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Will the Gaza War Affect US Security Aid to Israel?

The House of Representatives Building and the East Portico of the US Capitol. Photo: Flickr.

The US government is grappling with increasing internal pressure to limit or even halt the current Israeli military operation in Gaza. According to a recent opinion poll by The New York Times, only 33% of American voters support President Biden’s approach to the conflict, while 44% believe Israel should conclude its military campaign.

The results of this survey suggest that President Biden could lose support from segments of his voter base — a serious concern, as 2024 is an election year.

Forty-six percent of voters under the age of 30 declared a stronger identification with the Palestinian side, while only 27% identified with Israel. Some Democratic Party members, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Chris Van Hollen (MD), under the leadership of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), support activating Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits security assistance to countries believed by the US to be consistently violating human rights.

The implication of such a decision, if passed, would be the submission to Congress of a human rights report addressing Israeli use of American weapons. The activation of Section 502B would signify a sharp deviation from the usual practice of providing almost unconditional support for Israel and could theoretically lead to restrictions on, or even suspension of, security aid. While the likelihood of this occurring is not high, the mere raising of the issue poses a challenge to President Biden and his administration and should serve as a warning for Israeli decision-makers.

Between 2009 and 2018, Israel’s security aid from the US averaged around $3 billion annually. This does not include additional funding from the US Department of Defense for joint projects, which amounted to a similar figure. Overall, American aid constitutes about 20% of Israel’s total defense expenditure.

More important than the amounts themselves is the fact that Israel can spend more than a quarter of its assistance money on local procurement. No other country receiving aid from the US is entitled to such a benefit, and it has caused a significant shift in Israel’s defense industry. Israel uses these funds to maintain its qualitative military advantage and promote its military by purchasing innovative equipment from the US. At the same time, it funds the development and acquisition of advanced military equipment from Israeli weapons manufacturers. In September 2016, after more than three years of negotiation, a new security aid agreement between the US and Israel was signed for a total amount of $38 billion to be distributed over a 10-year period (2019-2028).

While the special relationship between the US and Israel offers the latter clear benefits, particularly in terms of security aid, the US also has a significant interest in maintaining the relationship and continuing the flow of American aid dollars. Israel’s ability to upgrade and improve American weapon systems makes it an important partner for the US, as many of those improvements are integrated into American weapons systems at the end of the development process. Additionally, the US funds Israel’s development of new innovative systems that are later adopted by the US military. An example is Iron Dome, a defense system against short-range rockets launched from Gaza and Lebanon that was designed to fill the gap where existing American systems did not offer satisfactory solutions. That system was in development for a decade and is now in active use.

Such partnerships strengthen the bond between Israel and the US, and contribute to the continued support Israel receives. The ongoing conflict with Arab countries and the numerous wars Israel has fought (perhaps more than any other country in the modern era) have meant that the combat systems supplied by the US have been regularly and systematically tested on the battlefield, leading to the drawing of rapid operational conclusions. This has essentially turned Israel into a testing ground for the US. In addition, Israel is committed, according to the aid agreement, to reinvest a significant portion of the aid money back into the US economy through direct purchases of American weapons systems.

American security aid is not unique to Israel and is a clear expression of US foreign policy. As a global power, the US dedicates part of its efforts to building global coalitions under its leadership. One form of expression of these efforts is the aid money the US has transferred and continues to transfer to foreign countries such as Israel, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Egypt, and South Korea.

A significant portion of foreign aid deals with security and military matters. According to data from the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State, in 2020, the US spent a total of $51.1 billion in foreign aid, or one percent of the Federal budget for that year. Of that figure, security aid amounted to $11.6 billion (the least the US has spent since 2004; for comparison, the 2011 expenditure was $21.6 billion). Since 1947, the US government has provided almost a trillion dollars in security aid to other countries. In 2020, Israel surpassed Afghanistan, and it now leads the list of countries that benefit from American security aid.

This aid money is not an act of charity at the expense of American taxpayers, but is intended to keep American citizens safer and more secure. In addition to promoting normative foreign policy goals around the world, such as democracy and human rights, this assistance directly serves American interests. US investments in global security allow many countries to fight terrorism, deal with international crime, and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It is a clear American interest to prevent potential crises before they escalate to a point where direct US intervention is required. Furthermore, foreign assistance opens markets for American goods and promotes American exports. For example, 43 of the top 50 leading destinations for American agricultural exports are countries that receive or have received American aid.

In light of these considerations, it can be estimated that the generous American assistance Israel has enjoyed in past decades will continue despite differences of opinion between the two countries. The special relationship that has been built between the US and Israel is not easily undermined. Beyond the genuine solidarity with Israel of the current US administration, led by President Biden, and the actions it took to support Israel in its most difficult hour, the US has a clear interest in maintaining global order, stabilizing the region, and strengthening its Israeli ally against the actions and maneuvers of anti-American players in the region, namely Iran and Russia.

With that said, it would be irresponsible for Israel to completely disregard growing sentiment in the American public and among US lawmakers who increasingly challenge the nature of the special relationship with Israel and explicitly its use of American aid money.

Nir Reuven is a researcher at the BESA Center, an engineer, and a former officer in the Merkava development program (the main Israeli battle tank). He has held several management positions in the Israeli hi-tech industry and is an expert on technology. Currently he is co-manager of the Sapir College Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. He is working on his Ph.D. and lectures at Bar-Ilan University. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Top Swiss Diplomat Appointed to Mediate Tensions Between Jewish Tourists, Businesses in Davos Ski Resort

A Hebrew sign at the Pischa Restaurant in the Swiss resort of Davos informing Jewish guests that they are banned from renting ski equipment. Photo: Screenshot

The tourism authority in the exclusive Swiss mountain resort of Davos has appointed a top diplomat to mediate the growing tensions between local businesses and Orthodox Jewish visitors as complaints of antisemitism increase.

Michael Ambühl — the former State Secretary of Switzerland previously in charge of the country’s relationship with the European Union (EU)  — will head a task force to tackle the problem, Swiss media outlets reported on Friday.

The announcement of Ambühl’s appointment comes just days after the resort was roiled by the refusal of a restaurant that operates a ski equipment rental store to provide services to Jewish guests.

A sign in Hebrew at the Pischa Restaurant in Davos stated that “due to various very annoying incidents, including the theft of a sledge, we no longer rent sports equipment to our Jewish brothers. This affects all sports equipment such as sledges, airboards, skis and snowshoes. Thank you for your understanding.”

Swiss police are currently investigating the incident as a possible case of discrimination. One Israeli tourist reported that he had visited the Pischa Restaurant where he “pretended not to understand Hebrew and asked if we could rent the equipment. After the woman consulted with the manager, she rejected our request.”

The tourism authority’s decision has irritated the country’s main Jewish representative body, the Swiss Israelite Association (SIG), which had been engaged in a separate dialog with the authority about accommodating Jewish guests that was abruptly closed down last year.

“The latest case shows that something is obviously wrong in Davos,” SIG General Secretary Jonathan Kreutner said in remarks quoted by the Blick news outlet.

Kreutner said that “comparable problems are not known from other holiday destinations, especially in those where our dialogue program is still active.” Kreutner acknowledged that the tourism authority “wants to take a new path, but we don’t yet know what it looks like and where it will lead.”

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‘Israel Outright Rejects International Dictates’: Biden Creating Plan For Palestinian State, Netanyahu Pushes Back: Report

US President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly in New York City, US, Sept. 20, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Joe Biden, along with a number of Arab states, are quickly working to form a plan to end the Israel-Hamas war and create a Palestinian state, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, sparking pushback from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first step of such a plan would be for Israel and Hamas to agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the Israeli hostages. Then, during that pause in fighting, the U.S. and its Arab partners would announce the plan and start to form an interim Palestinian government.

The US, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are all reportedly are part of the talks, which have an ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Washington Post also suggests that Israel may be expected to expel many of its own citizens from West Bank settlements and help rebuild Gaza.

The development of these plans is part of the reason Biden has cautioned Israel against moving on to fighting Hamas in Rafah — the terrorist group’s last stronghold. He believes such a ground offensive could jeopardize the prospect of peace. 

In a statement on Thursday, the White House said Biden “raised the situation in Rafah [during a call with Netanyahu], and reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”

In response to these reports and the conversation he had with Biden, Netanyahu wrote that “Israel outright rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

He added, “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”

The tension represents the latest hiccup in Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship, which has grown increasingly sour since October 7 as Biden put pressure on Israel to wind down its fight against Hamas.

Netanyahu, jpwever, was not the only one to question the prudence of the proposed American-led plan. Left-leaning group Democratic Majority for Israel said in a post on Twitter/X: “We have always favored a two state solution. But right now, how do we ensure the lesson does not become ‘sheer evil,’ pays? That must be a central part of any plan.”

Richard Goldberg, a Senior Advisor at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies contended that the plan “is doomed to fail for several reasons. Two big ones: It’s premised on Hamas surviving and involves Qatar.” 

“Israel will be in a much stronger position after it takes Rafah,” he argued.

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Harvard University Issued Subpoenaed for Antisemitism Documents

Pro-Hamas students rallying at Harvard University. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Following weeks of warnings and ultimatums, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce subpoenaed Harvard University on Friday to hand over documents related to its handling of allegations of antisemitic intimidation and harassment.

The order represents an escalation of tactics by the House Committee, which began investigating Harvard University last semester to determine whether it ignores complaints of discrimination when the victims who lodge them are Jewish. Since then, Harvard has been asked twice to submit a trove of materials requested by the committee.

Last week, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) wrote Harvard a censorious letter accusing school officials of obstructing the committee’s investigation with “grossly insufficient” responses to its inquires and submitting content of a “limited and dilatory nature.”

In a statement to Reuters, Harvard maintained that it has cooperated with the committee in “good faith,” providing “10 submissions totaling more than 3,500 pages that directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee.” Chairwoman Foxx told the outlet, however that the problem is one of “quality, not quantity,” suggesting that Harvard is frenetically pantomiming compliance without providing anything of substance.

Foxx has requested “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined, had “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

“While a subpoena was unwarranted, Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety, and security concerns of our community,” Harvard told Reuters.

“We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage,” said committee member and Harvard Alumnus Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) in a statement announcing the action.

The past four months have been described by critics of Harvard as a low-point in the history of the school, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious institution of higher education. Since the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Harvard has been accused of fostering a culture of racial grievance and antisemitism, while important donors have suspended funding for programs, and its first Black president, Claudine Gay, resigned in disgrace last month after being outed as a serial plagiarizer. Her tenure was the shortest in the school’s history.

As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005. In the weeks that followed, anti-Zionists stormed the campus screaming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “globalize the intifada,” terrorizing Jewish students and preventing some from attending class.

In Novevmber, a mob of anti-Zionists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.

By Dec., Claudine Gay —  along with Elizabeth Magill of University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Sally Kornbluth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — was hauled before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for her administration’s handling of the problem. For weeks, Gay was reluctant to punish students who chanted genocidal slogans and unequivocally condemn antisemitism. During questioning, she told the committee that determining whether calling for a genocide of Jews constitutes a violation of school rules depends “on the context.”

Two days later, the committee launched investigations of Harvard, Penn, and MIT.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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