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Will Lobby Get Israel Exempted From Sequestration?

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By MJ Rosenberg

Douglas Bloomfield, who served as AIPAC’s chief lobbyist for more than a decade, reports this week that the lobby intends to insist that the United States not include Israel’s $3 billion grants package in the sequester that goes into effect today. Writing in the New York Jewish Week, Bloomfield says:

At a time when sequestration is about to take a big bite out of the Pentagon budget, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will be sending thousands of its citizen lobbyists to Capitol Hill next week to make sure Israel is exempted from any spending cuts.

This could prove a very risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans will be feeling the bite of the sequestration debacle, from the defense budget to the school lunch program.

But not aid to Israel, which will be untouched if AIPAC gets its way.

At one time I wouldn’t have believed AIPAC would dare try something this nervy.That is it because traditionally AIPAC has been very cautious about not taking actions that suggested putting Israel’s interests over America’s. Demanding that Israel be exempt from cuts that virtually every American will feel seems so counterproductive as to almost be suicidal for the lobbying powerhouse.

Nonetheless, everything I hear indicates that Bloomfield is right although I doubt AIPAC will have the gall to insist on insulating AIPAC from the cuts that will occur in this year’s budget. More likely, it will wait until Congress is putting the 2014 cuts in place (there is more Congressional discretion in allotting the pain after 2013) before demanding not just that Israel go to the head of the line but that it not be forced to stand in the line at all.

No matter when Israel is exempted, and by how much, it is wrong and would represent nothing more than another power play by the lobby. After all, a cut of $175 million out of a $3 billion U.S. grant is nothing that Israel can’t handle. Besides, since when is any foreign aid gift automatic, so automatic that it is provided whether the donor can afford it or not. Even teenagers don’t demand a car when his parents are filing for bankruptcy. Additionally, if aid to Israel (the largest chunk of the foreign aid budget) is protected, mandated sequestration cuts will have to be proportionately increased on other recipients, primarily African countries which receive much needed development assistance (hunger, poverty, disease prevention) .

But that’s AIPAC or, to use the more encompassing term, the Israel lobby. At its conference this week it will, if Bloomfield is right, not only demand that Israel be exempt from sequestration, but also that Congress enact legislation declaring that Israel is a “major strategic ally.”

That is a designation not enjoyed by any other nation, JTA [the Jewish Telegraphic Agency] pointed out, noting it may be a step toward the goal of some conservatives of divorcing assistance to Israel from all other foreign aid spending.

But all this is nothing compared to the centerpiece of AIPAC’s lobbying activities this coming week. According to the Daily Beast, the lobby will also dispatch its 13,000 delegates to Capitol Hill to promote a resolution on Iran that is being introduced by Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The resolution “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

In other words, if Israel goes to war with Iran we are at war too.

Daily Beastquotes Columbia University professor, Gary Sick, who says that the effect of the resolution would be to authorize Israel to decide when and if the U.S. goes to war. “This legislation would effectively entrust that decision to a regional state…. Such a decision is an American sovereign responsibility. It cannot be outsourced.”

I don’t know what can get AIPAC off this dangerous course. Surely it understands, as the Forward reported this week, that the idea that the lobby runs U.S. foreign policy is now even the staple of popular culture as demonstrated in February alone on Saturday Night Live, the Kevin Spacey miniseries “House of Cards” and at the Academy Awards.

As one who believes that the lobby is a bad influence in American life, I suppose I should be glad that the lobby’s overreaching is finally being taken note of. On the other hand, I don’t like it. The Lobby, despite its claims, does not speak for most American Jews, not by a long shot. (In 2008, the American Jewish Committee poll found that just 3 percent of Jews cast their votes with their focus on Israel, findings that were repeated in a Florida only poll in 2012). Moreover, there is no indication that those Jews most focused on Israel share AIPAC’s (an organization with just 100,000 members) hard line approach.

Nonetheless, AIPAC’s aggressiveness tars us all, and Israel too. I recall back in 1973, when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, America rushed to its aid, saving the country from possible collapse. Few questioned that doing so was the right thing to do. But that was before its lobby became a punch line in jokes about Jewish power, jokes that – as the case of Chuck Hagel demonstrated – are not fabricated out of thin air.

The lobby has outlived its usefulness. Its work no longer helps make Jews or Israel more secure. In fact, it accomplishes the opposite. It’s time for Israel to finally do what Yitzhak Rabin tried to: divest itself of the lobby.

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