America’s manipulation of the Jewish state is endangering Israel and American Jews

By Jacob Siegel and Liel Leibowitz, TABLET

Two years ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously wept in Congress after changing her vote on funding Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from “no” to “present.” The New York Times said that the incident showed progressive members of “the Squad” “caught between their principles and the still powerful pro-Israel voices in their party, such as influential lobbyists and rabbis.” (The line was later removed with no correction.) In People magazine, the congresswoman’s procedural maneuver to avoid voting was appreciated for its pathos: “Ocasio-Cortez Opens Up About Israel Iron Dome Vote That Left Her in Tears: ‘Yes, I Wept.’” In the end, the resolution passed the House 420-9.

Ocasio-Cortez’s bit of Kabuki theater fit neatly into the premade mythology of a domineering Israel lobby, popularized by academic John Mearsheimer, whose views are experiencing a burst of popularity in isolationist corners of the right. His central claim—that America has been pressured by an all-powerful, determined ethnoreligious lobby into acting against its own interests—is made explicit in references to “influential lobbyists and rabbis,” in Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets that U.S. support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” and in graphics like The New York Times’ infamous “Jew-tracker” that policed support for Barack Obama’s Iran deal according to the religion of members of Congress.

Belief in the mythic power of “the lobby” rests on a common article of faith that is shared by Israel’s loudest critics and most fervent supporters—namely, that U.S. military aid forms the cornerstone of the “special relationship” between the two nations, and that this aid is a gift that powerfully benefits Israel. Cutting off Israel’s D.C. cash pipeline, it’s assumed, would dramatically alter the balance of power in the Middle East: in one scenario by endangering Israel’s security, and in another by forcing its recalcitrant leaders to accept the enlightened proposals of Western policymakers.

While this fantasy version of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is useful for stirring up emotions and demonstrating partisan loyalties, it does more to flatter the self-importance of Israel-aid opponents and supporters alike than it does to describe an increasingly warped reality, in which Israel ends up sacrificing far more value in return for the nearly $4 billion it annually receives from Washington. That’s because nearly all military aid to Israel—other than loan guarantees, which cost Washington nothing, the U.S. gives Israel no other kind of aid—consists of credits that go directly from the Pentagon to U.S. weapons manufacturers.

In return, American payouts undermine Israel’s domestic defense industry, weaken its economy, and compromise the country’s autonomy—giving Washington veto power over everything from Israeli weapons sales to diplomatic and military strategy. When Washington meddles directly in Israel’s domestic affairs, as it does often these days, Israeli leaders who have lobbied for these payments—including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—are simply reaping the rewards of their own penny-wise, pound-foolish efforts.

As the costs to Israel of U.S. aid have skyrocketed over the past decade, the benefits of the relationship to the U.S. have only grown larger. Aid is popular with key voting blocs (few of them Jewish). It functions as a lucrative backdoor subsidy to U.S. arms makers, and provides Congress and the White House with a tool to leverage influence over a key strategic ally. The Israeli military, often ranked as the fourth-most powerful in the world, has become an adjunct to American power in a crucial region in which the U.S. has lost the appetite for projecting military force. Israeli intelligence functions as America’s eyes and ears, not just in the Middle East but in other key strategic theaters like Russia and Central Asia and even parts of Latin America. Controlling access to the output of Israel’s powerful high-tech sector is a strategic advantage for the U.S. that alone is worth many multiples of the credits Israel receives. Meanwhile, the optics of bringing the snarling Israeli attack dog to heel helps credential the U.S. as a global power that plays fair—but must also be feared.

The alternative to this unequal relationship based on dependence is a more forthrightly transactional relationship, which would allow Israel to benefit economically, diplomatically, and strategically.

It’s no wonder that one well-known regional expert we consulted, who served in high security-related positions in the U.S. government, was horrified when we proposed ending American aid to Israel. When we asked which of our arguments were overstated or mistaken, this person answered: “None of them. But my job is to represent the American interest. Aid to Israel is the biggest bargain we have on our books. Ending it would be a disaster for us. I just don’t see who it benefits.”

We do. The alternative to this unequal relationship based on dependence is a more forthrightly transactional relationship, which would allow Israel to benefit economically, diplomatically, and strategically. It might also, we believe, diminish the current American infatuation with treating the Jewish state as a moral allegory in U.S. political psychodramas, rather than as a tiny country in the Middle East with its own local challenges and considerable advantages to offer the highest bidder. The current hyperpolarized atmosphere around Israel is not good for anyone—not for an America whose political class is looking to distract people from its own failings; not for a majority of the world’s Jews who live in Israel; and not for American Jews, who have come to identify their civic role with serving as props in an expiring piece of political theater. When the curtain comes down, they’ll find themselves without a role—and cut off from the 3,000-year-long Jewish historical continuum that is, or was, their inheritance.

Ending aid would not mean the end of the U.S.-Israeli military alliance, intelligence sharing, trade, or any mutual affinity between the countries. Rather, it would allow both sides to see what each is getting in return for what. In the words of retired IDF Major General Gershon Hacohen: “Once we are not economically dependent on them, the partnership can flourish on its own merits.”


July 18, 2023 | 13 Comments »

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13 Comments / 13 Comments

  1. The aid should be repackaged as an investment in and collaboration on joint projects with a partner where interests coincide on a Quid pro quo basis rather than as aid. This is misleading and humiliating. It must be made clear that Israel is not a supplicant, that both countries benefit and that the U.S. has no more business meddling in Israel’s internal affairs than the reverse. This would reflect the reality which is that the relationship is a symbiotic one not based on charity but on mutual self-interest. If it were based on common values, would the U.S. be subsidizing Israel’s mortal enemies? No.

  2. Israel, US, sign milestone agreement bringing Visa Waiver Program closer than ever
    All US citizens to be able to enter Israel under memorandum of understanding signed today.


    So, Israel will not be able to screen and reject individuals with U.S. citizenship papers who come to do harm. In exchange for what, exactly? Less paperwork when traveling to the US? Crazy and to think a rightwing government approved this? Does this mean that the U.S. government can’t deny entry to any Israeli citizen, as well?


    A proposal to stop funding Israel and all the neighboring countries would be popular in America.

    i don’t think so. The Whitehouse wouldn’t go for it because they would loose influence. The Military Industrial complex wouldn’t go for it because they would lose money.
    The people wouldn’t go for it because they like Israel and want to help her.

  4. @Ted Belman
    A proposal to stop funding Israel and all the neighboring countries would be popular in America.
    A tax saving for American of some 10 billion or perhaps more. Nothing compared to Ukraine, though…

  5. Losing Israel would be a great danger for USA.
    Israel could make alliance with Russia and India.
    Together they could build airplanes that could rival F35 for 1/3rd of the cost.

  6. Having spoken with a couple of protesters, I reached the conclusion that they feel Israel needs and depends on the USA, and thus they would rather follow the Obiden directives than their own brains. Unfortunately, the higher they are, the more they have become invested in this policy with the obvious exception of Bibi.

  7. The bill should be
    End US aid to
    and everyone else in the region.
    US aid is not aid at all.
    It is US buying influence.
    It is not serving the interests of the respective nations.
    It is only serving US imperial interests.

  8. Israel buys its subs and other vessels from Germany.

    That leaves planes and helicopters from the US. Israel just ordered another (25) F-35’s. Those cost about $120 million each with spare parts/ armaments or $3 Billion total. Israel has $200 billion in foreign reserves, so why not just buy them and be done with US aid.

    Helicopters can be bought anywhere pretty much or built in Israel. Other fixed wing aircraft: refueling planes, AWACS, trainers, transport planes can also be bought anywhere or directly from Boeing and Gulfstream.

    The problem is that Israel’s combat air force is entirely composed of US made aircraft. Israel does buy training aircraft from other countries but an American Communist/Democrat president could cut off spare parts for Israel’s air force at any time.

    Something to think about carefully.

  9. I agree with the article. The authors make a compelling case that Israel of 2023 is much stronger than the Israel of ’48, 2006, and even 2018. The downsides of dependency on the US outweigh any upsides.

    The political demonstrations, whose goal was to cripple the government, have failed in that goal. Israel has a government that is committed to Israel’s national security.

    The demonstrators appear to want Israel to be a geographically smaller U.S. But Israel is and cannot be a little US because Israel is unique. Israel has her own melting pot, her own system of government, her own unique culture which mixes Old Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Western style democracy, Arabs, and Jews from all parts of the world with a Jewish majority and Arab minority. Israel has a booming hi-tech industry, agri-tech, and biotech industries. Israel with this government is in many ways stronger than the US with the Obama/Biden crony capitalist administration. The US is being torn apart and the culture damaged daily by a government eager to hide its incompetence and criminality. Israel is being led by people eager to protect and serve their people.

    The US under Obama/Biden does not deserve all the military/intelligence help Israel gives to her. The Obama/Biden administrations have behaved murderously towards Israel by doing all in their power to enable the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

    If there is a good argument for keeping the status quo, I would like to know about it, because I cannot come up with one.

  10. @Peloni
    Agreed. I had forgotten that Bibi called for the same thing so many years ago. The article recounts a lot of history that I wasn’t aware of and and makes a convincing case for why it is in our best interests to do it. Maybe Israel will even produce the fighter plane that she once dreamed of producing.

    Israel’s GDP is about $500 B a year and is increasing at 8% annually. The aid package of $3.8 B a year ends in 2028.

    Calling it “aid” is a misnomer. It is, in reality, a very profitable investment for the US and it comes out of their defense budget which is over $800 B/yr. A paltry 0.5% of it. Yet out detractors charge Israel for being the largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world.

  11. Probably the most thorough description of why Israel should adhere to Bibi’s 1996 call to end American aid. Please read the full article and join me in agreeing that Israel should end American aid.