With the sequester about to take a big bite out of the Pentagon's budget, the American-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is lobbying Congress to exempt US military aid to Israel, reports "The New York Jewish Week" correspondent Douglas Bloomfield, a AIPAC chief lobbyist for ten years, and now an independent consultant.
"The New York Jewish Week" says that AIPAC will send thousands of its citizen lobbyists, who are participating in its annual policy conference, which begins on Sunday, to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to promote the organization's agenda, including exempting US military aid to Israel from the sequester.
Bloomfield warns, "This could prove a very risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans will be feeling the bite of the sequestration debacle, from the defense budget to the school lunch program. But not aid to Israel, which will be untouched if AIPAC gets its way. This resolution could easily backfire and damage Israel far more than any cuts in its very generous grant aid program. "
"Huffington Post" blogger M.J. Rosenberg writes in response, "At one time I wouldn't have believed AIPAC would dare try something this bold. That is because traditionally AIPAC has been very cautious about not seeming to take actions that suggested putting Israel's interests over America's. Demanding that Israel be exempt from cuts that virtually every American will feel seems so counterproductive as to almost be suicidal for the lobbying powerhouse.
"Nonetheless, everything I hear indicates that Bloomfield is right although I doubt AIPAC will have the gall to insist on insulating AIPAC from the cuts that will occur in this year's budget. More likely, it will wait until Congress is putting the 2014 cuts in place (there is more Congressional discretion in allotting the pain after 2013) before demanding not just that Israel go to the head of the line but that it not be forced to stand in the line at all.
"No matter when Israel is exempted, and by how much, it is wrong and would represent nothing more than another power play by the lobby. After all, a cut of $175 million out of a $3 billion US grant is nothing that Israel can't handle."
Rosenberg is known as a sworn opponent of AIPAC. He writes, "As one who believes that the lobby is a bad influence in American life, I suppose I should be glad that the lobby's overreaching is finally being taken note of."
Israel's decision-makers generally agree that Israel should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US at this time of financial distress, and that Israel will have to accept the loss of part of its US aid.
Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren told "Globes", "As the US's closest ally in the Middle East, Israel understands the difficult budget challenges the Americans are dealing with. We are prepared to bear our share of the burden, while trying to protect critical projects for Israel's security and integrity, including Iron Dome."
Oren did not mention the expected $250 million cut in current military aid. Sources believe that Israel will forego this aid and will try to protect all the special aid for anti-missile programs - Iron Dome, the Arrow 2 and 3, and David's Sling -which totals $479 million.
It is not clear whether AIPAC will lobby Congress to exempt all US military aid to Israel (i.e. both regular aid and financing for the anti-missile programs), or, like Israel, it will seek exemption for part of the aid.
Bloomberg adds that the AIPAC activists will also tell Congress to vote for legislation declaring the Jewish state a "major strategic ally." "That is a designation not enjoyed by any other nation," JTA ("Jewish Telegraphic Agency") pointed out, noting it may be a step toward the goal of some conservatives of divorcing assistance to Israel from all other foreign aid spending.
This year's AIPAC meeting will lack some of the usual drama. The big (and emotional) subjects - the US president and the Israeli prime minister, who usually give keynote addresses, will meet in Jerusalem in two weeks, where they will make the big news. The large entourages of Israeli ministers who also usually attend AIPAC meetings are staying in Israel because of the coalition negotiations.
US Vice President Joe Biden will be the senior US speaker at this year's conference, and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak will be the top Israeli speaker.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 3, 2013
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