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Historically, Israel and its supporters in the United States have been among the most successful parties in ensuring American assistance. Aid to Israel, budgeted through the State Department’s international affairs program, has grown constantly for more than a decade and now stands at $3.1 billion. All the money is earmarked for military use, most in the form of Israeli purchases from American defense contractors. In addition, the Pentagon budget gives Israel more than $450 million in extra aid for missile and rocket defense systems.
The administration has already used its discretion to minimize the cuts to Israel forced by sequestration to $155 million, nearly $100 less than the initial estimated cut. But even this reduced cut has alarmed pro-Israel supporters. On March 5, as their annual policy conference came to an end, thousands of AIPAC delegates made their way to Capitol Hill for lobbying meetings with their Senate and House representatives. In the meetings, which covered each and every congressional office, the AIPAC activists urged lawmakers to repeal the cut.
The request, which was formulated carefully by AIPAC officials, stressed the lobby’s preference for a solution that would roll back all sequestration cuts, not just those hitting Israel. “We said in the meetings that sequestration is a bad policy because it haphazardly cuts programs regardless of their value,” one AIPAC official told the Forward. “We also argued that full assistance for Israel is imperative.”
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that the lobby did not explicitly ask for an exemption for Israel but rather was “exploring” the “possible vehicles” for maintaining aid at its pre-sequester level. He resisted any invocation of the word “exemption.” But the lobby’s website made clear the importance that AIPAC attaches to Congress’s current aid levels to Israel specifically.
“Despite ongoing budget woes, it is critical that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel,” AIPAC states. “As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel’s — and America’s — enemies.”
The group’s policy agenda does include, however, a call for maintaining a “robust foreign aid budget.”