Reports from Palestine
Earth Day in Israel: Apartheid Showing through the Greenwash
Occupied Washington, DC
AIPAC: Telling a Whopper
Questioning Our Special Relationship with Israel
My Memories of Fort Hood
Italy's Fallen Soldiers
Yes We Camp
Absurdity is the Norm in the Gaza Strip
U.S. Military Base in Vicenza, Italy Gets Final Approval
Mat and Yvonne Say: No Dal Molin
Anti War March in DC
March for Palestine
Letters from Camp Casey
Don't Iraq Iran
Italian National Assembly of the Anti-War Movement
International Peace Conference in London
Note: Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of USC4P&J
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Questioning Our Special Relationship with Israel
A "regional economic power." That's how ANIMA, the Euro-Mediterranean Network of Investment Promotion Agencies encompassing 70 governmental agencies and international networks, described Israel in its January 2010 Mediterranean Investment Map. The report analyzed the economies of the 27 European Union countries as well as 9 "partner countries."
And who can argue. Touting an annual GDP growth rate around 5% for the years 2004 to 2008, Israel was also ranked 27 out of 132 countries in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report last fall. It ranked 9th for innovative capacity.
In the 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook by IMD, Israel comes in 2 nd for the number of scientists and engineers in the workforce. No other country in the world spends more on research and development as a percentage of GDP than Israel. Since the year 2000 it has hovered around 4.5%, or twice the average of OECD member countries.
I am not an economist, but I have to wonder why US taxpayers are doling out $3 billion a year in direct military aid to a "regional economic power." In August 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel was signed committing the US to give, not loan, $30 billion to Israel over 10 years. US taxpayers are directly funding close to 20% of Israel's annual defense budget. No wonder Israel is able to invest in R&D!
To help put these figures into perspective, a new web site was launched last week that illustrates how your state is contributing to the Israeli defense budget, and what could have instead been done with the money. At www.aidtoisrael.org I learned that my home state of Texas will give more than $2.5 billion over the ten year period. For the same amount, over 2 million people could have been provided with primary health care.
At the 2007 signing ceremony for the $30 billion giveaway, then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, stated, "We consider this 30 billion dollars in assistance to Israel to be an investment in peace." But peace isn't exactly what we've gotten for our money.
Instead our tax dollars continue to pay for advanced weaponry used to maintain an illegal occupation, culminating a year ago in the Israeli attack on Gaza with US-made F-16 fighter jets, US-made Apache helicopter gunships, US-made naval combat ships, US-made hellfire missiles, US-made tanks and armored personnel carriers, and US-made white phosphorus shells.
Every cent we give Israel is in violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which specifically prohibits aid to countries that "engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." Sales of US weaponry made to Israel are in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which restrict their use to legitimate self-defense.
But weapons we do continue to sell, and aid we do continue to give. And if that weren't enough, we also provide Israel with special conditions. Unlike all other countries receiving military aid from the US, Israel receives its entire bundle in a lump sum during the first 30 days of the fiscal year. The money sits in an interest bearing account at the Federal Reserve, the interest going to Israel, of course, until 74% of it is funneled back to US weapons manufacturers in the way of purchases for the Israeli Defense ministry. Israel is free to use the remaining 24% to purchase "in house" weapons systems, an arrangement afforded to no other recipient of US military aid.
While we may hear some calls to freeze (or limit or curb) settlement construction, and as of late, for an end to the siege of Gaza, one subject no one on Capitol Hill dares to touch is this massive military aid package given to Israel. The new self-proclaimed "pro-peace pro-Israel" lobby, J-street, has said the subject is not up for discussion.
But some are starting to question our "special relationship" with Israel.
On February 9, Intelligence Squared, the British debate forum, held a debate in New York City – home to the country's largest Jewish community – asking if the "US should step back from its special relationship with Israel." Prior to the start of the debate, audience members cast their votes electronically, with 39% in favor, 42% against and 25% undecided.
Arguing for the motion were British author and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Colombia professor and author Rashid Khalidi. Former US ambassador to the EU Stuart Eizenstat and former Israeli ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich argued against. Cohen spoke of US aid to Israel:
Following the debate, the audience once again voted on the resolution, this time with a slight majority in favor, 49% for, 47% against and 4% undecided.
Still further signs that the "special relationship" is hereby up for discussion came in early March as I participated with over 150 activists who had traveled to Washington DC from 30 states across the US for grassroots training and congressional advocacy days. Organized by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Interfaith Peace Builders, the weekend saw workshops aimed at hammering out strategies to affect changes in US policy towards Israel and Palestine.
The following Monday, nearly 60 meetings with offices of both Senators and Representatives of the House were held. We called upon members of Congress to leverage the multi-billion dollar aid package to achieve policy goals. While there have never been any restrictions placed on the military aid package, there is precedent for restricting the use of funds for loan guarantees to Israel under both the Bush I and Bush II administrations. We urged members of Congress to put forth amendments prohibiting all disbursements of funds until investigations into violations of the Arms Export Control Act had been completed. We also called for amendments cutting off funds while Israel continues to build settlements and maintain the siege of Gaza.
The proposal that met with the least resistance in our meetings was the investigation into tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that are supporting the occupation through the transfer of tens of millions of dollars for Israeli settlement expansion. According to tax exemption laws, charitable organizations should work to lessen neighborhood tensions, eliminate discrimination and defend civil and human rights. Not only are these organizations subverting US tax laws, they are also directly fueling the conflict!
Finally, we urged members to travel to the area to see for themselves the conditions on the ground. Not surprisingly, some of the most vocal critics of current policy are those who have actually been to the West Bank or Gaza – or been denied entry as in the case of Rep. Delahunt's five-member J Street sponsored delegation last February. Rep. Delahunt as well as Rep. Baird, who has been to Gaza three times and recently issued a statement calling on the US to circumvent the siege of Gaza by sea, are also, coincidentally, not seeking re-election.
No one expected to walk out of these meetings with any firm commitments to cut off military aid to Israel, however constituents must ensure that their representatives know where they stand. As Dan Fleshler documented in his book "Transforming America's Israel Lobby," and several congressional aides confirmed, more than a few members of Congress resent being constantly bullied by AIPAC.
During the plenary on Sunday, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, talked about the importance of congressional advocacy work. Long-term citizens lobbying work in her home of San Francisco resulted in not a single Bay Area member of Congress voting Yes on the resolution condemning the Goldstone report last November.
However, Vilkomerson also pointed out that, while important, JVP's congressional advocacy work is secondary to their work promoting the boycott of companies that profit from the Israeli occupation or fund the settlements. "Congress will be the last to move." It's important to remember that those who first called on Congress to sanction the apartheid state of South Africa were laughed out of the building. Tireless work for sanctions eventually led cautious members of Congress to follow.It's up to us to lead.
May 23rd, 7:30pm,
in Rome, piazza Bologna
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Click below to see the call to help us choose the films for our film series 2017
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Copyright © 2010 Stephanie Westbrook All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy