United States is right to provide foreign aid to Israel

BY SAM LANE | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Family members, teachers, and people of my synagogue in St. Paul have been drilling into my head the idea of Israel as the sacred, untouchable Jewish state for as long as I can remember.

I listened and agreed to those sentiments without question for nearly the first 20 years of my life. But two recent events have, for me, provoked an increased understanding that America must stand with Israel and support democracy in the small Middle Eastern country with which we have so much in common.

The first was my trip to the country two summers ago. Placing my hands on the Western Wall and walking in the path of my ancestors were humbling and powerful experiences.

The second event concluded Tuesday, when I flew back to the Midwest from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) 2012 Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

The conference comes at one of the most volatile times in Israel's relatively short history and the events at the gathering proved as much.

Not one speaker failed to mention the danger of nuclear activity in Iran. During his speech to AIPAC, President Obama said — and every speaker echoed — America must be open to do whatever it takes to protect the world from Iran.

Admittedly, I came to the conference with questions about America's alliance with Israel. Why spend more than $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel instead of other nations? Why should we be even considering engaging in a conflict with Iran during such a difficult economic time at home? And as AIPAC used its in-your-face, our-way-or-the-highway rhetoric and show to capture the attention of 14,000 conference attendees, my skepticism grew.

It grew, that is, until an Israeli band played "Hatikvah," the country's national anthem, and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu addressed the crowd.

Netanyahu spoke at length about Iran and the dangers of an Iranian government with nuclear capabilities. He also iterated Israel's right to defend itself, by itself — a point Obama made clear in his speech.

While I appreciate Obama's acknowledgment of this fact, it seems all too obvious to me. Israel does not need the United States' permission to defend itself. What Israel does need is America's support.

It needs America's support because, as Netanyahu said, Israel is the "forward position of freedom in the Middle East."

"[Israel is] the only place in the Middle East where minorities enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Arabs enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith; the only place in the Middle East where real judges protect the rule of law," Netanyahu said.

I have heard the argument that democracy is not contagious and America's aid to Israel won't cause neighboring Arab countries to embrace that style of government. But that isn't the issue. The U.S. must continue to show support for Israel, not for the purpose of spreading democracy but to protect it in a state where a democratic way of life faces fire from neighboring countries daily.

Beyond Netanyahu's statements, conference attendees heard testimony from Wendy Hoffman, a mother of an American Iraq war veteran who spoke at length about Israel's support for American soldiers serving in the Middle East. During a trip to Israel, she visited the site where Israeli manufacturers produced equipment used by American soldiers.

"It just felt so really important to me that this country that I knew nothing about was doing so much to help our American soldiers," Hoffman said in a video.

As a Jew, I will always understand the importance of a Jewish homeland, and I will fight for that homeland to be in the state of Israel. But as an American, I also understand the importance of supporting a nation that shares our values and protects our men and women in uniform.

I don't know the proper course of action for dealing with nuclear activity in Iran. But I do know that when I heard a man exiting the conference on Monday night say, "The American-Israel relationship has got to continue," I agreed wholeheartedly.

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