One of us is a member of Congress from Florida who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and used to work as a national security specialist at the Department of Defense. The other is also a former Pentagon official who now leads an organization that promotes strong U.S. defense policies, including close cooperation between the United States and Israel.
One of us is a refugee from Vietnam whose family fled a communist regime that seized power after the Vietnam War. The other is an American Jew whose ancestors fled virulent anti-Semitism in Europe. Just as the United States was a safe haven for our families, we recognize — on both an emotional and intellectual level — that the state of Israel, which reestablished ancient Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land, has been a sanctuary for millions of Jewish families enduring persecution in their native lands.
Informed by our personal and professional backgrounds, both of us believe that U.S. military assistance to Israel — beyond helping our ally to deter conflict with aggressive state and non-state actors, to prevail if conflict occurs, and to protect its civilian population from persistent rocket and missile threats — directly advances America’s national security interests. It also promotes our shared democratic values in a region of the world where autocracy predominates.
We appreciate the fact that U.S. military aid to Israel — which currently amounts to $3.8 billion a year and is used to enhance Israel’s offensive and defensive capabilities — has long enjoyed broad support from the American public, from their Democratic and Republican representatives in Congress, and from presidential administrations of both political persuasions.
It is precisely because support in this country for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been bipartisan that it has also been enduring.
That’s why we’ve been troubled by recent calls from U.S. political leaders in some quarters to cut security assistance to Israel, or to condition that assistance on Israel making changes to policies toward the Palestinians that these U.S. leaders find objectionable. We believe this approach is counter-productive and dangerous.
To be clear, we don’t think U.S. aid constitutes a blank check. A recipient of American assistance, even an ally, might conduct itself in a manner so inimical to our interests or values that we should reconsider our support.
Nor do we believe Israel is above reproach. But we do believe that much of the criticism leveled at Israel is unsupported by strong evidence, shorn of important context, or curiously focused on the Jewish state rather than other countries engaged in egregious behavior.
It is incumbent upon champions of a strong U.S.-Israel security relationship — like us — to make an affirmative case for why U.S. assistance to Israel advances America’s national security interests and should be preserved even though America and Israel, like any two sovereign nations, will never see eye-to-eye on every policy.
The case is compelling. Armed with U.S. support, Israel is combatting threats to both of our countries — whether it’s Iran’s nuclear program or its provocative military actions in the Middle East, including the transfer of precision missiles and drones to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. Israeli intelligence has been crucial in helping prevent attacks by the Islamic State and Iran-backed militants, including attacks aimed at U.S. targets. Israel’s cutting-edge defense technologies, some of which were co-developed with the United States, help protect American forces and our allies. Simply stated, U.S. aid to Israel is not charity. It’s a smart, targeted investment in our own security.
Moreover, U.S. military assistance to Israel promotes peace in a variety of ways. First, Israel’s military (and economic) strength, and its willingness to stand up to Iranian aggression, was a vital factor leading to the historic Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
Second, helping Israel enhance its military capabilities has a deterrent effect on its adversaries, making it less likely they will attack Israel and compel Israel to respond, both of which would cause civilian casualties.
Finally, history shows that Israel is willing to take risks to achieve a just peace with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians when Israel feels strong and supported, not when it feels weak and vulnerable. For those of us who support a two-state solution, U.S. aid to Israel is a critical part of the formula for success.
Going forward, we hope that congressional leaders from both political parties, Biden administration officials, and other stakeholders will take proactive steps to explain to the American public the many benefits that accrue to the United States from our military aid to Israel, and to push back against those who seek to cut or condition this vital support.
Stephanie Murphy is a Democrat representing Florida’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Michael Makovsky, PhD, is President and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
Originally published in The Hill