January 27, 2011

Why Jews should champion full funding for global U.S. assistance

The Jewish community has long believed that a large overall U.S. foreign assistance budget helps guarantee the significant piece of the pie going to the State of Israel. As it threatens drastic cuts to overseas spending, a deficit-weary Congress has reassured Israel's supporters that funds for Israel will remain the same, no matter what.

So why should Jews push now for full funding of the Administration's foreign assistance request, and risk angering the new Republican majority in the House?

For most Jews, and for the broader pro-Israel community, protecting Israel at the expense of other accounts (all of which are smaller) raises the specter of bad publicity -- literally, an embarrassment of riches. Although Israel remains an embattled outpost of democracy in the Middle East, are we ready to see urgent humanitarian crises be shortchanged while prosperous Israel continues to receive billions? One need not come at the expense of the other.

Aid to Israel is truly a bargain, as we tell our fellow Americans and Members of Congress. But so is assistance to depressed economies and trouble spots around the world. We advance democracy and trade opportunities, public health and strategic stability in dozens of countries for less than one percent of the federal budget and a fraction of what we had to spend after the fact in Iraq and Afghanistan. And trade means economic growth, and jobs here in the States.

Aside from the "PR" and pragmatic arguments, there is a broader case to be made. U.S. global leadership has been instrumental in securing the Jewish state, protecting Jews in communities abroad, and making the world a better place. As Jews, we have a special responsibility based in our history -- from Sinai all the way to the Holocaust -- to make the world a better place. 

There have always been Republicans and Democrats who questioned whether the rest of the world is America's responsibility, and there have always been leaders on both sides who said, "Yes, it is." And the same holds true today.

At least on this issue, we as Jews should stand on the side of global engagement and leadership.

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