JPOST: The Freedom Funder

April 18, 2011

m of Understanding puts Israel in a different position than our help for other countries. So I have to keep explaining that and making sure everyone understands that, particularly 87 new members of Congress.

So many of those new members identify with the Tea Party and are calling for sweeping cuts, particularly to foreign aid.

How do they see aid to Israel?

I think they see it very clearly and are continuing the bipartisan support.

Some who were concerned about Tea Party pressure to cut foreign aid suggested moving military aid to Israel from foreign appropriations to defense appropriations, which are less likely to be cut.

Is that idea still on the table?

I hope not. What I want to ensure is that funding for Israel [is maintained], but that it not be singled out, because I think it’s really at risk [that way]. Some of the people that suggested it be pulled out of foreign operations I think were well-intentioned, but I think they’re wrong because it makes Israel such a target, with so much attention just on Israel. I will continue to say it should be part of the funding for our front-line nations – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and now Mexico… I think that funding will stay secure.

Are you concerned by Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal, which makes massive spending cuts, including upwards of 25% of the foreign operations budget?

I think it’s good… Congressman Ryan’s budget doesn’t nibble around the edges.

It’s a very serious budget that goes after entitlements, which is the major problem with our expenditures today.

The way it affects our foreign assistance is, it clarifies that the foreign assistance we give is very minor compared to the discretionary spending. It’s about 5% of the discretionary spending, about 1% of the overall budget, but in polling we’ve taken, there are people who think it’s 30%. I’ve had people say, well if you just quit sending all that money to foreign countries we’d solve our problems, and of course we wouldn’t.

Could such a significant scaling back of foreign operations jeopardize America’s place in the world?

If it does, then the cuts are too deep. We have to make the case that our national security interests are served through this funding.

What about appropriations from the defense subcommittee for missile defense? Do you expect support to continue in this climate?

Continuing, absolutely. [There’s] great support. Iron Dome was the one that just had a successful launch. It’s very, very important.

Israel has long been interested in buying Lockheed Martin’s F-22 stealth bomber, whose sale to foreign countries is barred by law and production of which is due to end. Is there any circumstance in which Israel would be able to acquire that?

That’s really been a hard one, and I don’t see it changing right now. With the world situation the way it is, something could shift and change that, but rightnow I don’t see it.

Is there any chance of speeding up production of the F-35, which Israel is set to acquire once it’s produced?

If anything there’s more pressure for slowing it down, only because of costs.

But when we do that, when we say we’re going to keep funding but we’re going to stretch it out, then it adds to the cost. And that hurts our international partners, and I’m not in favor of that at all.

What’s going to happen this year with funding for the Palestinian Authority under a Republican-controlled Congress?

There is funding, primarily for security.

We believed that was important, and I continue to believe that’s important. I’ve been there and seen some of the security that’s occurring that we’re helping to fund. And I think overall it’s a help – it’s a help toward reaching a peace, if we can do that.

If the Palestinians go to the UN and seek a unilateral declaration of statehood as they’ve threatened, will that affect US aid to the PA?

It will, and that would be a very, very bad thing to do… It would be a very serious step. It also could affect our funding at the UN.

What’s the thinking on funding for Egypt?

It still matters what will be the makeup of the government after the elections, and as this progresses, the Muslim Brotherhood is the one that’s of most concern to us.

So whether the Muslim Brotherhood was part of a new Egyptian government would make a difference in whether the country receives US aid?

It would affect our attitude.

How has the Obama administration done so far in dealing with these uprisings?

I think at the beginning there was a stumbling [over] what’s going on, what do we say, but I think it’s a bit better now.

Do you support the Libya action?

I do. It’s a very difficult situation… Gaddafi, as we all know, is very dangerous, but watching who the rebels are, I think we have to vet that very carefully.

Who are these rebels? What are their ties to al-Qaida? How strong are those ties?

Has the Obama administration done enough on Iran? Does it have an opportunity with the unrest in the region?

I think we should be stronger. Iran is the greatest threat to the region, certainly, but it’s a threat to the world. And the nuclear weapons – we’ve given them way too much time.

So what should be done now?

The sanctions are working but there are still violations. I think by the sanctions and influencing the economy we made headway, but I would take a stronger stand.


On the sanctions, there are still violations.

I think we should be much stronger in our reaction when we know there are violations. It’s just a very dangerous situation.

It’s not [a leadership] we can trust.

We know that. It’s not that we’re worried what they might do. They’ve said what they’re going to do: wipe Israel off the face of the earth. That’s not interpretation.

That’s what’s been said.

So should be measures other than sanctions taken?

The term we always say is that all the options are on the table, and I think that’s where we have to be. When you see this sort of shift that’s going on and unrest, that’s a time when those who are opposed to us could take stronger stands, because our attention could be diverted.

Does Congress think Israel should be doing more to advance the peace process?

I would say that we wish that Israel – I’m not going to say that Israel “should be” because we’re not on the ground there – but we wish both parties would push as hard as possible, it’s just so important, and with direct talks. I didn’t support the envoys and the people muddling around the middle of this and being the message carriers. I think the direct talks are far more important.

How have the demonstrations in the Middle East changed Israel’s image in America and its relationship with the US?

It’s been helped because all of us say, this is our strongest ally, this is the democracy in this region of the world. People have been reminded of that, so their feeling and their trust in Israel, the importance of Israel, has been strengthened.

 What’s your message for Israel during your visit?

That they’re still our strongest ally in the region. That the friendship and assistance is solid from the Congress, both the House and Senate and both Democrats and Republicans.

 Note: This interview was edited and condensed.