Since the 2020 elections, there has been a lot of talk about a Biden Administration commitment to conditioning the distribution of much of the vast sums of money the U.S. allots as foreign aid on the recipients agreeing to promote “American values.” This has been widely touted as a departure from former President Trump’s alleged focus on strengthening U.S. economic and political leverage abroad.
One may disagree as to priorities, but it is hardly strange that a government might seek to put its resources in the service of promoting its values abroad – although trying to remake societies in our own image can have tragic consequences, as we have learned to our great national sorrow. Still, the very notion of conditionality is problematic, especially when it comes to Israel.
Indeed, the distinction drawn between the Trump and Biden approach is not an easy one to get one’s arms around. Thus, while Trump was savaged by the progressive Left for his restrictive immigration policy as a violation of those values, that corner has been largely mute about Biden’s failure to make provisions for the safety of the Afghans who loyally worked for us these past 20 years.
So the issue of conditioning foreign aid on conformity with American values is not in and of itself the sole concern. It is also a matter of who gets to decide what American values are. And those of us who continue to believe that Israel’s well-being is key to America’s own security have only to recall the fictive realities created by the UN and the Obama “resets” to appreciate the dangers inherent in an amorphous conditionality.
Consider, as an example, the Department of State’s Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act for 2022, introduced at the behest of the White House and now being considered in Congress.
The bill continued funding for Israel at previous levels, but for the first time there was added language that the secretary of state must report to Congress that assistance to other countries is spent “consistent with United States national security policy…. The secretary of state shall promptly inform the appropriate congressional committees of any instance in which the secretary of state has credible information that such assistance was used in a manner contrary to such agreement.”
The different takes on the new language by AIPAC and J Street underscores what is really in play here.
As reported in the Jerusalem Post, in a press release on the bill, J Street said the new oversight language is a new stipulation, ever so slightly turning up the heat on Israel to not use money in a way that would inhibit the outcome of a Palestinian state as part of a two state solution.
For its part, AIPAC argued that in light of the growing trend among progressives to push for conditioning aid to Israel, the bill’s renewal of funding aid to Israel and unremarkable oversight language is a significant rebuke of the of that trend. “The critical funding, with no added political conditions, reflects the strong bipartisan support for Israel’s security in Congress and the Biden Administration.”
Further, although it did not make for many headlines, some House Democrats in April introduced a bill seeking to regulate U.S. aid to Israel, conditioning it on Israel’s not using U.S. aid funds to pay for certain activities defined as being contrary to U.S. values and interests.
Thus, as reported by Ha’aretz, the “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” was introduced by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum and co-sponsored by 16 other Democratic representatives. They included the four known as The Squad: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.
The bill made no reference to any particular set of circumstances but rather generally specified that the funds simply cannot be used for detaining Palestinian minors, destruction of Palestinian property, or support for unilateral annexation.
Plainly, this is no time for the introduction of so amorphous a principle as foreign aid conditionality that could make for much mischief.