Jeremy Ben-Ami
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Where J Street stands on aid to Israel

We need an open, honest and respectful conversation about how the US can promote peace, security and human rights
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference, with the 'Pod Save the World' hosts Tommy Vietor, left, and Ben Rhodes, October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference, October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

I couldn’t be more pleased that J Street’s National Conference has sparked an energetic and long-needed discussion about the role that US assistance to Israel should play, not only in supporting Israel’s long-term security, but in advancing the goal of peacefully resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bringing an end to the occupation.

It’s no secret that this is a complicated and contentious subject, in which some are all too willing to misrepresent and misconstrue the positions with which they disagree.

There are those to J Street’s right who believe that the level and uses of American aid to Israel can under no circumstances be discussed or debated — and who seek to silence this conversation.

There are those to J Street’s left who question the need for that assistance and call for it to be entirely cut or heavily reduced.

Here’s what J Street believes:

1) J Street supports the provision of security assistance to which the United States committed in the Memorandum of Understanding negotiated during the Obama administration. As I testified to the House Appropriations Committee this year, “American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, is an important anchor for any viable peace process based on providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move forward on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Israel faces real security threats, and US commitment to its security is rooted in America’s own national interests.

2) The US has a right and responsibility to examine the uses to which American aid is put. Is there any country on earth that should simply get a blank check from the United States — let alone the leading recipient of United States Foreign Military Financing? US funds are supposed to be used to advance Israel’s security — not to support actions and policies that undercut it or undermine key US interests and values.

3) The US should not foot the bill for annexation. If the Israeli government decides to formally annex any part of the West Bank — as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to do — the US should make sure that none of the security aid money provided, or the equipment purchased with that money, is being used to implement such a destructive policy.

4) To ensure that the US is not funding actions and policies that run counter to our interests, policies and laws, lawmakers should consider implementing enhanced transparency and accountability measures so that they can better understand how, where and why our aid is being used.

This is not a call to reduce the level of US security assistance, or to “condition aid.” It is a call to ensure that the end uses of the aid we provide, funded by US tax dollars, clearly align with our interests, policies and laws — and actually advance Israel’s security.

J Street is very encouraged and energized that there is a vibrant discussion emerging on this question. We may not share all of the positions advanced by every presidential candidate or organization with which we are generally aligned. But we do believe — without question — that the time is right for an open, honest and respectful national conversation about how the US-Israel relationship operates, and how America should use its foreign policy tools in the region to promote peace, security and human rights.

Those attacking J Street and presidential candidates for even examining the concept of restricting the use of US aid are in many cases people who have loudly called for restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations. They are those who generally refuse to tolerate any criticism of Israeli government policy, and refuse to even recognize the existence of the occupation.

In order for this important conversation to flourish, we cannot allow them to silence us, or to successfully smear those they disagree with as “anti-Israel.” We cannot let the “old playbook” come back into fashion.

We’ve demonstrated that the large majority of American Jews are pro-Israel but opposed to the far-right agenda of Trump, Netanyahu and their allies. Like the majority of Democrats and Americans in general, they want to see our next president confront the challenges of conflict and occupation head-on — and take bold, principled steps to lead the way toward a two-state solution.

We are determined to help defeat Donald Trump, and to make sure that his successor has the space, the vision and the tools they need to lead the way toward a better future from Day One.

Our conference was a major milestone in this work. We look forward to standing together as a movement to continue the fight throughout the year ahead.

About the Author
Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of J Street.
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