Israel To Be Exempt From Foreign Aid Cuts

October 04, 2011 11:08 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

The New York Times reports today that deficit hawks in both parties are planning massive foreign aid cuts for the coming year.

Although foreign aid constitutes just 1 percent of federal spending, it has long been a whipping boy for xenophobes and other pre-Pearl Harbor type isolationists. (The public falsely thinks foreign aid accounts for a quarter of the budget.)

Besides, starving and abused women and kids in Africa don't exactly have a domestic constituency fighting on their behalf here in Washington. So, it's "cut and slash," or to put it more bluntly, "Let 'em die. We need to keep taxes low."

In the words of the Times: "The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps."

There is one foreign aid program that is not on the chopping block — not Obama's, and not House Republicans or Senate Democrats. And it happens to be the largest single foreign assistance program of them all: $3.5 billion in aid to Israel. As the Times puts it, defending this particular program shows that "even in times of austerity, some spending is inviolable."

Actually, there is hardly another program in the entire U.S. budget that is deemed off-limits for budget cutters. Not aid to pregnant women and children here at home, not assistance to the unemployed, not clean air and water programs, not Social Security and Medicare, not cancer research. Absolutely nothing is off limits. Everything is up for cuts either by the cut-and-slash super committee or through "sequestration" — automatic across-the-board cuts if the committee cannot reach a consensus.

In fact, it does not matter who or what does the cutting: Aid to Israel is always exempt. And that is because preserving that particular aid package is AIPAC's top priority. Anyone suggesting cutting aid to Israel by even a dollar will be punished by AIPAC-directed donors.

It should be pointed out that AIPAC opposes any cuts to the foreign aid budget (except to the Palestinians, of course). It understands that it can't credibly support cutting aid to Africa while demanding full funding for a nation as prosperous as Israel. But this is just a tactic. It knows the aid budget will be cut and it knows that preserving its piece of the pie means less for everyone else. It just doesn't care. Besides, it is not AIPAC's job to worry about the world's poor. That is the job of Congress, which understands that more money for Africa means less for Israel and shrinks at the thought of hurting a donor's feelings.

There is no need to belabor any of this. I am not exactly breaking news when I write of this obscene injustice and point out that it exists because our elected officials put filling their campaign coffers over virtually everything else. Nonetheless, we should note their shameful behavior.

Maybe the next time one of your favorite progressives is passing through the neighborhood, you can ask how he or she justifies full funding for one of the most prosperous countries in the world while starving the people of sub-Saharan Africa.

Don't worry. Your legislator won't be embarrassed. He or she will just pull out his AIPAC talking points and hand you the line. Believe me; your legislators lose no sleep over any of this. They are too busy worrying about raising that money they need for reelection.

Print