By Branko Marcetic
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says cutting aid to Israel should be “on the table” and “can be discussed.” This is, in fact, a moderate position.
For one thing, US military aid to Israel is already supposed to be illegal under the so-called Leahy Laws. Those laws bar the US government from giving training, equipment, and other types of assistance to any overseas security forces committing “gross violations of human rights,” which include torture and extrajudicial killing.
There is copious evidence of the Israeli military routinely killing protesters, including teenagers and medics — often from sniper positions hundreds of feet away — despite the plethora of nonlethal, high-tech options it has to repel demonstrators. One could go further back and cite the Israeli military’s indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Gaza, or the frequent reports of Israeli torture of Palestinians, documented by the United Nations and other organizations. But the recent sniper killings alone are sufficient.
But forget about the rule of law. Even by the warped moral standards of Washington, D.C., Israel has crossed a red line, with the UN determining this past February that Israeli forces had killed and wounded clearly marked journalists and medics during last year’s Gaza protests. Saudi Arabia killing a single journalist last year was considered so shocking and outrageous that its government received months of well-deserved condemnation, including from many who had previously been enthusiastic supporters of the Kingdom, leading to Congress’s historic attempt to end US support for the country’s war in Yemen. Unless the argument is Saudi Arabia would have been on solid ground if it had simply murdered Jamal Khashoggi by sniper fire, this is clearly a double standard.
Then there’s the political element. Even a committed liberal Zionist would have to admit the direction of Israeli politics is now entering scary new territory. To win the most recent election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu teamed up with far-right ultranationalists who are so toxic, even AIPAC — AIPAC! — condemned the alliance and refuses to meet with them. Netanyahu has spent the past few years cozying up to far-right, racist governments in Europe, drumming up hatred domestically, and trying to centralize power. Even Beto O’Rourke, who seems pathologically unwilling to articulate and stick to a political position, has called him “racist.”
That’s not even to mention the most central criticism of Israel: its decades-long subjugation of the Palestinian people, its flouting of the international peace process, and its continued violation of international law in regard to the conflict.
If Americans are alarmed by Israel’s actions — be they the killing and abuse of innocent people, targeting of journalists, drift towards the global far right, or treatment of Palestinians — they have a relatively straightforward piece of leverage they can use to seek to change its behavior: the billions of dollars of military and economic aid the US government sends to Israel every year, which has made the country the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since the Second World War and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s defense budget. There is no other country on the planet that has this kind of arrangement, let alone an apartheid state that is openly vying to become a member of a far-right, authoritarian international alliance.
One of the most pathetic moments in the history of US leadership took place in 2016. After Netanyahu spent years ignoring Obama’s calls to halt illegal settlements, quietly tried to get his opponent elected in 2012, and made an unprecedented, widely criticized speech to Congress that he never bothered to clear with the president, in an effort to derail his foreign policy, Obama punished Israel by … negotiating the largest military aid deal in US history with the country. Why on earth would Israel ever change its behavior when its leaders have been conditioned to understand it won’t be punished by any member of the US political class, and may in fact be rewarded?
So yes, cutting or outright withdrawing aid to Israel should be “on the table” — to say the least. Decades of unflinching financial support for Israel no matter what atrocity it commits or norm it violates has given its leaders the completely correct belief they can do anything they want without consequence. It’s time to prove them wrong.