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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 8, 1986, Page 2


The Full Cost of Israel

Traditionally, Washington has never linked aid to Israel with Israeli cooperation, but it is contrary to historical experience for one country indefinitely to help finance policies carried out by another country that conflict so fundamentally with the donor's values and policies. —Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. (R-MD)

Four years ago, when U.S. aid to Israel amounted to $2.2 billion a year, Joseph C. Harsch wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that Israel's real annual cost to taxpayers was $10 billion a year. In addition to direct U.S. government economic and military aid, which has since risen as high as $4.5 billion per year and is projected for 1987 at $3 billion, the higher figure included aid to Egypt for keeping the peace with Israel, plus subsidies buried in the budgets of many U.S. Government departments and agencies. These include agricultural, medical and scientific research projects carried out at Israeli rather than American universities, contracts for U.S. AID projects in Africa carried out by Israeli rather than American firms, and even purchase of industrial diamonds from Israel at subsidized prices.

Very soon, if the Israel lobby has its way, an even greater percentage of U.S. economic assistance to Israel will be hidden in the Pentagon budget, not just through purchases at inflated prices of large quantities of Israeli-manufactured weapons, but also in the form of "star wars" development contracts with Israeli rather than American firms. These projects are, at best, attempts to keep the failing Israeli economy alive by diverting U.S. Government contracts from U.S. to Israeli firms, and at worst pure makework projects under which Israeli Government, university and private agencies are paid by the U.S. Government for goods and services that no one even pretends the United States needs or could not produce for itself.

There are other losses to the U.S. Treasury through tax-exempt Israeli bonds and charities.Any charity in Israel that qualifies for an Israeli Government tax exemption automaticallyqualifies for U.S. tax exemption too. Charles Fischbein, long-time Washington executive director of the Jewish National Fund, was shocked when Israelis told him proudly that tractors bought with tax-exempt funds he had raised in the U.S. had been diverted from use by Israeli farmers to bulldoze through bombed Lebanese villages and open the way for invading Israeli tanks. Last January, tax exempt funds raised in the U.S. to plant trees in the Holy Land were used to move Arab-owned olive trees forcibly uprooted by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture near the West Bank village of Qatanna and to replant some of those same trees in the "Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Plaza" in Jerusalem. Is that what the American Jewish donors had in mind?

In Israel's early years tax-exempt donations almost matched direct U.S. Government assistance. The present average of $700 million per year in taxexempt contributions by Americans to Israeli institutions is now dwarfed, however, by direct U.S. Government economic and military aid to Israel, which will total $38,634,000,000 by the end of the 1987 fiscal year.

In 1987 more than one third of total world-wide U.S. Government assistance will be going to Israel's four million people. With people in many parts of the world facing death by disease or starvation because of natural disasters not of their own making, is it moral to devote 37 per cent of our foreign aid funds to the one tenth of one percent of the world's population who are Israelis? Their disaster is the self-imposed military burden that results from their refusal to return Arab lands seized in 1967 in exchange for peace with their Arab neighbors.

Direct costs to American taxpayers are only a part of the real cost of Israel. There are lost commercial and agricultural sales because our laws prohibit U.S. firms from complying with routine boycott requirements designed to assure Arab buyers that they are not inadventently importing into their countries goods originating in Israel. This U.S. stand is not based upon principle, since we bar goods from nations we wish to boycott, like Cuba. If one accepts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimate that every billion dollars in Middle East sales lost to foreign competitors costs 25,000 American jobs, perhaps half a million more Americans would be gainfully employed at this moment if our import laws were written to serve American rather than Israeli interests.

There is also the repeated refusal by Congress to sell weapons to Arab countries willing to pay cash, while we give the same weapons to Israel. Refusal of one U.S. aircraft sale to Saudi Arabia in 1985 will provide British suppliers a $20 billion windfall in Saudi equipment, maintenance and training contracts. That's another half-million American job years lost. The Soviet Union has received windfalls from military sales diverted from U.S. contractors by Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq. Other Arab and Muslim arms contracts have gone to France, Italy and Spain for political reasons. Japan has even replaced the U.S. as Saudi Arabia's principal supplier of civilian goods, at a time when our trade deficit with Japan is of primary concern.

The billions Israel adds to our balance of payments deficit may be chicken feed, however, compared to what Israel costs our military budget. Do we keep so many U.S. Sixth Fleet Naval ships in the Mediterranean solely to protect the Mediterranean countries from the Soviet Union? For years the USSR has had access to Mediterranean bases, sometimes in Egypt, sometimes in Syria, and now in Libya, depending upon which country felt most threatened by Israel.

If the Sixth Fleet is there solely to offset the Soviet bases, why not just remove the fear of Israeli attack that frightens Arab countries into granting the Soviets base rights in the first place? Or is the purpose of such a large U.S. Naval presence really to protect Israel from being overwhelmed by its Arab neighbors with Soviet backing? If that's the case, our little Israeli "ally," with a land area smaller than most western counties and a population less than a third of that of the Netherlands, isn't much of a "strategic asset" in an area of 850 Arab and non-Arab Muslims, not to mention several million Arab Christians, none of whom has a grievance against the U.S. that doesn't derive directly from our knee-jerk support of Israel.

The Seventh Fleet is a slightly different story. It hovers just over the Indian Ocean horizon ready to launch attack bombers, naval shells or a Marine amphibious force to protect Gulf oil fields from any Soviet-supported threat. It would be cheaper to set up a U.S. land base somewhere among those oil fields. We can't, however, because the anti-Americanism engendered by U.S. support of Israel would make it political suicide for any oil-producing government to grant us basing rights. We can't blame Israel for the whole cost of the Seventh Fleet, but we can attribute to Israel the difference in costs between keeping this huge assemblage of men, machinery and ammunition constantly in motion in the Indian Ocean and putting it on land nearby.

What about political costs? When they look at our self-destructive Mideast policies, our NATO allies become increasingly skeptical. We base U.S. military forces in Europe, partly at European expense, and then use them to save Israel from the consequences of its own folly. In 1973 we learned that, without immediate U.S. support, the Israeli Army and Air Force could not hold off Egyptian and Syrian forces for more than five days. First we stripped weapons and ammunition from our units in Germany, and then we drew down aircraft, equipment and supplies from military units all over the U.S. and even the Pacific in order to save Israel with a gigantic U.S. air and sea arms lift.

In 1982, after our "strategic asset" in the Middle East turned in an almost unbelievably inept performance in Lebanon against Palestinians with few heavy weapons and no air support, Israeli forces finally were sent packing by Lebanese Shia men, women and children carrying bombs in saddle, bicycle, and book bags. Israel's American apologists tell us Israel is holding the Russians at bay in the Middle East at little cost to us. In fact Israel is using the billions it receives to occupy lands whose return to the Arabs in exchange for peace has been the cornerstone of America's Middle East policy ever since they were seized in 1967.

The Europeans know they have no enemies in the Middle East, and they are loosening ties to the U.S. to avoid becoming involved there on behalf of our no-strings commitment to an intransigent Israel. We have no enemies there either except those whose only disagreement with us is over Israel. How does one tally those political costs?

In a listing of economic, political and military costs, it is almost unseemly to include Israel's cost in American lives. Nevertheless, 34 U.S. crew members were killed in Israel's 1967 attack on the USS Liberty and some 250 U.S. servicemen died in Lebanon as a direct result of Israel's invasions. So did U.S. diplomats and foreign national employees when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed twice and the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait once. Other American diplomats, military personnel, businessmen and even tourists have died in kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations, at the hands of victims of Israeli policies of retribution rather than reconciliation.

There are moral costs as well. We proclaim that the basis of our dangerous, world-wide confrontation with the Soviet Union is that we stand for democracy and self-determination for people everywhere in the world and that the Russians oppose these values. However, in Palestine it's the PLO that stands for a democratic, secular state. And Yassir Arafat says the reason he won't agree to UN Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula is thatwe won't simultaneously agree to the Palestinian right to self determination. People who compare Soviet words to deeds and conclude that the Russians are liars can look at our Mideast policies and conclude that we are too.

There are more international costs. The Congress and, reluctantly, the President, have turned to economic sanctions to express disapproval of South African apartheid. But Israel has wheedled free trade access both to the United States and to the European Economic Community. It now is busily "springboarding" products originating in South Africa through Israel and into world markets, making economic sacrifices by U.S. businessmen meaningless.

Domestically, what are the costs of a single-minded group of Americans who focus awesome media and financial power to bar from office anyone who suggests that U.S. support for Israel should be openly discussed in Congress and the media. They have deprived Americans of the leadership of two all-time giants of American political life, Democratic Senator J. William Fulbright and Republican Senator Charles Percy, both long-time chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Israel's supporters deprived the House of Representatives of Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey of California, truly a man of Presidential timber, and Paul Findley of Illinois, a courageously outspoken and absolutely incorruptible 22-year Congressional veteran.

The political zapping of these two House Republicans may prove to have been one of the biggest miscalculations by Israel's American lobby, however. It gave Findley, a former professional journalist, time to write a book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby. Despite an almost airtight Lobby-imposed media blackout, sales have reached truly astonishing levels for a non-fiction book. McCloskey, a much-decorated Marine hero who led six bayonet charges in Korea, is organizing a nation-wide network of prominent Americans who believe the Israel Lobby is stifling American first-amendment freedoms. Members are meeting with U.S. officials in an effort to inject new realism into U.S. policy and new life into the Middle East peace process. For McCloskey it's just another bayonet charge, but it may be the most serious frontal assault ever faced by the Lobby.

No one can document with full assurance the influence of that lobby on U.S. Presidents and U.S. history, although I have tried to in my own book on the subject, A Changing Image: American Perceptions of the Arab-Israeli Dispute. As one of the best-prepared Presidents on foreign policy in the 20th century, Richard Nixon brought about detente with the Soviet Union, diplomatic relations with China and an upsurge of confidence in U.S. leadership among America's Western European allies. If Nixon had not been crippled by Watergate, but instead had finished his second term, would he have brought about Middle East peace? There are serious people who believe the fear that Nixon would do just that motivated those who conveyed those damning leaks from inside the Nixon Administration to the media.

What if Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter had, after mastering the Middle East problem in his first term, won another? Each now thinks he could have brought peace to the Middle East. Many who worked hard and successfully to deny them second terms may have feared that same thing.

Today George Bush and Howard Baker both have long familiarity with foreign policy and neither gravitates automatically to those within his party who can buy compliance with money. Since the Israel lobby destroys candidates it can't buy, watch its permanently available space in some magazines and newspapers for sneers and smears aimed at these and other candidates who exhibit too much independence. The Israel lobby, which favors more malleable candidates, has had significant input into the Presidential selection process and has virtually dictated which members of key Congressional committees win and lose. Is this good or bad for America?

What about inside the Pentagon, Departments of State, Commerce, Justice and Treasury, the CIA, and the Bureau of the Budget? Every day in those institutions the same battle is fought between those seeking single-mindedly to put as many dollars, grants, weapons, treaties, laws and loopholes as possible at the service of Israel, and those trying to protect the taxpayer and America's good name from this persistent assault on the national interest. Names of bureaucrats who win skirmishes against Israel's friends turn up in the Jack Anderson or other columns charged with blunders or scandals utterly unrelated to Israel. Untrue stories die of their own accord, but the victim is forever after labeled "controversial" or someone with "a media problem." As a result, he is no longer upward-bound in government.

Similar skirmishing goes on, year in and year out, in the media, academia, and even among the clergy. Those who ignore it—fools or weaklings for the most part—often survive to become recognized leaders in their own fields. Those who would really lead are lost in the process.

Some bump up against the issue innocently, not even aware until they are destroyed that, while Israel's true believers may be less malign than the tobacco lobby or drug pushers, and no richer than big oil or the real estate lobby, their single-minded support of a foreign country at the expense of any other consideration makes them unquestionably the most effective lobby in America.

There are many Americans who recognize all this, but can't forget about honor, loyalty and love of country. Their shattered dreams and aspirations will litter the political, journalistic, academic and ecclesiastical battlefields for still another decade or two, a final costly payment on the total price of Israel. Ultimately, however, Americans will discover, define and free themselves of an alien intrusion that turns our best instincts at home against our best friends, best interests, and best traditions abroad.

—Richard Curtiss