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Anti-Israel Push to Restrict Aid Faces Huge Rebuke in Congress

American and Israeli flags outside the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

A bipartisan group of more than 300 lawmakers is pouring cold water on a campaign by progressive lawmakers to restrict U.S. military aid to Israel, as the country faces continued threats from Iran and Hezbollah.

“Congress is committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and its ability to defend itself, by itself, against persistent threats,” write the 330 members of Congress to the top lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee in a letter spearheaded by Representatives Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Ted Deutch, who chairs a subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and terrorism. It goes on to call U.S. aid to Israel “a vital and cost-effective expenditure” that is in America’s national security interests. “For decades, Presidents of both parties have understood the strategic importance of providing Israel with security assistance,” they write.

In the letter, the lawmakers support the full security assistance package called for in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, which was set under a decade-long Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreed to by the U.S. and Israel in 2016. The vast majority of the annual $3.8 billion package goes toward purchasing weapons and defense equipment, while $500 million goes to missile defense.

This message of support might seem normal for Washington — and it is. But significance of the letter, which was obtained by National Review, can’t be overlooked. It is aimed at rebuking, indirectly, a growing, though small, chorus on Capitol Hill that questions the wisdom of U.S. aid to Israel as it is currently provided.

In recent weeks, over a dozen lawmakers have signed onto a bill introduced by Representative Betty McCollum to prohibit the use of U.S. funds toward certain Israeli activities. “I don’t want $1 of U.S. aid to Israel paying for the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian land,” McCollum told The Intercept, which first reported on the legislation.

As the politics of today’s Democratic party have lurched leftward, McCollum, who for years has advocated a more limited version of the bill that she introduced this month, has been joined by progressive lawmakers—such as Representatives Ilhan Omar, Marie Newman, and Jamaal Bowman—many of whom won primary challenges against pro-Israel incumbents. The bill is also the culmination of work by Palestinian advocacy groups, according to The Intercept. The left-wing outlet called the bill “the result of years of work by Palestinian rights activists to cut or condition aid to Israel.”

This outlook has been endorsed by at least one senator. At the annual conference of J Street, a liberal advocacy group that bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” Senator Elizabeth Warren this month called for a reevaluation of the status quo of U.S. support of the country, including by using “all of the tools we have at our disposal.” She added, “One of those is restricting military aid from being used in the occupied territories. By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course.”

But the proponents of adhering to America’s commitments under the 2016 MOU point out that there are tangible national-security reasons to continue unwavering U.S. support of Israel, including, as McCaul-Deutch letter notes, the country’s intelligence sharing practices and its role in ensuring regional stability. “Israel is also actively engaged in supporting security partners like Jordan and Egypt, and its recent normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco will help promote regional stability and deal with common challenges from Iran and its terrorist proxies.”

While the impact of potentially cutting U.S. aid to Israel is unclear, former Trump officials have described how the Abraham Accords were made possible by the previous administration’s unequivocal support of the Israeli government. Rolling back U.S. assistance to the Jewish state could well jeopardize that.

Calling the progressive effort an attempt to make “undermining Israel’s basic security an acceptable topic of debate,” Eugene Kontorovich, a George Mason University law professor, also points out that rather than a gift, with its aid, the U.S. is holding up its part of the bargain with Israel. The funding is “largely part of commitments the U.S. made to secure the Camp David Accords, and with it Israel’s withdraw from huge territorial gains in the Sinai peninsula. Holding that aid hostage to pressure Israel into further, suicidal territorial concessions would be nothing but a betrayal of prior commitments.”

For now, though, as the overwhelming bipartisan support of the letter attests, such a betrayal remains forestalled. While the administration has caught flak from pro-Israel voices for its negotiations to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, resume funding the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, and its statements on other issues, President Biden has ruled out a conditions-based approach to security assistance in no uncertain terms. In February, a State Department spokesperson pledged that the administration would abide by the commitments set out under the 2016 MOU “without reservation.”

In short, McCollum, Warren, and likeminded lawmakers remain a small fringe, but one whose growth over the past couple of years should give bipartisan proponents of the U.S. alliance with Israel cause for concern about the Democratic Party’s trajectory. But for now, this bipartisan show of support for U.S. support of Israel speaks for itself.

 

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