In recent weeks, comedian Bill Maher has emerged as far more supportive of Israel than I would have expected. Jon Stewart, on the other hand, has revealed himself to be a consistent detractor of the Jewish State.
Last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher however, had some difficult moments for someone like me, who is both a fan of Bill Maher and a proud Zionist. During the show, Maher made clear that while he supports Israel’s right to defend herself, he does not support US aid to Israel; one of his statements was, “Israel can take off its training wheels.”
I found his comments particularly stinging, as they came shortly after Congress had approved additional funding for Iron Dome.
One of Maher’s guests, Reza Aslan the author of the book Zealot, utilized even more extreme anti-Israel rhetoric. His opening comment was, “It’s not like we are giving them money to build schools and hospitals. We’re giving them money to buy weapons.”
Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times responded by noting that, “They [Israel] don’t need the money but what we are doing is we are buying friends. That’s what we are doing… We’re buying friendship…”
Aslan shot back… “You’re pretending that we actually GET something for our three billion. We don’t get anything from them.”
Sorkin disagreed with Aslan saying, “I think we get much more than we realize.”
Sorkin is right when we says the US gets more from Israel than people realize. But anyone who saw that particular episode of Real Time, and who might lack context to the Iarger Israel-Hamas conflict, probably doesn’t know who or what to believe.
After watching the episode, I thought about how I might have responded had I been on that panel.
My first inclination would have been to jump in and speak about the fact that Israel is the one true democracy in the Middle East. It is a nation built on the rule of law. Nations are, by definition, messy and Israel is no exception, but Israeli democracy is as vibrant and vital as any democracy in the world. It makes sense for the United States to find ways to support a country that shares a similar approach toward governance and many of the same values.
In response to Aslan, I would have pointed out that the money for Iron Dome, for example, may not have gone to build schools and hospitals, but it certainly has gone DIRECTLY to protecting Israeli schools, hospitals, homes, synagogues, mosques, etc., as Hamas missiles have rained down for the past month.
From there I might have added that while this current struggle is horrific and the toll being paid on both sides is horrible, this isn’t just about Israel fighting Hamas. No, this is a battle between the West and Fundamentalist Islam. The US supporting Israel is central to the US commitment to supporting democracy and regional stability. Through its aid, the US is supporting Western Values in a region of upheaval.
I could have gone on, but had I done that, I suspect my comments would have fallen on deaf ears.
After all, when Aslan began with, “You’re pretending that we actually GET something for our three billion. We don’t get anything from them, ” he wasn’t talking about social or strategic benefits. No, Aslan was referring to real, direct, and tangible benefits that the US sees from its financial support of Israel.
Thankfully it is easy to find examples of this, as well. Here are a few.
• Israeli anti-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Tank Technology.
Israel developed technology that is now employed on America’s tanks, protecting our soldiers inside from IED explosions. The flat plates on the sides of the tank deflect the IED and, in the process, save lives. Israel shared this technology with the United States and, as a result, both Israeli and US military lives have been saved. Is that an investment worth something? I suspect the spouse or parents of American soldiers saved by this technology would think it was.
• Emergency Care Battlefield Dressings
Israel developed special bandages for use on the battlefield. These bandages have already helped to save countless of Israeli lives. They have also saved countless American servicemen and women in Iraq and Afganistan. The same bandages were used to save a life of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords after an assassination attempt. As the JTA reported at the time,
“After the Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head a month ago, an Israeli innovation invented by an American immigrant to Israel may have helped save her life.”
Israeli technology that was shared with the US saved the life of a US politician. Is that something you would consider to be “nothing”?
The list goes on and on. It includes military technology like Iron Dome, and Israeli infrared technology that lets US pilots see threats earlier and more clearly and medical advances such as new technology that lets the blind “see”.
There is one additional area worth specifically mentioning.
Early in that episode of Real Time, Maher made a joke about the drought conditions in California. The entire region is suffering from a significant shortfall of water this year. Israel, on the other hand, despite the fact that the country is in a drought region, currently does not have a water problem.
Due to Israeli ingenuity, water conservation, reclamation, and desalinization, Israeli’s water-use has actually decreased despite Israel’s population having increased.
Fortunately, Israel has shared this technology with the United States so that, as our water issues increase, we will be able to address them. This sharing of information and technology is due, in large part, to the ongoing American-Israel relationship.
During his last visit to the United States, Prime Minister Netanyahu took time out from his visit to fly to California and consult with Governor Jerry Brown to help the Governor begin to address the issue in California. Bill Maher, who lives in California will be a direct beneficiary of this Israeli technology.
These points are enough to be able to say, without apology, that Aslan was simply wrong. Sadly, the average person watching that episode of Real Time probably doesn’t know it.