AIPAC Withholds Criticism of Trump’s Budget Stance on Israel Because 'No Veto Threat' vs. Congress

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Trump and an Israeli flag in the background, in Jerusalem May 22, 2017.
Trump and an Israeli flag in the background, in Jerusalem May 22, 2017.Credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/REUTERS

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee denounced the Obama administration for opposing a funding increase for Israel’s missile-defense program last year but hasn’t criticized the administration of President Donald Trump for its similar stance because it did not threaten to veto Congress’ efforts on the matter, an AIPAC official told Haaretz.

“The situations are entirely different,” said the official at AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby group in the United States. He also praised Congress for supporting Israel’s missile-defense program.

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“The statement in 2016 was issued because of a clear veto threat by the Obama administration over this provision,” the official said. “There has been no veto threat issued by the administration over this provision this year.”

Soldiers operating Iron Dome system, Ashdod, November 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

Another reason AIPAC took a different course of action is that the Obama administration objected to the actual amount of funding Israel would receive, whereas the Trump administration didn't signal objection to the amount. The Trump administration, however, did have reservations about the specific budget from which the money would come.

After this story was first published on Monday, an AIPAC official told Haaretz  that "the current administration only objected to the source of the funds for the program and not the specific funding levels. The Obama administration issued a veto threat...this is a fundamental difference." 

Last week, the Trump administration published a statement objecting to the House of Representatives’ plan to increase funding for Israel’s missile-defense program by taking money from a special budget called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, sometimes also referred to as the Pentagon’s “war budget.”

The administration said Congress’ plan to increase missile-defense funding for Israel by more than $500 million would be a “misuse” of the special budget, which is earmarked for unexpected developments created by Washington’s ongoing military efforts around the world.

The White House wrote that the administration “is concerned by the use of OCO funds for items not related to contingency operations, including an additional $558 million for Israel missile defense funding.”

In essence, it asked Congress to find another source of funding for this purpose, preferably from the overall budget, not the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. On Friday, Congress approved its original plan despite the opposition from the White House — as was expected.

A similar process took place last year. The Obama administration criticized Congress for trying to increase missile-defense funding for Israel by $455 million as part of a defense spending bill, and Congress eventually got its way.

As the Obama administration warned back then, “At a time when ISIL continues to threaten the homeland and our allies, the bill does not fully fund wartime operations. Instead the bill would redirect $16 billion of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense (DOD) did not request.” Congress went ahead with its plan anyway.

Last year, when the Obama administration opposed the House plan, AIPAC’s criticism was strong.

“We are deeply disappointed that a June 14 ‘Statement of Administration Policy’ on the defense appropriation measures has criticized Congress for funding U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation,” the lobby said in a statement.

The Obama administration threatened to veto Congress’ budget plan, citing more than 10 reasons it objected, including the intention to fund missile defense for Israel out of the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.

On the Israeli point, the Obama administration said that since it was negotiating a new, massive security-aid package with the Israeli government, the effort in Congress was unnecessary and harmful. The Trump administration, while expressing its objections to Congress’ plan (also citing many reasons unrelated to Israel) indeed has not threatened to use a veto.

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