Saturday, June 4, 2011

Israel: Opinion: Time to rethink US aid

YNet News


Time to rethink US aid

Op-ed: State of Israel strong enough by now to stop acting like America’s spoiled child

By Avi Yesawich, Daniel Nisman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s awkward recognition of American aid portrays Israel as a privileged offspring instead of a true and loyal friend.

Presumably during his recent speech at the US Congress, Bibi intended to be humble when he generously thanked America for its unwavering economic support. However, the entire event unfolded drastically differently in front of our own eyes: The leader of our great nation made a gesture of submissiveness to our American friends, underscoring the notion that the US-Israel relationship, while special, it is not based on the idea of equality among peers.

Of course, we never saw Hosni Mubarak, Asif Ali Zardari, Nouri al-Maliki or Hamid Karzai at the podium delivering the same style of speech. The countries they represent received nearly equal or more US aid than Israel does. Indeed, some of the most brutal, backwards regimes in our region receive American aid. Do we really wish to have ourselves collectively placed in a category with such chaotic regimes? Is this truly in Israel’s best interests? Probably not.

In Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, we see countries that are in genuine need of economic and military support so that Islamic extremism will not take root in these “moderate” yet fledgling democracies. Unlike these other nations, Israel is a self-sufficient state that should be politely declining the continuing American aid, if not for economic reasons than for idealistic ones.

Israel considers herself to be the steadfast ally of the US, and in many aspects this is undeniably the case. However, how many favors should Israel expect to receive from America before our ally requests, even demands, reimbursement? The US indeed demands repayment through political, military and economic concessions that are quite often not in Israel’s best interests. The American aid also fosters a sense of dependency amongst many Israelis who believe that Israel cannot defy the US on important policy matters.

Moreover, the massive American aid to Israel during tough economic times enrages many Americans. Many US polls highlight the overwhelming objection to the provision of US foreign aid, especially during harsh economic times. Bibi’s comments on the topic reminded average American citizens that their tax dollars are being transferred to a country that quite regularly boasts to the world about its economic achievements, vibrant real estate and financial markets and excellent quality of life. In essence, the PM gave the average American who would ordinarily have no opinion about Israel a reason to view it in a hostile light.

Furthermore, US aid has been exploited by anti-Israel advocates and anti-Semites as proof of the Israeli lobby’s enormous influence in American politics. For example, former Ohio Congressmen James Traficant would often use American aid to Israel as a tactic to rally average Americans to support his blatantly anti-Semitic agenda and steer public opinion against Israeli interests.

Israel an economic powerhouse

The core argument made for US aid is that Israel needs it in order to maintain its qualitative military edge over regional enemies. However, how necessary is it in actuality? With a GDP of $217 billion (ranked 24th by the World Economic Forum's 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report), American foreign aid accounts for slightly more than 1% of our total GDP. Either we are the technological, military, medical and economic powerhouse we claim to be, or we aren’t.

Furthermore, the prospects of Israel transforming into an even greater economic powerhouse are supported by new breakthroughs. Israel recently discovered massive deposits of offshore natural gas reserves estimated to produce at least tens of billions of dollars in revenue, and our oil shale reserves provide us with the ability to become a major oil producer within the next decade. Our defense, medical and high tech industries continue to expand at an extraordinary rate, and foreign investment in Israeli business ventures is at an all-time high.

When President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron stood this past week, the overall mood of their press conference could be described as the antithesis of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting last week. Indeed, the Obama-Cameron interaction highlighted a truly special, peer-level relationship based on mutual values, equality and respect. On the other hand, Bibi’s speech to Congress resembled a privileged child who expects gifts from his parents.

Of course, the aid to Israel is one of the biggest achievements of AIPAC, whose lobbyists work tirelessly year-round to ensure that the agreement is renewed and that American support for Israel remains strong. While their intentions are admirable, AIPAC’s approach to aid is not without negative consequences, and has become somewhat of a taboo in Israeli-American discourse. Yet supporters of US aid in both Israel and AIPAC must understand that it is corrosive to the foundation of our special relationship.

Israelis are truly grateful for US economic, political and military support over the past several decades. Our friendship is indeed ironclad and based on mutual values and interests. However, when Bibi noted in his speech that Israel doesn’t host American soldiers in our country because “we defend ourselves,” an appropriate rebuttal could have been easily given by the Americans: “Yes, and we make that possible.”

In the end, Israel should strive for a balanced relationship with her American counterpart that reflects a level of respect and admiration that is befitting for the only viable and flourishing democracy in the Middle East. Israel must show America that we truly value our unique relationship, and that Israel is not a spoiled child. We are a strong nation that is able to stand on its own two feet without the help of its big brother at every turn.,7340,L-4075586,00.html

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