel might appear to be an adjunct, it is more a function of America’s superpower status than of U.S. aid to Israel.

There is simply no evidence that the U.S. has stunted the growth of Israel, which has emerged as the regional superpower of the Middle East. Nor is there any evidence that foreign aid has made Israel feel remotely inhibited from disagreeing with the United States and doing what it believes to be best for its own country.  Both the Israeli government and the Israeli people have never been shy about voicing opposition to U.S. policies. The JCPOA comes to mind.

As a member of Congress, I do not recognize the stunted, inhibited, manipulated Israel that the article seems to describe. The Israel I know is self-confident enough to advance its own interests and often does so unapologetically to the chagrin of its harshest detractors.

The provocative proposal to end U.S. aid to Israel is, quite simply, a solution in search of a problem.  And the attempt to reduce the American-Israeli relationship to something “forthrightly more transactional” would deprive the world of one of its most fruitful friendships.

Representative Ritchie Torres represents the 15th District in the United States Congress.