By Stephanie Westbrook
A "regional economic power." That’s how ANIMA, the Euro-Mediterranean Network of Investment Promotion Agencies encompassing 70 governmental agencies and international networks, described Israel in its January 2010 Mediterranean Investment Map. The report analyzed the economies of the 27 European Union countries as well as 9 "partner countries."
And who can argue. Touting an annual GDP growth rate around 5% for the years 2004 to 2008, Israel was also ranked 27 out of 132 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report last fall. It ranked 9th for innovative capacity.
In the 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook by IMD, Israel comes in 2nd for the number of scientists and engineers in the workforce. No other country in the world spends more on research and development as a percentage of GDP than Israel. Since the year 2000 it has hovered around 4.5%, or twice the average of OECD member countries.
I am not an economist, but I have to wonder why US taxpayers are doling out $3 billion a year in direct military aid to a "regional economic power." In August 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel was signed committing the US to give, not loan, $30 billion to Israel over 10 years. US taxpayers are directly funding close to 20% of Israel’s annual defense budget. No wonder Israel is able to invest in R&D!
To help put these figures into perspective, a new web site was launched last week that illustrates how your state is contributing to the Israeli defense budget, and what could have instead been done with the money. At www.aidtoisrael.org I learned that my home state of Texas will give more than $2.5 billion over the ten year period. For the same amount, over 2 million people could have been provided with primary health care.
At the 2007 signing ceremony for the $30 billion giveaway, then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, stated, "We consider this 30 billion dollars in assistance to Israel to be an investment in peace." But peace isn’t exactly what we’ve gotten for our money.
Instead our tax dollars continue to pay for advanced weaponry used to maintain an illegal occupation, culminating a year ago in the Israeli attack on Gaza with US-made F-16 fighter jets, US-made Apache helicopter gunships, US-made naval combat ships, US-made hellfire missiles, US-made tanks and armored personnel carriers, and US-made white phosphorus shells.
Every cent we give Israel is in violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which specifically prohibits aid to countries that "engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." Sales of US weaponry made to Israel are in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which restrict their use to legitimate self-defense.
But weapons we do continue to sell, and aid we do continue to give. And if that weren’t enough, we also provide Israel with special conditions. Unlike all other countries receiving military aid from the US, Israel receives its entire bundle in a lump sum during the first 30 days of the fiscal year. The money sits in an interest bearing account at the Federal Reserve, the interest going to Israel, of course, until 74% of it is funneled back to US weapons manufacturers in the way of purchases for the Israeli Defense ministry. Israel is free to use the remaining 24% to purchase "in house" weapons systems, an arrangement afforded to no other recipient of US military aid.
While we may hear some calls to freeze (or limit or curb) settlement construction, and as of late, for an end to the siege of Gaza, one subject no one on Capitol Hill dares to touch is this massive military aid package given to Israel. The new self-proclaimed "pro-peace pro-Israel" lobby, J-street, has said the subject is not up for discussion.
But some are starting to question our "special relationship" with Israel.
On February 9, Intelligence Squared, the British debate forum, held a debate in New York City – home to the country’s largest Jewish community – asking if the "US should step back from its special relationship with Israel." Prior to the start of the debate, audience members cast their votes electronically, with 39% in favor, 42% against and 25% undecided.
Arguing for the motion were British author and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Colombia professor and author Rashid Khalidi. Former US ambassador to the EU Stuart Eizenstat and former Israeli ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich argued against. Cohen spoke of US aid to Israel:
"What also makes the relationship special is the incredible largess that the United States shows towards Israel, over the past decade, $28.9 billion in economic aid. And on top of that, another $30 billion in military aid, that’s almost $60 billion. That’s 10 times the GNP of Haiti that is being gifted to a small country. Now, I ask you, to what end is this money being used. Ladies and gentlemen, we would submit that it ends often inimical to the American interest."
Following the debate, the audience once again voted on the resolution, this time with a slight majority in favor, 49% for, 47% against and 4% undecided.
The "special relationship" is hereby up for discussion. Pass the word.
– Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org