Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aid to Israel Should NOT Escape Budgetary Ax

MJ Rosenberg is at it again, politically incorrect advice. This from the Huffington Post (with thanks to Noushin Framke, for bringing it to our attention. The complete article follows. JRK

Once upon a time, Social Security was considered the "third rail" of American politics. The "third rail" is the train track that carries the high-voltage power; touching it means instant death.

The "third rail" metaphor has for decades been applied to Social Security, a government program so popular with the American public that proposing any changes in it would mean political death to the politician.

No more. Although Social Security is as popular as ever, politicians routinely propose changes in the program -- including privatization and means testing. While the proposals usually go nowhere, and rightly so, the politicians who support them live to fight another day. Today, with those massive deficits and the astronomical national debt, not even Social Security is sacrosanct.

Few, if any, government programs are.

But U.S. aid to Israel is. In fact, the $3 billion Israel aid package is the new third rail of American politics: touch it and die. It is also the one program which liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and tea partiers all agree should not sustain even a dollar in cuts.

Actually, that is something of a misstatement. These various parties and factions do not agree that the $3 billion Israel aid package is sacred. They just say that they do because a powerful lobby, AIPAC, makes clear to them that touching the aid package will mean big trouble for them in the next election.

It no longer comes as much of a surprise that the average Democrat and Republican rules Israel aid cuts off the table -- while supporting cuts in programs like Head Start, which educates poor children, or WIC, which provides nutrition assistance to disadvantaged women and their infants.

It is not a surprise because everyone knows that the Democratic and Republican campaign finance committees warn their members of the dire consequences that might ensue if they dare to stand up to the lobby.

That is why even the most liberal members of Congress never point out the absurdity of supporting full funding of military aid to Israel while cutting vital domestic programs. (In fact, the only members of Congress who have suggested that Israel share some of the sacrifice are Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who would pretty much cut every program in the budget, including Israel aid.)

But the two Pauls, all by themselves, were enough to send a scare to AIPAC so that it immediately got to work to make sure that other like-minded Republicans (the "cut everything" caucus) did not go off and follow them in the name of, say, logic and consistency.

AIPAC was most concerned about the Republican first-termers, most of whom were elected with the support of tea partiers, extreme fiscal conservatives who tend not to favor any exemptions from the budget ax.

Almost immediately, AIPAC produced a letter for the Republican first-termers to sign in which they pledged that, no matter what else they cut, Israel would be exempt. And almost immediately, 65 of the 87 Republican freshmen signed on. (More signed on later). Among the signatories are some of the most vehement supporters of cutting virtually every domestic program. These are people who support cutting jobs in their own districts and proudly point to their devotion to the principle that shared sacrifice means everyone.

But not Israel.

The AIPAC letter seems to recognize that virtually every other program is sustaining cuts. It refers to "runaway spending and trillion dollar deficits." It even concedes that "tough choices must be made to control federal spending" and that "we must do a better job of prioritizing appropriations." (Those priorities can be seen in this list of draconian budget cuts the freshmen support.)

But then this: "Therefore, as this Congress considers the upcoming Continuing Resolution, we strongly urge you [the House leadership] to include America's full $3 billion commitment for Fiscal Year 2011 under the ten-year Us-Israel Memorandum of Understanding."

And that is where fiscal hawks become the most docile of doves: when it comes to Israel.

This is not to say that the United States should eliminate military aid to Israel. Much of the aid package can be justified on the grounds that Israel is an ally, one that still has enemies bent on its destruction. But how can anyone justify picking this one program out of the entire federal budget and saying, without discussion, that it merits full funding, without scrutiny, while virtually every other program is cut?

The simple fact is that both the United States and Israel would be better off if we attached strings to our aid (as we do with other foreign assistance programs). For instance, we might say that for every dollar Israel spends on expanding settlements, we will subtract one dollar from the aid package. Or we can put the whole package on hold until Israel agrees to freeze settlements, thereby enabling negotiations with the Palestinians to resume. Or we can simply examine the aid budget, item by item, to make sure that each program in it supports U.S. policy goals. (Do those U.S.-provided cluster bombs that are still exploding in Lebanon serve our interests?)

But we do none of that. Israel prepares a shopping list and Congressional appropriators provide the goods. Shop 'till you drop.

This is wrong. Congress should treat the Israel aid package the same way it deals with programs that benefit Americans. Those who support it should be forced to defend it, line by line.

But the sad fact is that special interests like AIPAC, the Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth intimidate Congress into exempting their favorite projects even from discussion. Aid to Israel will not even be discussed this year, except to the extent that Members of Congress inform AIPAC of their utter devotion to keeping the money flowing.

If only infants, working Americans, and the poor were somebody's special interest. Maybe then, someday, they too could intimidate Congress. As the old Jewish expression goes: We should all live so long.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gershon Baskin from J Street

Dear Friend of Israelis and Palestinians,
Gershon Baskin loves Israel. He has been attending the J Street conference in D.C. over the weekend.

Read the following report from him, addressed to all American Jews and his country's citizens in Israel.

It is compelling. It is heart-wrenching. It is overdue.

Arab Palestinians have a long way to go. Their leadership is corrupted, now lacking credibility, having resigned. There is no unity between Fatah and Hamas. They are in rags and tatters. Fayyad is trying to put an economic prosperity zone together centered in Ramallah. Israel holds all the cards. The peace process is as dead as a tree in winter.

Israel is not willing to take risks for peace because they have convinced themselves there is an implacable "hatred" by all Arabs, deep in their hearts, toward everything Jewish. That this has been going on for time immemorial, that is has nothing to do with their treatment of Arab Palestinians. They discount the centuries that Muslims and Jews lived side by side for decades, in peace and harmony, accommodating to each other's differences and convictions.

So there is no good reason ever to have to deal in good faith with any Arabs. You can't trust them.

Ah, but that may be changing. The dead trees of winter don't remain dead. They start sprouting buds and want to break out of winter's grip.

Are there opportunities to be in genuine dialogue with the enemies of Israel? The Shadow knows. Read on. Pass it on. JRK

Encountering Peace: Learning from J Street
Gershon Baskin
The Jerusalem Post (Editorial)
February 28, 2011 - 12:00am

I am writing from Washington DC, where I’m attending the second annual conference of J Street, together with more than 2,000 American Jews from all walks of life, four MKs from Kadima and one from Labor.

There are a number of other Israelis representing various peace and human-rights organizations.

The opening evening was dedicated to honoring heroes of peace and courage who most Israelis would not know. Each of them received a standing ovation. One of them was Peter Beinart – author, journalist and Jewish philosopher who, in June 2010, wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” that now serves as the manifesto for liberal American Jews, and provides them with a voice against accusations that they have abandoned their Jewish identity and affinity for Israel because they are critical of the policies of its government.

Another was Sara Benninga, a young Israeli who, growing up in west Jerusalem, was not particularly engaged in any political activity until Israel decided to remove several Palestinians from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, a few kilometers away. The blatant injustice was the claim that the original Jewish owners from prior to 1948 had the right to reclaim their property, while the Palestinians who had been removed from their homes inside Israel in 1948 had no right to reclaim their property.

This act of injustice touched the soul of Benninga and hundreds of others, who decided to raise their voices, and have done so every Friday afternoon for the past two years in Sheikh Jarrah, and now in Silwan and in other locations. Benninga and many others have been arrested several times, and face trial on charges of illegal gatherings and trespassing.

The third was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish from Gaza, who is better known to the public. His three daughters and one niece were killed by tanks shells in their own home during Operation Cast Lead. The shelling was an error by the IDF. Abuelaish, a physician who also worked at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, has now dedicated his life to preserving the memory of his daughters by seeking justice, not revenge. His translation of seeking justice is to bring peace.

It is hard to imagine these three heroes being awarded such an honor within Israel. The first two would likely be considered “self-hating Jews.” Many Israelis would be glad to see Benninga and her friends (this writer amongst them) behind bars for treason. Abuelaish received wide exposure in Israel immediately after his daughters were killed. It was later reported that he decided to emigrate to Canada. I spoke with him after the ceremony, and heard a man with a burning desire to reach out to Israelis and make them understand that we must put an end to the conflict.

ON SATURDAY I attended a demonstration of several hundred American Arabs in front of the White House calling for freedom, democracy and liberation from dictators. The various communities took the megaphone in turn, shouting out: “Free Libya!” “Free Bahrain!” “Free Yemen!” “Free Syria!” and one young Palestinian woman with one small Palestinian flag shouting “Free Palestine!” It was fascinating to watch these people with their nations’ flags chanting “the people united will never be defeated,” each one of them with deep concern about their loved ones facing the violence of despots who refuse to give up their thrones.

How sad that the men in the White House have supported those despots and tyrants over the years, defending stability and oil rather than human rights, democracy and justice.

I raise my voice in support of the three heroes of the J Street conference, and with the heroes of the Middle East from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.

Their struggle for freedom, human rights and dignity is my struggle. Abuelaish called it the struggle for human values.

They want what I want, and what most Israelis want. We would not want to live without human dignity and justice.

What could be more appropriate for us as Jews than to celebrate people in the region standing up against oppression and for freedom? When the Palestinians ultimately take to the streets (because the revolutions throughout the region will not stop at the gates of the West Bank and Gaza), I hope they will also use the power of nonviolence. If they do, I and many others will be on the front lines with them, liberating them from our occupation, and liberating us from occupying them.

I felt at home in the J Street conference. The passion of expression there emanated from a deep sense of Jewish identity and a love of Israel. The criticism against the government – and the policies of most governments since 1967 – came from a sense of deep pain, concern and fear that Israel is becoming the kind of state they will no longer be able to support. As that happens, a piece of their soul is being destroyed.

I can only ask myself, why aren’t all Jews here? What don’t all Israelis support the principles of J Street? Why can’t we bring 2,000 Israelis together for an intensive three-day seminar focused on justice, democr acy, peace and security? We have a lot to learn from J Street.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (, and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (