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Israel: A Rich Nation Receiving the Bulk of US Foreign Aid



Why is Israel a primary benefactor of United States foreign aid? Is Israel a proxy for US imperialism in the Middle East? Does American aid to Israel benefit constituencies other than the defense industry? The ongoing feud between Israel and Palestine has raised these questions to the forefront of public debate. Israel is the leading recipient of American foreign aid, despite its wealth. In 2022, The Economist ranked Israel as the fourth most successful economy in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A prosperous country such as Israel should hardly be a contender for America’s benevolence; hence, America’s commitment to sponsoring Israel strikes people as odd. However, some observe that Israel plays a critical role in bolstering American hegemony in the Middle East by curbing the extremities of Islamic movements. Like earlier European imperialists, who recognized the strategic value of Palestine as a trade route linking Europe to the Far East, commentators opine that America’s aid to Israel is motivated by economics and geopolitics.

The Middle East is a key reservoir of energy resources and contains trade routes of global importance. Therefore, America uses Israel as a watchdog to safeguard its interests in the region. Empowering Israel to act as a deterrent to Arab radicalism enables America to exert greater influence in the Middle East by weakening the Arab states. Scholars think that Israel’s strength protects friendly Arab states, thereby ensuring easier access to oil from the Middle East. However, in a powerful critique, Elizabeth Stephens undercuts the argument that America funds Israel for strategic purposes.

Stephens explains that despite US-Israeli cooperation during the 1970 Jordan crisis, America is aware that collaborations with Israel can adversely affect America’s relations with amicable Arab states. As a result, America refrained from using Israeli troops in conflicts with Arab states, as was demonstrated during the 1990–91 Gulf War. Citing government reports, she highlights deficits in the economic argument for supporting Israel by concluding that such sponsorship poses a financial liability to America.

Stephens identifies domestic politics as the prime factor engendering support for Israel. According to her analysis, the American Jewish lobby and the pro-Israel lobby wield enormous influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East. Although she exclaims that American politicians have not uncritically engaged Israel, the power of lobbyists ensures the consistency of America’s approach to Middle Eastern politics: “As a result of domestic and congressional pressure, a president will generally not be overtly anti-Israel. It is this generally high level of public support for Israel and popular distrust of the Arab states that has set the tone for America’s Middle East policy.”

Noted scholar James Petras reveals that Israel’s relationship with America has conferred the former with unique privileges; therefore, Israel can be described as a lesser power extracting tribute from the American empire. Yet, the image of Israel as a skillful ally is being overturned by intellectuals contending that America has been using foreign aid as a tool of manipulation. Jacob Siegel and Liel Liebovitz complained in a recent article that whereas old rules allowed Israel to allocate 26 percent of aid to the domestic military market, new provisions will eventually require Israel to spend aid in the US.

Quoting figures from Israel, Siegel and Liebovitz purport that the policy change will cost $1.3 billion for Israel, gut twenty-two thousand jobs, and make Israel reliant on American technology. In their view, greater dependence on American technology curtails the ability of Israel to innovate, thus making it susceptible to the machinations of aggressive neighbors. Others posit that foreign aid rules undermine Israel’s autonomy because military transactions with other countries require America’s permission. Fiercer critics believe that foreign aid imperils Israel’s security by enslaving the country to the whims of America.

Caroline B. Glick reminds readers that America and Israel have competing interests, but receiving aid forces the latter to sacrifice national goals to appease America. Using the example of Hezbollah, Glick illustrates that reliance on American aid increases Israel’s vulnerability to extortion:

Consider for instance, the IDF’s support for the U.S.-dictated maritime border agreement with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon last October. The deal is a strategic disaster for Israel. It gives Hezbollah a share of the Mediterranean gas industry. It limits Israel’s offensive options and maneuver room in a future war with Hezbollah. It threatens Israel’s northern coast from the sea. It presents Israel as a paper tiger who succumbed to Hezbollah extortion.

There is a burgeoning consensus that America should cut aid to Israel. Doing so is a practical policy, but it cannot be achieved without confronting the defense industry. Players in the industry will say that they are crucial to job creation; however, reports show that the defense industry has been shedding jobs even in periods of employment growth. While lobbyists tout the benefits of the defense industry, researchers from Brown University declare that military spending is crippling investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The researchers also indicate that spending in areas such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure would create more jobs. So, evidently, the benefits of military spending are not diffused throughout society.

Addressing issues raised by the current conflict is crucial because people should be dissuaded from believing nonsense. The myth that modern-day Palestinians are indigenous to Palestine is being widely circulated, but it is absurd. Contemporary Palestinians are not the descendants of the Philistines who occupied Gaza, and the Philistines were not indigenous to the region.

Although Palestine has always existed as a place, modern-day Palestinians are the descendants of people who migrated to the region and are not its original inhabitants. Furthermore, the notion of a Palestinian identity is quite recent. When the partition of Palestine was suggested by the Peel Commission in 1937, local leader Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi remarked: “There is no such country as Palestine. Palestine is a term the Zionists invented. . . . Our country was for centuries part of Syria.”

This opinion is even reinforced by the scholarship of mainstream historian Daniel Pipes, who affirms that Palestinian identity emerged in response to Zionism: “Ultimately, Palestinian nationalism originated in Zionism; were it not for the existence of another people who saw British Palestine as their national home, the Arabs would have continued to view this area as a province of Greater Syria.”

The plight of Palestinians is indeed unfortunate, but facts don’t change. Sympathizing with Palestinians is understandable, yet this does not alter the reality that Hamas is a terrorist group known for using its people as human shields to blackball Israel. Propagandists are seizing the present conflict to legitimize lies so we must neutralize their campaigns with facts before the lies become official history.

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