As Midterms Near, Israel Is Again a Battleground for U.S. Politicians

Democrats angry at Republican attempts to 'manipulate assistance to Israel for political ends'.

America's financial aid to Israel has once again become a political football in Washington as the United States prepares to vote in midterm congressional elections next month.

Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Congress and the minority whip in the lower House of Representatives, this week proposed reclassifying aid to Israel away from the national foreign aid budget to the defense budget.

jet - Eliahu Hershkovitz - October 6, 2010
Eliahu Hershkovitz

Behind the initiative, Cantor says, is a wider attempt to cancel U.S. aid to countries who do not share American interests, a cry echoing round Republican campaign meetings – accompanied, of course, by strenuous denials of any attempt to buy votes.

According to Cantor, funds to Israel need to be ring-fenced in case Congress votes down aid packages for other foreign allies.

Some democrats reacted angrily to the move. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), attacked Cantor's scheme, calling it "irresponsible" and saying it threatened to destroy bipartisan cooperation on aid to Israel and foreign assistance in general.

“Cantor’s proposal is as transparent as it is reckless," Lowey said. "Manipulating aid to Israel in this way would dangerously threaten continued bipartisan agreement on national security policy and programs other than direct assistance to Israel that aid in its security."

J Street, a liberal U.S. pro-Israel lobby group, also opposed Cantor's plan.

"J Street opposes separating aid to Israel from the foreign assistance appropriations to other countries for the sake of accommodating right-wing politicians who are ideologically opposed to foreign aid," the group said in a statement.

"U.S. assistance to Israel can only maximize our ally’s security when provided in concert with economic and military aid to other countries that enhances stability by fighting poverty and extremism in the region and beyond."

In 2008, during the Republican presidency of George W. Bush, Congress approved aid of $3bn to Israel each year for a decade. Bush's Democratic successor, Barack Obama, upheld the aid program adding additional funds for Israeli anti-rocket systems.