Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. foreign aid

Attack on Israel Must End Interfaith Sham

For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.

As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.

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For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.

As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.

The point here is that the letter, as well as the divestment activities of some of these churches, is nothing less than a declaration of war on the Jewish state. So long as these religious groups dedicate themselves to promoting libels against Israel, denouncing the security fence that has saved countless lives from Palestinian terrorism and seeks to isolate Israel and cut it off from its only ally and source of military aid, business as usual between them and American Jewry must end.

Some Jews see such dialogue efforts as an end in itself, but this is a fallacy. Any interfaith program must be based on mutual respect and any church group that aligns itself with Israel’s enemies lacks respect for Jewish life. Dialogue on those terms is a sham.

That these church groups couch their letter in language that seeks to portray their efforts as those of “peacemakers” is all the more offensive. Far from promoting peace, these anti-Zionist clerics are actually fomenting violence by undermining Israeli defensive measures and thereby encouraging Palestinians to think they can succeed in isolating Israel.

The letter, signed by, among others, the leaders of the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, is also particularly vile since it seeks to extend the BDS movement from church investments to the instruments of American foreign policy. It is nothing less than a manifesto seeking to sever the U.S.-Israel alliance and therefore cast the still-besieged Jewish state adrift in a hostile region bent on its destruction.

That the groups should have sent the letter only days after Iran repeated its latest slanders and threats is ironic but no coincidence. Despite their protestations of a desire for peace and non-violence, these churches have been remarkably silent about the religious persecution going on in Iran. It is only little, democratic Israel that is beset by enemies seeking its destruction that attracts their passionate opposition.

It should be specified that in most cases, these positions are largely the work of a small group of left-wing activists that dominate the public affairs policy work of their churches. Most rank-and-file members of Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist churches are, like most Americans, strong supporters of Israel and have little idea that this assault on Israel is being done in their name. But it is incumbent on them as well as other decent church leaders to denounce this letter and other BDS activities. Until they do, no American Jewish group should have any dealings with the signatories or the groups involved in this letter.

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U.S. Aid to Pakistan Must Be Monitored

The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

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The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

Frankly, it is difficult to see why we are providing any aid to the Pakistan state when it continues to support the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups that are killing Americans and our allies. Perhaps some aid to Pakistan’s civil society is warranted, but it must be carefully monitored to assure that it does not help to subsidize Pakistan’s military. Some level of payments for trans-shipment rights may still be justifiable, but I’m not even sure of that. The Pakistan supply line has been closed since November, and it is not clear it has had much of an impact on NATO military operations.

When I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, I found even remote bases well-stocked with the kinds of provisions (e.g., ice cream and eggs) that had been scarce during past supply disruptions. That’s a tribute to the U.S. success in rerouting logistics through the Northern Distribution Network, and yet another reason why we need to think twice before extending any more aid to Islamabad.

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Does Iran Outplay America in Soft Power?

Diplomats and development workers love to talk about soft power, but often misunderstand two important characteristics about it. First, when Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term, he did not mean for soft power to be exclusive of hard power, but rather to be executed in conjunction with hard power. Second, while American policymakers discuss our own plans for aid and development, seldom do we acknowledge how our adversaries also make use of soft power.

Case in point: While the Americans assist Afghans in agriculture (although we have recently stood down and cancelled the missions for our Agricultural Development Teams) and education, there are certain projects popular with Afghans which neither the American government nor U.S.-based NGOs conduct. An Iranian website, for example, just released a photo essay of a recent mass wedding Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee sponsored in the Western Afghan city of Herat. The Committee—whose assets are controlled by the Supreme Leader—is active not only in Afghanistan, but also in Tajikistan, Lebanon, the Comoros Islands, and Bosnia. A year ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Committee’s branches in Lebanon for their relationship to Hezbollah. When I lived in Tajikistan, the local branch of the Committee was conducting surveillance on the U.S. embassy, and contributed directly to the evacuation of all non-essential personnel.

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Diplomats and development workers love to talk about soft power, but often misunderstand two important characteristics about it. First, when Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term, he did not mean for soft power to be exclusive of hard power, but rather to be executed in conjunction with hard power. Second, while American policymakers discuss our own plans for aid and development, seldom do we acknowledge how our adversaries also make use of soft power.

Case in point: While the Americans assist Afghans in agriculture (although we have recently stood down and cancelled the missions for our Agricultural Development Teams) and education, there are certain projects popular with Afghans which neither the American government nor U.S.-based NGOs conduct. An Iranian website, for example, just released a photo essay of a recent mass wedding Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee sponsored in the Western Afghan city of Herat. The Committee—whose assets are controlled by the Supreme Leader—is active not only in Afghanistan, but also in Tajikistan, Lebanon, the Comoros Islands, and Bosnia. A year ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Committee’s branches in Lebanon for their relationship to Hezbollah. When I lived in Tajikistan, the local branch of the Committee was conducting surveillance on the U.S. embassy, and contributed directly to the evacuation of all non-essential personnel.

When I got married a few years back, my wife and I had a very small wedding so as not to break the bank, but when an Afghan gets married, he cannot get away with inviting less than 1,000 of his closest friends, family members, and neighbors. Most impoverished Afghans delay marriages for years because they cannot afford the price tag. The Iranians, however, know that by subsidizing such marriages, they can win hearts and minds for a generation.

What to do? I don’t know. The United States should not be in the business of subsidizing marriages. We do, however, need to recognize that others are. Soft power should not simply be throwing money at random development projects, but should be carefully crafted to gain the most long-term benefits for the buck. Most of our aid and assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted and will derive the United States no long term benefits. The Islamic Republic may start with less, but they are careful to ensure what they do spend will pay dividends for years. We can’t work in weddings, but perhaps we can do more with higher education (the Iranian-backed Khatam Al-Anbia University in Kabul, according to one Afghan professor, has an annual budget which exceeds the entire higher education budget of Afghanistan) and scholarships for study abroad. One thing is certain: What the Iranians now do works, while what the American aid community invests in largely does not.

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