Foreign aid cut to Israel? Don’t believe it

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s defense ministry is worried that President Barack Obama will use military aid as a lever to force the removal of illegal outposts and an end to settlement construction.

Not likely, Washington sources say – despite this week’s call by Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) for using U.S. assistance to pressure Israel to change its policies. That came after Baird toured Gaza with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and expressed distress at the destruction.

But Baird isn’t likely to get much support in Congress and there’s no indication that’s a fight the Obama administration wants to have.

Very few observers who aren’t fierce anti-Obama partisans believe the administration will wield the aid weapon – especially in today’s environment, when the prospects for peace seem so dim and when the administration has so many other major problems on its hands, foreign and domestic.

The last thing a White House grappling with a tanking economy and all that entails wants is to go to war with pro-Israel forces, which regard Israel’s aid as a taboo subject for political debate.

But that doesn’t mean Israel’s aid is immune from cuts.  Israel’s aid could face a very different kind of problem: an across-the-board cut in all assistance programs.

Such cuts haven’t been proposed, but the administration and Congress are now looking at record-shattering federal deficits that can only climb as the government bails out banks, car companies and who knows what else.

As President Obama is promising today, it will take strong action to rein in that deficit in the face of a global economic meltdown; there will be pressure to cut virtually every federal program.

With critical domestic programs likely to fall under the knife it would be politically awkward to carve out an exception for Israel’s assistance, the biggest chunk of the U.S. foreign aid budget – especially because of the recurrent stories suggesting Israel’s economy has, so far, held its own against a global economic onslaught that has brought this country to the brink of disaster.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.