Howard Kohr, CEO of AIPAC, testifying at the House Appropriations Committee in 2019. (Photo/Astrid Riecken-Getty Images)
Howard Kohr, CEO of AIPAC, testifying at the House Appropriations Committee in 2019. (Photo/Astrid Riecken-Getty Images)

New conditions on aid to Israel? J Street says yes, AIPAC no

The annual bill that determines how much funding the United States will disburse overseas passed last week, and it has new language of interest to those following aid to Israel.

In the bill, passed July 27 along party lines, Israel gets $3.3 billion a year in defense assistance (in addition to $500 million in anti-missile cooperation, which is approved in separate defense appropriations). But for the first time, the foreign operations spending bill requires that the secretary of state must report to Congress that assistance to other counties is spent “consistent with United States national security policy.” (The language doesn’t specify Israel.)

Both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the flag-bearer for the traditional pro-Israel community, and J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that advocates for pressure on Israel, list the $3.3 billion as a success. But they had different takes on the new language.

J Street says it ever so slightly turns up the heat on Israel to not use money that would inhibit the outcome of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, long a goal of U.S. policy.

It’s “an important first step toward ensuring that equipment purchased with [Foreign Military Financing] is used in a manner consistent with U.S. law and national security policies, including specifying that items supplied pursuant to the MOU may not be used in any way that undermines the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution,” J Street said in a statement after the bill passed the House.

AIPAC, on the other hand, focused on the fact that there were no conditions actually listed in the bill. “This critical funding, with no added political conditions, reflects the strong bipartisan support for Israel’s security in Congress and the Biden Administration,” AIPAC said in a press release.

The new oversight provision in the bill is actually embedded elsewhere in U.S. law — Congress repeats itself, a lot — and the existing oversight has never triggered any questions about defense assistance to Israel.

During Israel’s conflict with Gaza in May, an unprecedented number of Democrats sought to reduce military assistance to Israel. Most of the overall Democratic caucus was opposed, as were all Republicans, so the initiative went nowhere. But the idea of taking away aid as penance for Israel’s wartime actions became part of the conversation.

The annual $3.8 billion for Israel is part of an agreement brokered by the Obama administration in 2016, with broad bipartisan support, to fund Israel’s defense by $38 billion over 10 years.

The 2022 bill also notably includes $225 million in assistance to the Palestinians and renewed funding for UNRWA, the U.N. agency that administers assistance to the Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Former President Donald Trump had ended all aid to the Palestinians and to UNRWA, and President Joe Biden had pledged to renew the funding. J Street praised the renewal, while AIPAC left it out of its statement altogether.

But both AIPAC and J Street’s releases agreed on one thing: They both praised $50 million in the bill dedicated to building people-to-people dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, part of the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act named for the veteran New York Jewish Democrat who retired last year.

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief

JTA

Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.