Congress passes legislation to expend $19 million/day on behalf of Israel

Congress passes legislation to expend $19 million/day on behalf of Israel

New York Congress member Nita Lowey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, has been to Israel dozens of times. She says she chose her position in order to give money to Israel.

While some Americans know that the U.S. gives Israel over $10 million per day ($7,000 per minute), they may be unaware that additional spending on behalf of Israel significantly increases the cost to American taxpayers…

By Alison Weir

Congress has just passed legislation to expend over $7.03 billion in 2021 on behalf of Israel. If signed into law, as expected, this will cost American taxpayers over $19 million per day.

This comes in the midst of coronavirus hits to a fragile US economy, and despite Israel’s long record of human rights violations (see video below), causing hostility against the United States; Israel’s actions against the US; and the fact that most Americans feel the US gives Israel too much money (on average, 7,000 times more per capita than to others around the world).

Spending for Israel takes two forms: some expenditures go directly to Israel; others go to different countries and projects because they benefit Israel.

As eminent economist Thomas Stauffer has written: “Protection of Israel and subsidies to countries willing to sign peace treaties with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, has been the prime driver of U.S. outlays.“*

The current proposed expenditures include $3.805 billion to Israel, $1.425 billion to Egypt (stemming from an inducement to obtain and then maintain Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel), $1.52 billion to Jordan (the other Arab country to sign a treaty with Israel, Jordan works closely with Israel), $.275 billion for projects in the occupied Palestinian territories (advocated by the Israel lobby), and a number of additional perks.

Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey

The person shepherding most of this through is Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and also chair of the subcommittee that prepared the legislation.

Lowey is known as one of the most influential members of Congress, and one of those most dedicated to Israel.

Lowey’s Congressional bio says she has been called “one of the engines of pro-Israel activity on Capitol Hill” and calls her “the Appropriations Committee’s chief advocate of the annual U.S. aid package to Israel.” Congressional Quarterly reports that she “maneuvers skillfully through the appropriations process.” Various pro-Israel lobbyists have raved about Lowey’s service for Israel.

Earlier this year Lowey spoke with fellow New York Democratic Congress member Eliot Engel at the national convention of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) about how the two have used their positions to benefit Israel (Engel is chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee):

 

In a recent speech to the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, Lowey reflected on her three decades in Congress. Jewish Insider reported that Lowey said it had “been an honor” to be on the front lines in support of Israel, and described why she had chosen the subcommittee she chaired:

Lowey explained that she chose to head the state, foreign operations, and related programs subcommittee over a more prestigious subcommittee within the powerful House Appropriations Committee because it dealt with allocating funds for Israel. “My heart came first,” Lowey said. “This is why I have been the chair all these years of the committee that funds all the money we give to Israel.”

 

(In 2018 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured an Israeli-American audience that all her committee chair appointees would be Israel partisans. She listed some examples: In addition to Lowey were Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Eliot Engel, and Adam Schiff. A video of Pelosi’s remarks is here.)

The specific funding items

The latest funding action comes from two bills:

 * H.R.7608 – Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021, sponsored by New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey. This was passed on Friday, 224-189. (The Senate version of the bill has been reported out of committee and will be taken up next.)

*  National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA), which was approved in the House of Representatives, 295-125, a week ago, and two days later in the Senate, 86-14.

Below is a list of some of their expenditures for Israel:

  • Not less than $3,300,000,000 military support for Israel to be disbursed within 30 days of enactment of the act
  • $500,000,000 for missile defense systems in Israel (particularly promoted by New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand “for the safety and protection of Israel”)
  • $5,000,000 for refugees resettling in Israel
  • Not less than $1,525,000,000 military assistance for to Jordan
  • Up to $125,000,000 in economic support and up to $1,300,000,000 for military support to Egypt
  • $275,000,000 for relief and development in the Palestinian occupied territories, especially for Palestinian businesses that partner with Israelis, and dialog programs between Palestinians and Israelis (This was promoted on behalf of Israel to reduce Palestinian resistance.)
    • The Times of Israel reports that “an array of pro-Israel groups that do not often agree” praised the projects and Lowey, “a longtime pro-Israel stalwart who led advocacy for the funding.” Among those endorsing the projects were pro-Israel lobbying groups AIPAC, J Street, Democratic Majority for Israel, Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee.

On top of these are some additional expenditures that benefit Israel:

  • $40 million for joint projects between Israeli and American companies.
  • $31 million to the Multinational Force and Observers mission in Egypt’s Sinai, to supervise the Egyptian treaty with Israel.
  • Extend authorization for the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile in Israel through fiscal year 2025 and authorize an additional $200 million annually in stocks.
  • $1 million to the State Department’s “anti-Semitism office,” which often focuses on criticism of Israel, doubling the office’s current budget. (The anti-semitism office was established in 2004 following testimony by an Israeli minister. Jewish Insider reports that an earlier Anti-Semitism Envoy, Hannah Rosenthal, criticized the increase: “Rosenthal told JI that given recent cuts in the State Department budget, there’s no reason for the [antisemitism] budget to be singled out for increases. ‘Such actions could feed the horrid hateful sentiments that Jews get more when it comes to money than other groups and/or bureaus,’ she explained.”)
  • In addition, the NDAA requires the establishment within a year of a “United States-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group” and spends 10 pages on the details. This will in all likelihood cost additional money, open US technology to Israel (which has a record of spying on the US and stealing American technology and secrets) and entangle the US military even further with Israel.
  • Finally, dwarfing the above, are the millions of dollars for Iraq and the “war on terror,” which largely stems from America’s disastrous war on Iraq, promoted by Israel and its partisans to benefit Israel. In 2003, an economist estimated that Israel had already cost Americans $3 trillion. This would be considerably larger today.

The Israel lobby

The pro-Israel lobby may be the most powerful and pervasive special interest group in the United States. The current Congress alone, for example, has produced 68 pieces of legislation focused on Israel, as pro-Israel campaign donors often call the shots.

A documentary on the lobby was censored and never shown to Americans. This is not unique. A documentary about Gaza, slated to be shown on PBS stations around the country last year, was similarly axed. (It’s possible that Lowey, who has long been a major force in PBS funding, was a factor in this. A PBS affiliated organization calls federal funding “the lifeblood of public broadcasting,” and gave Lowey a lifetime achievement award for her work. In 2005 she had staved off cuts to PBS and increased the appropriations by $100 million, which “changed the course of public broadcasting history.” In 2019 she increased funding by $20 million.)

Changing of the guard or more of the same?

Today, an increasing number of Americans support Palestinian rights, and the Israel lobby’s power to provide unending US tax money to Israel may eventually diminish.

While Israel advocates try to claim that those critical of Israel are “antisemites,” the reality is that individuals of all backgrounds support justice for Palestinians out of a commitment to human rights and equality for all people.

In point of fact, many of those actively exposing and opposing Israeli actions are Jewish, and a number are Israeli. A longtime supporter of Israel recently caused “an earthquake” when he endorsed full rights for Palestinians.

Lowey will be retiring at the end of the year, and Eliot Engel recently lost re-election in the primary, suggesting that the lobby’s grip over legislation may loosen in coming years, although signs are mixed.

Engel was defeated by newcomer Jamaal Bowman, who represents a very different approach to Israel. While Bowman says he supports continued U.S. aid to Israel, he goes on to state:

We must also have honest conversations about our government’s role in enabling the continued occupation of the Palestinian people. Our taxpayer dollars should not be going toward subsidizing settlement expansion, home demolitions, the detention of Palestinian children, or in any way supporting the threatened Israeli “annexation” of the West Bank. Past presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush used our financial leverage to promote peace in the region…

New Foreign Relations Chair: Sherman, Meeks, or Castro?

It remains to be seen who will replace Engel as chair of the powerful House Foreign Relations Committee. Engel had recently said: “As long as I’m the chairman [of the House Foreign Affairs Committee], the U.S.-Israel relationship will be paramount.” Will the new chair continue this devotion to a foreign country?

The selection process is less straight forward than many might think. As the Washington Post reports: “Democrats, who place no term limits on influential chairmanships, award the positions through a mix of seniority, popularity and backroom dealmaking.” As we’ve seen, this normally means that someone devoted to Israel will be placed at the helm.

Accordingly, the new chair is perhaps most likely to be California’s Brad Sherman, the senior member and, perhaps more important, another Israel-first Congressman.

However, two others are running for the position, and neither is as fanatically pro-Israel.

Gregory Meeks is another New York Congressman and close to Engel, but he is less hawkish than both Engel and Sherman, his voting record on Israel is somewhat is less one-sided, and he expressed “serious concern” at a recent Israeli action. Meeks is second in seniority, is said to enjoy the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, and some feel he has a better chance than Sherman.

Pro-Israel America endorsed Meeks in his Congressional race, stating: “Rep. Meeks has been a dedicated supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship. He has co-sponsored legislation condemning the BDS movement and consistently supports vital security assistance to Israel.”

A third, long-shot contender is  Joaqin Castro from Texas. Business Insider reports: “Castro is leading a generational revolution to shake up Democrats’ outdated foreign policy.”

The Washington Post reports: “60 liberal organizations have signed a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other top Democrats urging them to end the ‘disconnect”’between the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee’ and the rest of the House Democratic Caucus regarding the United States’ most consequential foreign policy issues.” Among these is Israel-Palestine. (Castro’s twin brother Julian, former presidential candidate, implied that if elected president he might apply conditions to US aid to Israel.)

Castro’s voting record is largely pro-Israel, but at times he has deviated from the AIPAC decreed policies.

Lowey’s replacements likely to advocate for Israel, but not guaranteed

It appears that Lowey’s replacement in Congress will be a candidate who will continue to support massive money to Israel, and the new committee chairs may do the same. There are long shot challengers for the chair positions, however, who could change the calculus.

A top contender to replace Lowey as chair of the Appropriations Committee is Connecticut Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. DeLauro worked so closely with Lowey and Nancy Pelosi that they have sometimes been called the “Delosis.”

According to the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald: “DeLauro is a quintessential member of the Democratic establishment when it comes to Israel. She has voiced unflinching support for the Jewish state.”

DeLauro is close to Rahm Emanuel, who volunteered with the Israeli military during the first Gulf War and was an Israeli citizen until age 18. Emanuel lived for five years rent-free in an apartment DeLauro and her husband, Stan Greenberg, owned in D.C. (Emanuel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which awarded large contracts to Greenberg’s firm.)

Two others are also running for the position.

In second place is Florida member Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the fervently pro-Israel former Democratic National Committee chair forced out when leaked emails showed she had worked to rig the primary process against presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In third place is Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur, who lost to Lowey in 2012 despite Kaptur’s seniority. Although she’s the most senior committee member, and the longest-serving woman in Congress, Kaptur may lose out again. The fact that she’s been endorsed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a member of the “Squad” and a senior member of Kaptur’s whip team, may make her popular with progressives but is likely to make her unpopular with the Democratic establishment and the campaign donors behind it. Her mixed voting record on Israel is also displeasing to Israel advocates, who want full on support.

New Subcommittee Chair: Grace Meng / Barbara Lee?

Two contenders to chair the subcommittee that Lowey headed, “State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs,” are senior member Barbara Lee from California and Grace Meng, yet another pro-Israel Congress member from New York.

Lee is a progressive with a voting record often supportive of Palestinian rights. If Lee procures the chair position, there could be significant change, especially if her constituents require this.

Meng, on the other hand, is a reliable pro-Israel vote who has taken credit for helping to secure many of the expenditures to Israel. She is vice president of the Democratic National Committee, having been endorsed by Lowey, and is featured at AIPAC events.

If Meng becomes chair, as may be likely, that could mean large quantities of US tax money will continue to flow to Israel.

Media Missing in Action

No mainstream media seem to have reported on the legislation just passed to expend billions of dollars on Israel – spending that many Americans might oppose if they knew about it.

Such media neglect is not unusual.

Additional bills before Congress would require U.S. taxpayers to give Israel the largest multi-year aid package in U.S. history, a total of around $20,000 per Israeli family of four. While the bills go beyond the Obama MOU and are considered major news in Israel, US news media have failed to tell Americans about them.

Because of such consistently Israel-centric news coverage, in which some information is repeated frequently and other facts filtered out, many Americans are unaware of Israel’s systemic discrimination against Christians and Muslims, its attack on a U.S. Navy ship, its extensive spying against the U.S., and its damage to U.S. interests.

Meanwhile, this is what Israeli forces are doing to Palestinians, day in and day out, using American money.

Media companies don’t report on that, either.

 


*Most countries in the region refused to recognize Israel because it was established in 1948 through a war of ethnic cleansing and confiscation of people’s land and homes. Three-quarters of a million Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian), who had originally made up 95 percent of the inhabitants of the land, were violently expelled. For many years, American officials had opposed US support for the Zionist movement. (More information here.)


Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel. (This article has been updated with additional information about the contenders for committee chairs.)


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Excerpt from The Lobby USA:

 

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