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Unexpectedly, it is Republicans jeopardizing aid to Israel

WASHINGTON — Since Oct. 7, a growing number of Democrats have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, harshly criticized Israel or refused to send it more money.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Bob Good of Virginia speaks as left to right, Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida listen during a news conference at the US Capitol, Feb. 13, 2024. All four were among 14 Republicans who voted against emergency defense aid for Israel. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But over the past few weeks, when both chambers of Congress sit down to vote, it is a faction of Republicans, allied with Donald Trump, who have impeded additional foreign aid to Israel.

In control of the House of Representatives, this group is pivoting away from something pro-Israel activists have long taken for granted: US defense assistance for Israel.

That dynamic was on display on Feb. 13, when the Senate passed a $95.3 billion bill to aid Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

A few Democrats voted no, but the bulk of opposition came from Republicans. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said he would almost certainly not bring the Senate’s bill up for a vote.

Many of the Republicans who oppose the additional aid to Israel say they object to it on fiscal grounds.

Others don’t want to deliver a victory to President Joe Biden.

But Matt Brooks, the CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the most influential Jewish group in the party, says he is worried about a subset of Republicans he called “neo-isolationists” — although he believes the trend can be nipped.

“We are worried and we’re working on tamping down these folks who want to withdraw America from the rest of the world, this neo-isolationist wing,” he says.

“I think the balance of our friends who have been friends over the years are still strong friends that will continue to be so.”

Other Republicans are less sanguine. “This new Republican Party will soon throw Israel under the bus,” said Nachama Soloveichik, the chief spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, last week on X.

The idea of conditioning aid to Israel first gained popularity with a progressive wing of the Democratic Party that sees aid as a tool to influence Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

By contrast, Republicans who have slowed down or opposed recent aid bills, say they remain adamantly pro-Israel, but argue that a ballooning deficit means decades of no-strings-attached foreign aid must end.

“We’re heading for a fiscal reckoning in this country, and so we’ve got to begin to address that and some of us on the Republican side are willing to try to do so,” said Virginia Rep. Bob Good, one of 14 Republicans who voted against another failed Israel aid bill last week.

“And so there is much available, unjustified, even harmful spending in our federal, bloated government to pay for not just the Israel supplemental but all future supplementals,” he said, referring to the budget bill.

Thirteen of the 14 Republicans who voted against that bill are members of the Freedom Caucus, which is closely aligned with Trump.

Virtually the only GOP House lawmaker who consistently voted against Israel until now has been Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus.

The Republicans who voted against the aid say the money must be offset somehow, whether it is through cuts to other budget items or through turning the foreign aid into a loan — a solution Trump and his allies support.

“The supplemental aid package should be a loan to the countries in question, as suggested by President Trump,” Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime staunch backer of Israel, said in a statement.

Graham voted against last week’s Senate bill, as did Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who are also historically pro-Israel.

“A loan on friendly terms allows America, who is deeply in debt, a chance to get our money back and changes the paradigm of how we help others,” Graham said. “President Trump is right to insist that we think outside the box.”

House Speaker Johnson has signaled that he is also on board with offsetting aid. Last November, he sponsored an unsuccessful bill that conditioned Israel aid on cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, the first time Congress conditioned aid to Israel on anything.

He agreed with the Freedom Caucus to introduce the aid bill under a process that required a two-thirds majority — dooming its chances.

Pro-Israel groups are urging a return to aid bills with no strings and argue that the fraction of a percent of the budget that goes to aid for Israel is critical for fighting shared foes.

“As Israel battles Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian proxies on its borders, we are urging both Democrats and Republicans to move beyond partisan differences and support emergency funding for the Jewish state,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said.

Richard Goldberg, a longtime Senate Republican staffer who worked closely with Democrats to advance aid to Israel, echoes the message that polarization was undercutting efforts to protect Israel and American national security.

“I’m generally concerned with the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together to support democratic allies in times of crisis, let alone their ability to invest in our own national security — whether it be securing the border or rapidly expanding our defense industrial base,” said Goldberg, now a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

One of the 14 House Republicans who voted against Israel, Rep. Aaron Bean of Florida, said that he has voted for pro-Israel measures but that “our national debt just surpassed $34 trillion, and in order to be fiscally secure for future generations, Congress needs to offset this spending.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia said in a press release, “Congress should not — and doesn’t need to — borrow money to support our greatest ally in the Middle East.” Reps. Elijah Crane of Arizona and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina made similar arguments.

A spokesman for Rep. Massie of Kentucky pointed argues that Israel is better equipped to handle spending than the US.

“Israel has a lower debt to GDP ratio than the US. This spending package has no offsets, so it will increase our debt by $14.3 billion plus interest.”

Mark Mellman, who directs the Democratic Majority for Israel, says the new front of opposition to Israel aid is a cause for concern, echoing Republican Matt Brooks’ concern over isolationism.

“Increasingly on the Republican side there is this revived strain of isolationism. There’s a lot of people on their side that simply don’t care what happens anywhere else but here and don’t realize that what happens elsewhere affects what happens here.”

Brooks feels that he can persuade pro-Israel Freedom Caucus members to support aid to Israel even without any offsets.

As opposed to some Democrats who have voted against the aid, Brooks says, these Republicans do say they back Israel.

“They’re not voting no because they’re unhappy with Israel. They’re not voting no because they don’t support Israel. They’re voting no from a fiscal responsibility perspective. I disagree with it in a time of war. Israel needs our help and America needs to be there.

“But having said that, I don’t think this is a long term concern that these people are not going to continue to be friends and allies.”




One thought on “Unexpectedly, it is Republicans jeopardizing aid to Israel

  1. DPL

    Ron, before you blame Republicans, look at the details! The Republicans surely do want to give money to Israel, but there are other requirements that are tied to it. They want the border issue being one of them.

    Reply

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