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May 05, 1995 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-05-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Time to Preempt the
Budget Cutters?

JAMES D. BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

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I t's a subject that is spoken

about only in whispers.
But lately, the whispers
have been getting louder as
the new Republican Congress
slices its way through the feder-
al budget in a politically charged
attempt to tame the runaway
deficit.
Perhaps Israel, a growing
number of Jewish activists are
quietly suggesting, should pre-
empt inevitable cuts by propos-
ing a voluntary reduction in its
$3 billion annual foreign aid al-
location — a gesture designed to
avert even worse cuts in the fu-
ture, and to insulate the delicate
U.S.-Israeli relationship from a
political backlash if aid to Israel
is protected while hundreds of
government
programs are gutted.
While many Israeli of-
ficials recognize the log-
ic of such proposals, the
issue is a densely layered
one that cuts to the heart
of the unique U.S.-Israeli
affiance.
From a purely prag-
matic point of view, some
Jewish leaders argue, it
makes sense to outflank
the Republican budget
bashers. Congressional
leaders have promised
that Israel's aid is safe for
the current budget cycle,
although they caution
that aid in the years to
come will be much harder to sus-
tain.
But those guarantees could
quickly evaporate in the face of
the unprecedented spasm of bud-
get cutting now underway on
Capitol Hill; proposing a small
voluntary reduction now, some
pro-Israel leaders counsel, would
lessen the pressure for more
sweeping reductions when a pan-
icky Congress begins to confront
the political and economic fallout
from the deep cuts they are now
passing with such abandon.
If Israel's aid survives intact,
the results could be even more
worrisome. An all-out mobiliza-
tion to protect every last dollar of
aid could be a public relations dis-
aster for Israel.
American politicians have al-
ways gotten mileage out of claims
that foreign aid takes food out of
the mouths of hungry Americans,
despite the relatively small pro-
portion of the federal budget that
goes to aid programs. Those dem-
agogic arguments will be much
easier to make — and much more
destructive — if domestic pro-
grams are cut way back, but Is-

rael's aid continues to be un-
touchable.
That contrast between the
squeeze on ordinary Americans
and a privileged, prosperous Is-
rael could also provide fodder for
the anti-Semites in this country
who are always eager for new
ways to drive a wedge between
Jews and their neighbors, and for
the Israel bashers who object to
the very idea of a special U.S.-Is-
raeli relationship.
Israel's aid, by far the biggest
chunk of American assistance, al-
ready stands out in an era in
which money for the developing
world has been vanishing.
If aid to Israel, a developed na-
tion, is held inviolate while as-
sistance to some of the neediest
populations in the world is zeroed

L

out, the results could include new
tensions between American Jews
and groups in this country that
are sensitive to the special needs
of these areas.
On the other side of the debate
is the fact that aid to Israel has
taken on enormous symbolic
power in recent years.
The current $3 billion allot-
ment is the result of the Ameri-
can commitment to peacemaking
in the region, the fulfillment of
promises made after the 1979
Camp David accords. Any cuts,
Israeli leaders fear, would imply
a weakening of that commitment
at a time when the Mideast peace
talks are faltering.
Even modest reductions in aid
will send the wrong kind of sig-
nal to nations that are eager to
see a weakening bond between
Washington and Jerusalem, Is-
raeli officials worry.
Reductions in aid will be an en-
couragement to Israel's enemies,
and erode the feeling among Arab
nations that serious negotiations
with Israel are the only way to
win favor in Washington.

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