WASHINGTON – Less than a week after House Democrats introduced legislation seeking to regulate U.S. aid to Israel, three hundred and thirty bipartisan members of Congress are urging leading members of the House Appropriations Committee to maintain full U.S. funding for Israel's security needs without added conditions, according to a letter obtained by Haaretz.
The letter — circulated for signature by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, chair of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — urges Appropriations Committee Chair Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and ranking Republican Rep. Kay Granger to back "full funding for Israel's security needs" in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022.
While acknowledging that not all members of Congress universally agree with every Israeli policy decision, the Deutch-McCaul letter cites U.S. President Joe Biden's comments that conditioning aid to Israel would be "irresponsible." The lawmakers specifically highlight direct threats posed to Israel from Iran and its proxies, stating that "our rock-solid security partnership serves as a deterrent against even more significant attacks on our shared interests."
In the letter, the lawmakers describe U.S. aid to Israel as "a vital and cost-effective expenditure," noting that presidents from both parties have understood and supported U.S. security aid to Israel. They also specifically mention the $3.3 billion in foreign military financing and $500 million for cooperative missile defense programs as stipulated in the 10-year U.S.- Israel Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 and approved by Congress last year.
The letter also emphasize Israel's strategic value in providing the U.S. with "unique intelligence information and advanced defensive weapons systems," as well as Israel's support of security partners like Jordan and Egypt. It also lauds Israel's normalization pacts with other Arab states that "promote regional stability and deal with common challenges from Iran and its terrorist proxies."
“There should be no doubt of where Congress stands in our support for Israel's security after an overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans signed on to support full funding of security assistance to our closest Middle East ally," Deutch said of the letter.
“This letter clearly demonstrates that Republicans and Democrats in Congress stand together in opposing conditions on our security assistance to Israel," McCaul added.
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"The United States stands with our friend and ally Israel in promoting our shared national security goals abroad. We remain committed to providing Israel with the necessary security aid to protect itself.”
Last week, House Democrats introduced a bill specifying various actions Israel would not be able to finance with U.S. taxpayer funding, as well as providing for additional oversight of how aid is distributed — the latest and perhaps most significant example of growing criticism of Israeli policy within the Democratic Party.
J Street has been lobbying Congress to include language in its fiscal year 2022 appropriations package that would apply a universal standard that all countries – not only Israel – should ensure that none of the U.S.-provided funds are being used to help annex or exercise permanent control over areas that are subject to military occupation. “Appropriations is where real legislating is done. This is where the action is and where meaningful decisions are made,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told Haaretz about their efforts. Several prominent Democrats voiced deep concerns on Israel's deepening occupation and treatment of Palestinians earlier this week at J Street's 2021 annual conference, saying that U.S. aid should not be used to abuse human rights or violate international law.
J Street Senior Vice President for Policy and Strategy Dylan Williams told Haaretz that the letter couldn’t have been a response to the new McCollum bill or his organization's recent initiative because it began circulating around the time of AIPAC’s virtual gathering last month. "I can’t speak for the letter’s authors of course, but it seems to me that if the letter was meant to opine on restrictions, it would have used the word at least once," Williams said. "I think that made a material difference for progressives — it certainly did for us."
The progressive IfNotNow movement, one of several Jewish organizations to endorse McCollum's bill, expressed disappointment in several progressive Democrats who signed onto the letter. “We are disappointed to see many progressive voices on this AIPAC-aligned letter, which backs the Israeli government to use American dollars to violate Palestinian rights," an IfNotNow spokesperson told Haaretz. "Israeli actions demand accountability — in line with a common-sense foreign policy that the US would use with any other country — not a blank check.”