Billions in Taxpayer Money to Israel: How the NYT Hides Unsavory Facts from View

Thanks to American taxpayers, Israel has been receiving $3.1 billion in direct military aid each year, and under a new agreement signed this week that amount is set to rise to $3.8 annually. This is a hefty package and major news, but The New York Times has been oddly reticent about it, running a story on page 6 of the print edition and without fanfare online.

This is not a new phenomenon at the Times. Over the past year, as the United States and Israel have negotiated a new 10-year memorandum of understanding concerning military aid, readers have seen few references to the topic, and even with the signing of a new agreement this week, the newspaper maintains its minimalist approach.

The article by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis gives few details of the deal, instead proving a great deal of space to the state of U.S.-Israeli relations. The story reports that the present aid package (signed in 2007 and due to expire next year) amounts to “about $3 billion a year” with additional funds of up to $500 million a year authorized by Congress for missile defense.

We also learn that Israel made some concessions in negotiations, that this week’s deal is “the largest of its kind” and that Israel receives more U.S. money than any other country. But much is missing.

In fact, Israel gets more than half of all U.S. military aid ($3.1 billion out of a total of $5.9 billion), and Israel together with Egypt receives 75 percent of American foreign military assistance. Since the large allotment for Egypt is aimed at maintaining a non-threatening neighbor on Israel’s border, this could also be counted as indirect aid to Israel.

In fact Israel has been receiving well over $3.1 billion. By a conservative estimate, the United States has been giving the country $3.7 billion in direct aid annually with funds for immigrants to Israel, grants for American hospitals and schools, “joint defense projects” with the Department of Defense, and an early disbursement of aid.

The last item on that list refers to a special arrangement: In contrast to other recipients, Israel receives all its funds from the United States in one lump sum within the first month of the fiscal year. The money is then transferred to a Federal Reserve Bank interest-bearing account, allowing Israel to accrue some $15 million annually in interest.

Then there are other perks, such as loan guarantees, “cash flow financing,” and the right to purchase arms directly from companies rather than going through a Department of Defense review.

In addition, donations sent by Jewish and Christian groups to support settlements are tax-exempt. So every dollar donated to support the colonization of Palestinian land means the loss of at least 20 cents that should go into the U.S. treasury. This is an indirect subsidy to Israel that has cost American taxpayers an incalculable amount, at least some tens of millions of dollars.

The Times, however, has shown no interest in revealing the full extent of aid or of pursuing the arguments against pouring so much money into Israel. This week’s story mentions criticism of the aid agreement not until about three quarters into the text, and then it is reduced to three bland paragraphs with quotes from the representative of an anti-occupation organization.

In fact, the opposition goes well beyond such groups. A member of Congress, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), has asked the State Department to investigate Israeli military units for possible violations of the Leahy Act, which prohibits the dispersal of U.S. funds to groups that violate human rights with impunity.

In 2012, 15 leaders of major religious organizations wrote to Congress asking that military aid be made contingent on compliance with American law. Other groups have sponsored billboards in various areas of the country highlighting the incredible largesse the United States provides for Israel.

Moreover, a poll of Americans taken in 2014 revealed that 60 percent believed the United States gives too much aid to Israel, and of that group 34 percent said it received “much too much.” The percentage claiming that our aid package was excessive was even higher (65 percent) among Americans under 34.

Other commentators have noted that Israel is a wealthy country, with universal health care, and is less in need of help than American citizens who struggle to fund their schools, pay for prescription drugs and meet medical fees.

None of this debate appears in the Times, which seems determined to keep the subject well below the radar. Thus we find a lightweight story on the inside pages of the print edition, well behind a more prominent one about Syrian and Israeli skirmishes in the Golan Heights, and an uninformative one-minute video of the signing ceremony on the Middle East page.

Times readers are to remain ignorant of the full, unsavory story about U.S. aid to Israel. If the facts were fully reported, this might inspire unwelcome questions and pushback. Better to say as little as possible and allow Israel to keep collecting its yearly billions from American taxpayers.

Barbara Erickson

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How The NY Times Hides the Scandal of US-Israeli War Crimes

The United States sends at least $3.1 billion in military aid grants to Israel every year, more than the amount given to all the rest of the world combined, and although Americans oppose this excess, their opinion has had no effect: Officials are now in talks to raise the yearly amount by as much as 50 percent.

If you missed that news in The New York Times, there is no reason for surprise. The issue has essentially remained out of sight, glossed over in a smattering of news stories, where readers find murky references to US aid and no enlightening details.

Thus we have a story by Jodi Rudoren this month, a look at how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a “pivot” after losing his battle against the nuclear agreement with Iran. Several paragraphs into this piece she writes, “Washington is expected to deliver a huge new military aid package to Israel…to appease Mr. Netanyahu and Democratic supporters of Israel who reluctantly backed the nuclear deal.”

This begs for explanation. How much is “huge”? Why is this “expected”? But nothing more is forthcoming.

Times readers have to look elsewhere for a fuller story. Other sources tell us that Israel has been asking for up to $4.5 billion a year in military aid and that talks have been going on “away from the spotlight.” Observers expect announcement of an aid agreement in November, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington.

The Times did manage to work in the $4.5 billion price tag, in the last paragraph of a story that ran in July. The US has guaranteed Israel $31 billion in military aid grants over 10 years ending in 2017, and Israel now wants a new deal guaranteeing up to $45 billion over another 10 years. The article states that officials will frame the deal that finally emerges as an effort to bolster Israel’s defenses in the face of a resurgent Iran. Thus they will try to defuse the charge that the new deal is a way of “appeasing” Israel.

Since this story appeared, the Times has avoided the subject, except for Rudoren’s reference to a “huge” new package, and brief comments elsewhere about “compensation” for defying Israel on the Iran nuclear deal.

US aid to Israel is a subject that the Times would like to avoid. On many fronts it is difficult to defend and shines a harsh light on the actions of both the US and Israeli governments. For instance:

  • Congress has been willing to maintain and even increase military aid to Israel even as it cuts programs for education, food assistance and tax relief for working families in the United States.
  • Israel receives US aid even though it is one of the most economically advanced countries in the world.
  • US military aid makes up a full 20 percent of the Israeli military budget.
  • Israel, a small country, is so well supplied with arms that it is the tenth largest purveyor of weaponry in the world. In other words, Israel receives military aid from the US, and then makes money by selling arms to other nations.
  • US aid to Israel amounts to $10.2 million per day or $450 per year for each Israeli citizen.
  • Israel receives special perks that other aid recipients are denied, such as the right to use some of the funds to buy weapons from Israeli manufacturers instead of being required to purchase American products.
  • Israel spends more on military expenditures than any other country in the world, based on percentage of gross domestic product.
  • The annual U.S. military aid package for Palestine is $0.00.
  • In addition to the $3.1 billion in direct military aid guaranteed each year, Israel receives other gifts, such as economic grants and immigration assistance, raising the total aid well beyond the stated amount. (Vice President Joe Biden recently cited $7.18 billion for a one-year package.)
  • Sixty percent of Americans polled in a survey said the United States “gives too much aid to Israel.”

In addition, human rights organizations and other observers have raised ethical concerns over supplying arms to Israel in view of its deadly attacks on civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last year, during the assaults on Gaza that left some 2,200 Palestinians dead, Amnesty International called on the United States to stop transferring arms to Israel, citing “growing evidence of war crimes.” In June of this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) asked the State Department to review the legality of military aid to Israel in light of evidence that security forces abuse child prisoners and have killed nonviolent demonstrators.

This past week a coalition of 10 organizations—American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, Defense for Children International and others—sent out a petition asking President Obama to stop supplying Israel with arms. In particular the petition targets the 50 percent increase in direct aid from $3.1 to $4.5 billion now under consideration.

Within days, by Sept. 21, the petition had reached its goal of 50,000 signatures and reset its sights on 60,000.

The Times, however, has had nothing to say about these protests, although they have been reported elsewhere. Rep. McCollum’s letter, which garnered the signatures of 18 additional members of Congress, was featured in US and Israeli media but found no mention in the Times.

The subject of military aid to Israel demands a fuller treatment in the Times. Readers should know the actual cost to U.S. taxpayers; they should be told of ethical concerns raised by organizations and officials; they are entitled to know more about the lethal effects of Israel’s weaponry; they should find Times analysts willing to discuss the contrast between congressional largess for Israel and the efforts to cut domestic programs.

It is not too much to say that US military aid to Israel is scandalous in light of the devastating effects it has had on innocent Palestinians and also on Americans deprived of basic needs. The failure of the Times to address the issue also amounts to scandal, making it fully complicit in this sordid affair.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Says US Has “Little Sway in Gaza:” A Little (Times) White Lie

Mark Landler in The New York Times today tells us that the United States is watching from the sidelines as Israel massacres civilians in Gaza. Our diplomacy has little effect, he says, and our top officials are at loggerheads with their Israeli counterparts.

It is almost as if the Times were following a script provided yesterday by Glenn Greenwald, who predicted just such a stance in a piece he wrote for the new online media outlet, The Intercept. In an article titled “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack,” he refers to “the posture of helpless detachment typically adopted by Obama officials and their supporters” in regards to Israeli attacks and notes that “media figures” predictably assume the same pose:

“The U.S. government feeds Israel the weapons it uses and steadfastly defends its aggression both publicly and at the U.N.; the U.S. Congress unanimously enacts one resolution after the next to support and enable Israel; and then American media figures pretend that the Israeli attack has nothing to do with their country, that it’s just some sort of unfortunately intractable, distant conflict between two equally intransigent foreign parties in response to which all decent Americans helplessly throw up their hands as though they bear no responsibility.”

The Landler story today may be right about tensions between U.S. and Israeli officials, but it follows the usual line in failing to acknowledge the full complicity of the United States in the attacks on Gaza and in presenting the pose of helpless frustration that Greenwald describes.

In a heart-rending first person account in the Times opinion pages, “Gaza: A Wartime Diary,” by Atef Abu Saif, we read of one moment in his family’s ongoing ordeal: “an F-16 comes in close again, booming above us, terrifying us all over again.” Here is U.S. complicity on view. The F-16 is an American weapon, as are the Apache helicopters and other weapons that also terrorize the people of Gaza.

Landler’s story notes that the United States has continued to provide arms to Israel, but this is briefly mentioned. The Times is not eager to advertise the fact that the United States provides $8.5 million in military aid every day to Israel and precisely $0 to Palestinians. The paper reports that Congress recently voted to pay an additional $225 million to Israel for its Iron Dome defense system, but it makes no effort to point out that the U.S. pays nothing to protect the trapped residents of Gaza.

American military aid to Israel should be a major story, especially in times of budget cuts when U.S. citizens are deprived of much needed funds for education, health care, housing and infrastructure. But the Times shields the U.S. “special relationship” from a full accounting, even when it means the deaths of innocents in Gaza.

Barbara Erickson