WASHINGTON – At an AIPAC panel on Sunday, the highlighted speakers assailed the Trump Administration for its massive reductions in the proposed foreign aid budget. Retired General Charles Walk asserted, “I have never heard of a general officer” who doesn’t support foreign assistance.
The speakers also noted that American aid to Israel’s neighbors who have maintained peace treaties with the Jewish state such as Jordan and Egypt significantly benefits Jerusalem. “The assistance we give to others for instance Jordan is in Israel’s interest as well,” noted Lindsay Plack, Director of Government Relations at the US Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). The US assistance to Amman following the refugee spillover from the Syrian war “ensures that the Jordanian economy doesn’t crumble under the stress of all those refugees coming in,” she added.
Speaking in Tokyo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on March 16, “The level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past.. is simply not sustainable.” The top US diplomat added, “We are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.”
“I guarantee it, if we were to cut half of this foreign aid budget it would probably translate into some huge number of US engagements around the world,” Walk noted at one of the few hundred breakout sessions AIPAC has organized at its annual Policy Conference.
Last month, over 120 retired generals signed a letter pushing back against the White House’s plan to slash aid to USAID and the State Department as “critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”
“The threats that we face, frankly it became most clear after 9/11, they can’t be solved with the military alone,” Plack said. “When America leads, it’s good for Israel. When we pull back, that is not good for Israel.”
AIPAC has stressed the importance of maintaining the State Department’s budget by showcasing Defense Secretary General Mattis’ remarks on video screens throughout the convention center: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
As assistance to the UN viewed controversially in some circles, Plask pointed to the important work of UNHCR, the international organization’s refugee agency. “They are on the front lines of the refugee crisis and Syrian civil war, so our small investment allows them to be on the front lines instead of us.”
With dramatic reductions to foreign aid across the world while maintaining $3.8 billion annually to Israel, some pro-Israel advocates worry about the perception of foreign aid to the Jewish state among the American public. When USGLC was established 20 years ago, AIPAC was a founding member.
“The foreign aid bill has long been one of AIPAC’s highest priorities and it helps ensure that the country has the resources to lead in the world,” noted AIPAC official Dan Granot at the end of the panel urging the attendees to preserve a robust global foreign assistance and implicitly lobby against the Trump Administration’s cuts. “Tuesday morning, when you all go to the Hill, remember you are not only advocating for Israel’s aid but also to ensure US leadership around the world.”