to Israel in Numbers
executive director and news editor at The Washington
Report on Middle East Affairs. Before joining the
magazine in 1996, Hanley spent decades in the Middle
East, studying in Lebanon, volunteering with the Peace
Corps and later working in Oman and Saudi Arabia. From
1990 to 1996 Hanley worked as a researcher, editor and
writer for Empire Press (now Weider History Group) and
Sovereign Media. Hanley writes for the Washington
Report on an array of topics, and her articles have
also been published in the Arab News, the
Minaret, Islamic Horizons, Jewish
Spectator and other publications. She is the winner
of the NAAJA 2011 Excellence in Journalism award for her
dedication to accuracy and professionalism.
You’ve just heard about the high cost of Israel to our
democratic political process. You’ll be hearing much
more about the costs Americans have paid for the Israel-U.S.
relationship. I’m just going to focus on dollars and
Americans are concerned about domestic issues as our
nation emerges from the 2008 financial crisis: We’re
worried about unemployment, rising food, fuel,
affordable housing, and healthcare costs.
We’re also concerned about our aging infrastructure:
crumbling roads, bridges and decaying schools,
deteriorating water systems and electrical power grids.
Despite our domestic economic fears, Americans are
generous—many of us believe we should help the poor, not
just here at home, where nearly 50 million Americans
live in poverty. We also want to give food and medical
assistance to help the hungry and vulnerable--especially
children—survive conflicts and crises in the developing
Most Americans would be surprised to see how little
foreign aid our country actually gives, as a percentage
of our Gross Domestic Product, when compared with other
Foreign aid is only 1 percent of our Federal budget but
in tough economic times, like those we are facing today,
foreign aid is sometimes considered to be “low-hanging
fruit,” easy to cut, because it does not directly
benefit Americans. And we’re are cutting back on aid
compared to previous decades.
I challenge American taxpayers to look a lot more
closely at who gets 3.1 billion dollars of U.S. foreign
aid every year. Do you know that more than 5 percent of
our foreign aid is subsidizing one of the top ten most
powerful nations in the world? Israel, with a population
of nearly 8 million people, about the same number of
people who live in Hong Kong or New Jersey, is the
largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. And that has been
the case for more than a generation.
Sixteen years ago my dad, Richard Curtiss, wrote an
article called “True Lies About U.S. Aid to Israel” for
the Washington Report. It could have been written today.
“Most aid recipients are developing nations, which
either make their military bases available to the U.S.
or have suffered some crippling blow to their abilities
to feed their people,” he said. “Israel, whose troubles
arise solely from its unwillingness to give back land it
seized in the 1967 war in return for peace with its
neighbors, does not fit those criteria.”
Israel tries to give Americans the impression that they
are in grave danger. They face annihilation. Their
urgent appeals bring in significant charitable
contributions, both from well-meaning evangelical
Christians and American Jews. Soft-hearted Americans
send U.S. tax-deductible donations to 27,000 non-profit
organizations in order to help the needy, including
Jewish immigrants and Israeli soldiers—who knew that we
can get a tax write-off by sending pizzas and sodas to
Israeli soldiers in tanks at checkpoints! Birthright
Israel sends 37,000 young Jewish people on free ten-day
trips to Israel each year.
Wealthy Americans donate $660 million a year for these
trips. Students are not permitted to travel to the West
Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem.
Does Israel really need our handouts? Let’s compare
Israel’s economy to other countries.
• Israel’s 2013 per capita gross domestic product was
$34,900. That put it below Britain at $37,300 and France
at $ 35,700 and just above the E.U. at $34,500.
• According to the National Power Index, Israel’s army
ranks 6th in the world.
• Israel has nuclear weapons—unlike any of its
• Israel ranks 4th in technological capacity and is
among the world’s leaders in science.
• According to Haaretz, Israel’s unemployment rate is
6.2 percent, while America’s is 7 percent and Europe’s
average unemployment is 12 percent.
• Israel ranks 15 on the UN development index,
illustrating the high quality of life for Jews living in
• Israelis can expect to live until they are 81.8.
(Americans life expectancy is 78.6.)
• Israel’s state-funded health care is ranked 4th in the
world. The U.S. is near the bottom of Bloomberg’s list
of 48 countries.
As I mentioned, Israel receives more than $3.1 billion
in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly
one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. U.S.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently promised that
this aid would not be reduced even while he listed
significant cuts to America’s defense budget. In fact in
June 2013 the House Armed Services Committee voted to
give Israel an extra half a billion dollars in military
aid for missile interception systems.
President Barack Obama boasts that the U.S. has never
given so much military aid to Israel as under his
[Conservative Estimate of U.S. Aid to Israel 1949-2014]
Shirl McArthur, the Washington Report’s “Congress Watch”
expert tallies up U.S. aid to Israel for our magazine.
As a conservative, defensible accounting of U.S. direct
aid to Israel McArthur’s estimate does not include the
costs resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation of
Iraq—hundreds of billions of dollars, which many believe
to have been undertaken for the benefit of Israel.
For 2014 fiscal year Israel has received $3.4 billion
from the foreign aid budget and $2 billion in federal
That’s nine million three hundred fifteen thousand and
sixty-eight dollars per day, 365 days a year. If you add
grants and loans, Israel has received since 1949 a grand
total of $134.21 billion, excluding the $10 billion in
U.S. government loan guarantees it has drawn to date.
And Shirl McArthur’s calculations are modest. A
respected economist, Dr. Thomas Stauffer, estimated that
Israel cost the U.S. about $1.6 trillion between 1973
and 2003 alone, more than twice the cost of the Vietnam
And that’s not all…. Israel gets some unique benefits.
• Washington has granted Israel $19 billion in loan
guarantees in recent years to make it easier to borrow
• Israel gets its aid money at the start of each year,
unlike other nations. This means Israel can start
earning interest on the money right away. And the U.S.
government, which operates at a deficit, must borrow
this money to pay Israel and then pay interest on the
amount all year long.
• Israel can use 25 percent of U.S. aid to buy arms from
• Congressional legislation requires us to maintain
Israel’s qualitative military edge. Anytime another
country in the Middle East buys U.S. arms we have to
make sure Israel gets better weapons.
• We regularly transfer “surplus military equipment” to
Israel. Israel now is storing equipment worth more than
• Americans also give $1.5 billion to Egypt’s 85 million
people—well, actually most of that goes directly to
Egypt’s military—for “meeting its obligations under the
1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.”
• Jordan’s 6 and a half million people get $660 million
a year for keeping peace with their neighbor.
Aid to Israel is a subject that rarely makes it into the
mainstream media. We were stunned when Walter Pincus,
who reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy
for The Washington Post, tackled this normally
unmentionable subject. Days after Israel’s cabinet cut
nearly two million from Israel’s own defense budget, on
Oct. 18, 2011, Pincus pointed out: “If Israel can reduce
its defense spending because of its domestic economic
problems, shouldn’t the United States—which must cut
military costs because of its major budget
deficit—consider reducing its aid to Israel?”
I’d like to conclude by stating the obvious: The U.S.
president and congress give aid to Israel for domestic
reasons: in order to please Jewish and Evangelical
Christian voters who are often more pro-Israeli than
It is mind-boggling that when it comes to Israel, U.S.
taxpayers’ largesse has no preconditions. Israel has a
green light to use American tax revenue for military
operations, which destroy Palestinian (or Lebanese)
roads, water tanks, sewage lines, electrical power
plants and police stations, not to mention shops, homes,
schools, orchards and lives. Sometimes Israel demolishes
projects like parks, playgrounds, ports and other vital
infrastructure paid for by American taxpayers and
donors. It’s past time to halt U.S. aid until Israel
complies with U.N. resolutions, withdraws from the
occupied territories and makes peace.
According to surveys, a growing number of Americans want
Israeli aid levels the same, reduced or cancelled.
With the prospect of prolonged fiscal austerity in the
United States, overall American public support for
foreign aid may diminish in the years ahead. Economic
conditions in the United States should affect future aid
Cutting off aid to Israel is the logical, economical and
ethical thing for Americans to do.
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