Philosophers are often renown for two things: their ability to think logically and their irrelevance to public discussion and debate. I am hoping to buck the trend a bit here by using my training in thought to offer a practical solution to a complex issue before the public. The issue is that of how to respond to the unfolding crisis in Israel and Palestine. The solution is this: end all aid to Israel. Not just military aid. All aid. Not just all aid until Israel ends its military occupation….All aid. Period.
There are several simple, but compelling reasons, for Americans to support such a proposal. First and foremost, by squandering the aid we have given Israel over the years (nearly five billion dollars a year, including incidentals) in the massive violation of the human rights, autonomy, and dignity of another people, Israel has forfeited any claim it might have to that aid. Regardless of the individual acts of desperation and terrorism that some Palestinians commit, the overwhelming destructiveness that Israel has performed on the Palestinian people for the last thirty-five years demonstrates that its goal has always been, and remains, the dominance of another people. The U.S. should not be aiding Israel no more than it should have been aiding South Africa under apartheid, Iran under the Shah, Iraq’s Saddam during his war with Iran, Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Indonesia during its campaign against the East Timorese.
Second, there are plenty of better ways to use this aid than that to which it has been put by Israel. We are still in a recession where money for education, health care, homelessness, and other necessities is lacking. Putting our money there is far better than wasting it on a country that chooses to spend it on the oppression of another people. If we are to spend the aid overseas, then let us spend it fighting AIDS in Africa or offering grants for infrastructure in Latin America.
Finally, aid to Israel is against any conception of U.S. interests that one would want to hold, whether one is conservative or liberal. It subverts the conservatives’ attempts to build a far-reaching international campaign against terrorism. It subverts the liberals’ desire to direct U.S. policy toward upholding general human rights standards. By introducing tension with European and Arab countries, isolating the U.S. in the United Nations, and diminishing the perception (and reality) of the U.S. as an honest world broker, aid to Israel runs counter to U.S. goals and short- and long term interests.
In offering arguments for a position, philosophers are often beholden to consider objections one might raise to their views. After all, as my students often remind me, there is always another side to every issue. Let me look at the other side, then, by offering the following common objections and then replying to them.
First objection: Why not withhold or reduce aid to Israel until it leaves the Palestine and then reinstate it? Isn’t that more fair than just cutting aid off completely?
Reply: A state that seeks U.S. aid should show a legal need for it and definitely not be acting to threaten U.S. interests. Israel, as I have argued, does not contribute to U.S. interests. And if Israel leaves Palestine and then believes it needs aid, it can request it and have it considered. Given what Israel does with U.S. aid, it obviously doesn’t need any now.
Second objection: The proposal is too radical. Americans won’t want to go that far in criticizing Israel.
Reply: The reason Americans have not displayed more outrage has less to do with any deep ties to Israel than with the one-sided view of the Middle East they have been presented with. Americans have shown, in the cases of Somalia and Kosovo recently, and Ethiopia before that, a surprising ability to act on conscience and to empathize with those who suffer needlessly. What is required here, then, is a more balanced coverage of the Middle East, not a watered down proposal for what to do about it. If the U.S. media begins to pay due attention to what Israel has done in Jenin, that would go a long way toward remedying the problem.
Third objection: Israel needs the aid. Withdrawing such a large sum all at once without promise of reinstatement would place an immediate and undue hardship on Israel.
Reply: Israel has had thirty-five years to consider their actions; that seems to me plenty long enough. The longer a criminal uses my support to commit crimes, the more urgent it becomes that I stop supplying that support.
Fourth Objection: The proposal, because of its sweeping character, will generate anti-Semitism.
Reply: First, there are always anti-Semites; anything critical of Israel will attract them. The proposal itself is not anti-Semitic, regardless of what supporters of Israel might say about it. Instead it is the kind of proposal that ought to be applied to any nation that acts as Israel does. We ought to judge Israel not by the fact that it is thought to be a Jewish state (misleadingly so, considering that it is 20% non-Jewish). To treat Israel this way is either anti-Semitism or its opposite. We ought to judge Israel the way we ought to judge all nations that are candidates for foreign aid: by how it acts.
Given that aid to Israel supports a policy that runs afoul of basic human rights, wastes billions of dollars a year in taxpayer money, and is inimical to U.S. interests, we ought to end it. It is, as philosophers like to say, the reasonable thing to do.
Todd May is a Professor of Philosophy, Clemson University.