83% of senators call for boosting exorbitant U.S. aid to Israel; Bernie Sanders one of 17 who didn't

Israel already gets $3 billion per year, 53 percent of U.S. foreign military financing, but 83 senators want more

Published April 25, 2016 7:10PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders, Benjamin Netanyahu   (AP/Charlie Neibergall/Debbie Hill/Photo montage by Salon)
Bernie Sanders, Benjamin Netanyahu (AP/Charlie Neibergall/Debbie Hill/Photo montage by Salon)

The U.S. gives more than $3 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel every single year — more than any other country receives, by far.

In fact, more than half of U.S. foreign military financing goes to Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey.

The vast majority of the Senate, however, thinks $3.1 billion per year isn't enough.

More than four-fifths of the U.S. Senate signed a letter pressuring President Obama to boost military aid to Israel, Reuters reported Monday.

A whopping 83 of the 100 senators signed the letter, including 51 (94 percent) of the 54 Republicans and 32 (73 percent) of the 44 Democrats.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, one of the Senate's two independents, did not sign the letter.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who is struggling with front-runner Donal Trump for the Republican nomination, did endorse it.

The bipartisan initiative was led by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons. Their letter calls on Obama to quickly reach an agreement on a military aid package for Israel.

The letter does not specify by how much exactly U.S. military aid should be increased. The Israeli government wants $4 billion to $4.5 billion, yet some U.S. officials have proposed $3.7 billion.

Sanders, one of the just 17 senators who did not sign the letter, has broken with Democratic Party dogma and criticized Israel for its atrocities in Gaza and its oppression of the Palestinians.

The self-declared democratic socialist has insisted in interviews and a presidential debate that Israel's attacks in its summer 2014 war in Gaza were indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Numerous reports by the United Nations, leading human rights organizations and even the U.S. State Department acknowledge that what Sanders has said is correct.

According to the U.N., the Israeli military killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of whom were civilians, including at least 550 children, in its 51-day attack on the densely populated Gaza Strip, bombing civilian homes, hospitals, schools, places of worship and shelters for displaced people.

Sanders, who also happens to be the first Jewish major presidential candidate, has made a critical break with pro-Israel bias. He has called for the U.S. "to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity" and "to work together to help the Palestinian people."

The senators' letter, which was obtained by Reuters, asserts "we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge."

The language of the document sounds very similar to the rhetoric used by Sanders' opponent, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who pledged to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge both in the Brooklyn presidential debate and in her extremely hawkish speech at the 2016 policy conference of the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC — a 4,000-word address in which she did not once mention the Israeli military's illegal, almost five-decade-long occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The proposed increase in funding "is intended to boost Israel's military and allow it to maintain a technological advantage over its Arab neighbors," Reuters reported.

The senators' letter also pledges to consider boosting U.S. funding for cooperative missile programs with Israel, at the price of hundreds of millions of tax dollars.

Obama hopes to reach the 10-year military aid deal before he leaves office in January.

Many analysts see the agreement as a way for the U.S. to appease Israel after reaching an historic nuclear deal with Iran.

Hard-line right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who staunchly opposed the diplomatic agreement and has pushed for war with Iran for years, has butted heads with Obama over the deal.

A U.S. official told Reuters, "We are prepared to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history."

Since 1967, the U.S. has given well over $100 billion of tax dollars to Israel in unconditional military aid. And this is not considering other forms of aid, both tangible — in the form of trade deals and subsidies — and intangible — in the form of diplomatic support and scores of unilateral U.S. vetoes of U.N. Security Council resolutions that criticized Israel's illegal activity.

The U.S. spent $5.9 billion on foreign military financing in 2014. Israel, with $3.1 billion, and its neighbor and ally Egypt, with $1.3 billion, received approximately 75 percent of all foreign military aid money.

Iraq and Jordan tied in third with a mere $300 million each.

Israel alone raked in 53 percent of U.S. foreign military financing.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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