Even the United States Congress’ most rabid pro-Israel supporters have not dared propose what incoming House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has.
Cantor told the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) that he wants to see Israel’s massive three billion dollar annual stipend—the largest of any U.S. aid recipient—reclassified and not considered “foreign” aid. Its enormous subsidy would no longer be the purview of the State Department, but the Pentagon. If he had his way, Israel would be directly funded by the U.S. military.
The reason is because Cantor hopes to make sweeping cuts in assistance to Middle East countries that do not operate according to “U.S. interests.” This may entail the House defunding the entire foreign operations budget. Allowing the Pentagon to control money for Israel would likewise shield it from newly-elected Tea Party members who are prepared to drastically slash the aid budget if not freeze it altogether.
“Minority Whip Cantor’s proposal is as transparent as it is reckless,” said Rep. Nita Lowery (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Foreign Operations subcommittee. She said this not because Cantor is making Israel an exception to other countries and circumventing (theoretical) congressional oversight of its assistance package, but because killing the foreign aid bill could hamper diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and ultimately hurt Israel.
Cantor may be oblivious to the fact that some military analysts—despite the perfunctory qualifications—have begun to openly question whether Israel has become a strategic liability.
General David Petraeus too had the temerity to probe the ramifications of the U.S. relationship with Israel. In prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, he indicated that lack of progress in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created a hostile environment for the United States, and by extension, American troops:
“The [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples … and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”
Beyond the gall of suggesting Israel be exempt from inclusion in the U.S. foreign aid bill, Cantor’s insolent remarks undermining the authority of the U.S. president in front of a foreign leader were equally distasteful.
Cantor met visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a New York hotel on Nov. 11—prior to Netanyahu’s talks with Secretary of State Clinton. Curiously, Cantor was the only American lawmaker present.
A brief released by his office about the one-on-one meeting with Netanyahu read:
“Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”
Ron Kampeas, Washington bureau chief of the JTA, said of the statement:
“I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president … to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House—that sounds to me extraordinary.”
Is it any wonder that the notoriously intransigent Netanyahu now has even more reason to rebuff the half-hearted Middle East peace overtures made by President Obama? Knowing that the House Majority Leader has your back at his own government’s expense?
Cantor’s remarks are unconscionable. As a U.S. government representative, undermining the authority of the president in a private, face-to-face meeting with the leader of a foreign country (yes, Israeli is that) should be considered grounds for censure.
Those who have followed Cantor’s career know this is not the first time he has criticized American policy, even when on foreign soil.
When George W. Bush was in office, it was many a Republican who clamored that foreign policy should be at the president’s directive, not Congress’. Indeed, Cantor himself wrote that Nancy Pelosi, when visiting Syria in 2007, had “usurped the executive branch’s time-honored foreign-policy authority.”
It is only natural to speculate where Cantor’s loyalty lies. Readers are left to draw their own conclusion. What is clear, however, is that Cantor has crossed the line, and more than once. Unlike Israel, he must not be given a free pass.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.