The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle printed a front-page article on Nov. 8 entitled “Unchecked U.S. Aid to Israel challenged at J Street.” J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, was quoted as saying, “Our aid is not intended to be a blank check.” Unfortunately for the Chronicle and its readers, J Street leadership regurgitated old narratives and stale information.
It is really quite clear where U.S. funds are going. A report by the Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” from Aug. 7, 2019, goes into great detail. Almost all current U.S. aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance. Israel has used some of these funds to purchase the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet. The cost for each plane ranges from $89- $115 million, and Israel now has 50 F-35s.
A new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was negotiated by the Obama administration. It was signed by Israel and the U.S. on Sept. 9, 2016. The MOU increased military aid to $38 billion for the years covering 2019 to 2028.
For 2019, Congress approved the following for Israel:
• $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
• $5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) for refugee resettlement
• $2 million in a homeland security grant
• $500 million in missile defense (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow)
Currently, a minimum of almost $2.5 billion of the FMF is required to be spent in the U.S., and by 2028, that amount will be increased to 100% of the FMF. This helps provide thousands of jobs for Americans.
Congress first extended loan guarantees to Israel in 1972. The current legislation also reauthorized U.S. loan guarantees to Israel through Sept. 30, 2023. Legally, Israel is required to use the proceeds of guaranteed loans for refinancing its debt and shall not be used outside of Israel’s pre-June 5, 1967 borders. Israel has not used the loan guarantee program for 14 years. Officials in Israel consider it a safety net to be used only in case of war, natural disaster or economic crisis.
Another J Street official was quoted as saying, “The ADL research shows that 100 percent of the anti-Semitic violence has been perpetrated by right-wing extremists.” Prior news articles have not indicated that exclusivity.
ADL issued a report dated Jan. 23, 2019, that was titled “Right-Wing Extremism Linked to Every 2018 Extremist Murder in the U.S., ADL Finds.” “In its annual report on extremist-related killings in the U.S., the ADL’s Center on Extremism reported that at least 50 people [Jews and non-Jews] were killed by extremists in 2018, including the 11 individuals killed in the fatal anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.” In a report dated April 30, 2019, under the heading of “Assaults,” the ADL reported 39 incidents in 2018 (Tree of Life having been counted as one incident). The incidents affected 59 victims, including our 11 local congregants.
The press constantly refers to Israel’s “right-wing government” — and J Street is no different. Many people do not understand the shift in Israeli sentiment and its cause. Between 1993 and 2001, the Palestinians signed four peace treaties with Israel. The Palestinians turned down the opportunities to have a state in 2000 and again in 2008. In each case, Arab leaders just walked away without even proposing a counter-offer. The reality is that, after 25 years of “Oslo” that got Israel almost nothing, Israelis are tired of these futile efforts. There simply is no peace partner. A progressive approach hasn’t worked, and the Israeli people have naturally reacted by becoming more conservative.
The Israel Democracy Institute issued its most recent “Israel Democracy Index” in December of 2018. Here is how Israelis rate themselves:
Right and moderate right 45.5%
Left and left center 21.1%
Didn’t know/refused to answer 6.4%
Polls are not an exact science. One particular poll stated the hard-right, right, and center-right totaled 58%. One news article stated that the left had lost 1,000,000 voters; and another stated that only 12-15% of Israelis put themselves on the left. While it may be hard to quantify, this underscores how the population has moved to the right.
J Street seems to have a disregard of the facts, and I believe the information provided above is of value to Chronicle readers. I found it laughable that J Street had Obama administration alum, Ben Rhodes, participate at its conference. You remember him, the former student of fiction writing, who became a White House presidential advisor and orchestrated the false narrative about the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) that gave Iran tens of billions of dollars. Not surprisingly, Iran gave some of those funds to Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Why would a supposedly pro-Israel, pro-peace Jewish organization take pride in his attendance?
Stuart V. Pavilack is executive director of Zionist Organization of America: Pittsburgh.