Why Is America’s Relationship with Israel So Special?

israel day paradeI just got a fundraising letter for Bar-Ilan University in Israel. It was sent by the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University in New York and exemplifies much about the relationship of the United States and Israel.

Non-profit organizations of all kinds in Israel are significantly supported by Americans, just as the government of Israel is significantly supported by our government.

Privately and publicly, Americans, not only Jewish Americans, keep Israel going.

There are few similar relationships between independent nations. Our so-called special relationship with Great Britain, which developed over the entire 20th century, is not nearly as special as our relationship with Israel, which just celebrated its 65th birthday. The report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel” of the Congressional Research Service begins by saying, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.”

About one-third of the American foreign-aid budget goes to Israel. Over the years 1949-66, U.S. government aid to Israel was the same as the total of U.S. aid to all the countries of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. The $3 billion annually the government gives to Israel accounts for about 20 percent of the Israeli defense budget. Americans give about $1.5 billion annually in private contributions.

Israel is not a poor nation. Its gross domestic product per capita places it among the richest nations in the world, similar to France and Japan. It ranks 10th in the world in percentage of its population who are millionaires. But philanthropy is not as highly developed in Israel as it is in the U.S. Hebrew University professor Hillel Schmid found that in 2009 Israeli philanthropy constituted 0.74 of a percent of Israel’s GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States. In that year, Israelis donated $3 billion, only two times what Americans donated to Israel. Until 2009, Israeli non-profits received more money from abroad than their own citizens.

Some of the funds that Americans send to Israel effectively oppose American foreign policy. The NY Times estimated that Americans donated about $200 million between 2000 and 2010 to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. American contributions to settlement outposts that are illegal under Israeli law are eligible for tax deductions under IRS rules.

The fundraising letter notes Bar-Ilan’s unique character: “It is the only seat of higher learning in all of Israel that requires its students to complete a Judaic Studies curriculum.” Since Israel was founded as a state for Jews, lies right in the middle of a region where religion dominates public life, and is under permanent siege because of religious conflicts with Muslims, it might be surprising that its universities generally do not require religious instruction. Although religious conservatives exert disproportionate influence on Israeli politics, Israel is an outpost of secular Western values, such as the separation of temple and state, in the Middle East. This may be a good argument for supporting Israel, but does it mean we should support Israel more than any other nation on earth?

I raise the question, does Israel need so much American aid? Does the economic development of Israel into one of the world’s richest nations suggest a shift in the nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel? Should wealthy Israelis shoulder more of the burden of supporting their own nation?

steve hochstadt

These legitimate questions are difficult to discuss in our current political climate. Anyone advocating a change in the relationship is accused of abandoning Jews to destruction by Hezbollah and other militant Muslim forces. Pointing out facts can bring accusations of antisemitism.

I am not arguing that we should reduce public or private aid to Israel, just providing some numbers. But these numbers should make us think about how we distribute taxpayers’ money around the world, especially when we have enormous budget deficits.

Does it make sense for us to cut domestic programs which help the poor, while we give so generously to a wealthy nation?

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Tuesday, 3 June 2013


  1. martaz says

    I agree that to give $4 billion a year in “aid’ to Israel is helping a rich nation while forgetting our own poor.

    But for me there’s a bigger moral question: How can we support a right-wing state with nuclear weapons, tanks, war planes, high-tech war technology, bombs and every kind of military weapon imaginable. A nation that treats Palestinians like the Afrikaners treated Africans in Apartheid South Africa.

    THAT, more than money, is a reason to NOT support Israel financially or morally. Other than WWII, I don’t believe in intervention as it usually makes things worse. If Israel wishes to continue on this predatory, let them do it on their own. We need to shun them and let they finance their own murders and land grabs.

    BTW: I am deeply offended by the posts by Holocaust deniers. I don’t believe in censorship, but this IS a progressive forum. I know way too many progressive Jews that have relatives that either barely survived or died in concentration camps. Whoever heads these forums needs to respond to these people with FACTS.

  2. Gerald Spezio says

    Israel is founded on the fraud & deceit of the extermination hoax

    The Holocaust extermination myth of the gas chambers & ovens is the exposed juggler of Israel’s fraudulent life.

    Severing Israel’s victimology life-line of the Holohoax, & Israel will be exposed for the fraud that it has always been.


    • martaz says

      I can’t stand Israel’s loathsome right-wing murderous policies, but to deny the Holocaust shows you are barely literate or a blind racist. Have you seen the films of Russia, American and British armies liberating the camps? Or the films & photos (some actually shot by the Nazis themselves) of the stacks of corpses? Or know any survivors, seen their tattoos? I have. Educate yourself.

  3. Gary Corseri says

    Mr. Hochstadt states in his penultimate paragraph that he is “not arguing that we should reduce public or private aid to Israel…” but he sure makes a strong case for doing just that! Israeli/Zionist influence in the US–our politics, financial life, media and culture has reached a point of obscenity. Of course, our government and “special interest” groups are using Israel as much as they use us–it’s a co-dependent relationship, and it’s the schlamiel average American taxpayers who are squeezed in this nefarious embrace. Not to mention a few hundred million Muslims who would like these nuke dictators out of their hair. Israel is a major US military asset… and the “aid” we provide has little to do with helping poor kids advance themselves, providing food for the under-nourished, medicine for those with poor health services. (That’s what “foreign aid” used to mean and most Americans still think that’s what it’s about, and neocons squawk about how much we give away, without realizing that when it comes to actually aiding the poor and destitute, we’re the number one stingiest rich nation!–and about 1/3 of our “foreign aid,” as Hochstadt points out here, is about helping the Zionist entity to maintain its hegemony in its region.) It’s way past time for a total overhaul of our thinking about these issues. Professor Hochstadt’s article does indeed “provide some numbers” and help us to think through these vital questions.
    –Gary Corseri

  4. JoeWeinstein says

    Hochstadt asks legitimate questions about public aid to Israel – questions which rationally should apply equally to ALL taxpayer expenditures, domestic and foreign.

    The prime test of rationality is: as you allocate dollar after dollar to make up your annual budgetary expenditure, is each additional dollar being spent as effectively as it can be? Or anyhow, is that dollar – if not the best possible investment – clearly a good investment for the US public interest (broadly understood)?

    Arguably in the case of Israel, past aid largely has indeed been a relatively good foreign aid investment, in that the recipient nation didn’t squander the aid but instead used it so as to rev up its self-sufficiency and eventual capacity to be weaned off aid. That’s precisely why Hochstadt’s main question now can legitimately be answered as follows:

    No, Israel no longer needs much or maybe any net public US aid – precisely thanks to her long-term economic progress which reasonably effectively used past economic aid, and thanks too to her recent economic progress as a ‘start-up’ hi-tech nation. This more recent progress is largely a unique result and fruition of many prior decades of public investment there (partly supported by private overseas aid) in all levels of education, including high-standard scientific and technical education, plus immigration of a million motivated Russian Jews fleeing the realities or fresh memories of a repressive USSR society (which – in the name of alleged socialism – had managed to combine anti-semitism, gross inefficiency, and other anti-progressive policies). It’s arguable whether Israel is ‘wealthy’ but anyhow she certainly has come a long way economically.

    In speaking of American aid to Israel, Hochstadt mingles public-source and private-source aid. This approach is not helpful. Private-donor agendas and concerns need not match public policy agendas and concerns. Private aid to institutions abroad – typically but not only universities and research institutes and hospitals and the like – can be for reasons which need have nothing to do with either US government foreign affairs goals or – for that matter – with the foreign country’s policies or its political fixations. Just as private aid to California institutions need have little or nothing to do with US or California government policies or goals.
    Concerning US public aid to Israel, some key context should be noted:

    (1) Israel gets US aid – overwhelmingly military – and so does Egypt: in both cases mainly in consequence of the Egypt-Israel peace deal, whereby Israel gave up Sinai – her biggest defense-in-depth front and over 70% of the total area then under her control. The Egyptian military was in effect promised an annual bribe to keep the peace. The Israel military was in effect promised compensation to qualitatively (but nowhere near quantitatively) stay somewhat ahead of Egypt plus her other adversaries.

    (2) Like usual US military ‘foreign aid’, the money must be spent largely on US goods. The ‘foreign aid’ is mainly a US taxpayer stimulus of the US MIC.
    (3) Unlike almost any other recipient of US aid, Israel actually needs to spend on her military, thanks to her unique situation as continuing doctrinal target and ‘Little Satan’ for Arab and other Islamic nations. It is almost impossible for Americans – especially of would-be progressive stripe – to understand, but Israel’s security situation is not anything like that of the USA. The USA is a huge continental size country isolated from potential enemies by two oceans and thousands of miles. Israel, on the Mediterranean coast, is about the size and shape and configuration of the three main Pacific coastal Southern California counties (LA, Orange, SD). The USA – or anyhow its oligarchic leadership – has the luxury of electively choosing to engage in or disengage from overseas wars. Israel’s enduring conflict – immediate and at hand – has been imposed on her by the Arab and Islamic states, in a ‘Palestinian cause’ which for decades has defined the minimum permanent acceptable solution as requiring Israel’s demise – immediate or in stages.
    Hochstadt’s final question should be generalized to: does it make sense to cut programs which greatly help the domestic poor while continuing other programs which do little or nothing for them?
    That question should be asked in regards many programs, not just aid to Israel or foreign aid in general. It should be asked first and foremost in regards truly destructive programs like subsidies to Big Oil, which actively promote both environmental degradation and climate change.

  5. Joseph Maizlish says

    The sponsorship of Israeli settlements for (only) Jews in militarily occupied areas is as Mr. Hochstadt wrote opposed to U.S. policy if we mean STATED policy. I suggest that the aid through government grants and tax exemption for donations continues for many reasons. One is that the more isolated Israel is, the more useful as a partner to dominant U.S. political neo-imperial interests, who share a dislike for and fear of democratic developments in the region. Other reasons: U.S. political culture needs constant affirmation of the rightness of its own undisavowed past forcible conquest and settlement of a continent, including the dispossession and even massacring of indigenous residents, the desire to continue control of the politics and resources of the region, arms sales for fun and profit, and the endless need to believe that “we” have some unique gift to force upon the world.

  6. Urbane_Gorilla says

    More importantly, why are we rewarding a country that works so hard to impose it’s will on our country? Israel is not our 51st State.

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