You're Paying for That War in Gaza

Don't ask whether the U.S. will get involved—ask how it's involved already.


Your taxes, but not your war budget.
War Production Co-Ordinating Committee

Of all the ways to frame America's role in the latest war between Israelis and Palestinians, the most bizarre might be the Bloomberg headline "Will the U.S. Get Involved in Israel-Gaza Conflict?" What do you mean will, folks? The U.S. has been deeply involved with this war from the beginning, because the U.S. is underwriting it.

Sen. Rand Paul has been pushing a bill to eliminate America's aid to the Palestinian Authority. I have seen no comparable attempt, though, to remove the much more substantial assistance that the U.S. gives to Israel: more than $3 billion a year, almost all of it for military purposes—about a fourth of Jerusalem's military budget. Bloomberg's video segment acknowledges the aid, yet somehow the site's editors came up with that headline, instead of, say, "The IDF's Biggest Benefactor Mulls What to Do Next."

You can read a detailed breakdown of where that aid goes in the Congressional Research Service's April report on the subject. Some critics of Israel's actions in Gaza might be tempted to parse the document for which sorts of assistance they approve of and which they don't, distinguishing a defensive project like Iron Dome from the weapons currently killing civilians. But money is fungible, and every sheqel that Washington donates to an anti-rocket system frees up a sheqel to be spent elsewhere. (Israel could certainly afford Iron Dome on its own.) The most relevant figure is the total amount.

You hear two sets of arguments for the aid packages. The first is the one you'd expect: With some exceptions, which we'll note in a moment, people who back Israeli policy tend to want America to fund it. The second comes from the folks who feel the aid gives Washington leverage that it can use to work for peace. America's checks do give D.C. a greater ability to insert itself into the conflict, a fact that has led a number of Israel's supporters as well as its critics to call for ending American aid. (Needless to say, that doesn't mean they'd want the money to stop while the war is in progress.) Despite that power, Washington's ability to tamp down the tensions has been, shall we say, rather limited. As my colleague Shikha Dalmia wrote a few years ago, "If money could buy peace, Israelis and Palestinians would now be holding hands and singing kumbaya." Instead we've been subsidizing war.

I have my own notions about what a just peace in the Levant would entail. But I have no illusions about Washington's willingness or ability to impose such ideas, and I know that positive developments that last are most likely to emerge from the actions of people who actually live in the region. The best thing we can do to encourage that is to pull our fingers—and our funds—out of the conflict.