Caroline Glick raised interesting points in an opinion piece published in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post. Although I typically shy away from political commentary, this particular issue impacts commerce, trade, and our innovation leadership in very direct ways that make such commentary worthy of consideration.
I’ve long believed that Israel needs to break away from US aid. I’ve been in this camp since high school or college. I don’t like any strings tied to offers of support. Never liked the strings tied to money that my dad imposed on me growing up and I certainly dislike them at the national level.
My mother had an interesting observation in the early 2000s when building a home in Tel Aviv. Visiting a local store to select bathroom fixtures, the clerk showed them gold options. Not gold as in gold color but gold as in gold plated along with gold-plated price tags.
Being a life-long supporter of Hadassah while living in America, my mother was shocked to discover Israeli wealth. It was an awakening: Israel was no longer the third-world, malaria-infested backwash she was born into in the 1930s and left in the late 1960s. And it raised a question: Why, with such wealth, do American Jews still fundraise for Israel? It’s a valid question. After all, if Israelis can afford gold-plated bathroom fixtures, why can’t they afford to pay for their own charitable institutions?
Although I don’t believe that American (or other diaspora) Jews should stop such fundraising – since in many cases it is the only thing that connects them to their Judaism or to Israel – it is important to extend and ask the same question at the national level: Why, with such wealth, does Israel insist on America military aid?
Once the leash is off, Israel’s homeland security and defense industries will be free to compete internationally against leading defense industry companies. And that has competitors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, and others, nervous. Better to do what they can to control the competition and prevent a level playing field even if it means dominating US foreign policy and driving a bad deal for Israel.
Oh, by the way, don’t assume Lockheed Martin, the largest defense company in the world, is overly supportive of Israel simply because they set up shop in Beer Sheva three years ago. The cover story focused on the government’s commitment to establishing Beer Sheva as the cybersecurity capital of Israel and Lockheed Martin’s interest in capitalizing on Israel’s cybersecurity leadership and innovation. But what really drove Lockheed Martin to establish its third R&D center outside of the US (the other two are in the UK and Australia) was a strategic business decision to plant a stake in the backyard of Israel’s defense industry.
Lockheed Martin products have been sold to Israel for decades without so much as a local sales office. And they surely didn’t decide to commit to opening an Israeli R&D center because Zionism is integral to their corporate social responsibility program. In establishing what, in military terms, can be called a forward-operating base, executives at Lockheed Martin were following the “keep your enemies closer” wisdom of Michael Corleone. the fictional Mafia king from the 1974 film “The Godfather Part II.” Local investment and boots-on-the-ground provides them with an opportunity to charm (or perhaps even buy) Israeli politicians with one hand while guiding US policy to serve the company’s greater interests with the other.
Without question, Israel needs a strong military. To ensure a qualitative edge, it needs access to military innovation and products from the US and the opportunity to collaborate and jointly develop technology with both the US military and US companies. And perhaps it even needs some R&D funding to push things along – money that many in the US Congress have observed over the years to have been well-spent vis-à-vis America’s own military interests and that has delivered solid dividends to American taxpayers.
Unshackled, Israel could ensure is military edge on its terms, interests, and needs. Moreover, throwing away the crutch of military aid will likely have a positive economic impact rather than the negative impact that is expected given the current terms and limitations of the proposed aid package. And doing so will strengthen rather than weaken our own homeland security and military industry. Most important, it will finally allow Israel and its home-grown defense companies to behave as credible and respected peers on the world stage and not as a lapdog begging for scraps.
It’s complicated. Maximum politics, both overt and covert, is a dizzying game. Unfortunately, this game is heavily biased by underhanded, self-serving industrial influence that is not in our nation’s best interest. Israel doesn’t need the aid, certainly not aid with inflexible conditions dictated by policy makers and profit-driven corporations uninterested in Israel’s long-term viability.
Without the restrictions which come with aid, Israel would be free to fire its weapons as it chooses, as it sees fit, as makes sense based on Israel’s defense requirements and not those of the US government as dictated by confused theses of American leadership. Cutting the aid will allow Israel’s politicians to grow a pair and regain world respect this country has lost in years of bending at the knee to an ever-present and more recently overt anti-Semitism.
Respect and real power don’t come from financial support. They come from doing the right things over and over and over again without apology. US military aid binds and prevents us from achieving the respect and power needed to make peace. It guarantees that we remain in a state of war.
Glick is, as she often is, right: Part of doing the right thing means cutting the strings that prevent us from acting the way we need to act. Walking away from U.S. aid may be difficult but, then again, so is overcoming any addiction. Let’s take the first step toward responsibility; let’s cut the aid umbilical cord.