Senior New York Times commentator Tom Friedman is not an anti-Semite and will never be one. He wholeheartedly believes that he is objective and genuinely wishes to help Israel. Yet even a real friend like him is inspired by the “commander-in-chief’s spirit” these days.
In February 2002 I reviewed his peace initiative with astonishment: Full Arab world recognition of Israel’s right to exist in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders. As an Israeli leftist, I lauded the fact that a senior commentator realized the problem is not merely Israeli-Palestinian, but rather, has to do with the Arab world’s unwillingness to accept any sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East.
February 17th, 2002 is a day I will never forget: It was during the Intifada, with the worse still ahead of us. I participated in an intimate Peace Now demonstration as an active member. For more than 30 years, I shared Friedman’s view that a return to the 1967 borders is a magical solution. Yet during the rally, we were informed that a suicide bomber killed two children at a pizza parlor. The protestors observed a moment of silence, before the next speaker, a Palestinian “moderate,” took the stage. His speech focused solely on accusing Israel while going back to the Nakba and early days of Zionism. The terror attack at the pizza parlor in Karnei Shomron was not mentioned at all. I left the rally with a sense of disgust.
The next day, I read in the New York Times that the Saudi ruler, who was preoccupied at the time with a PR effort after “fine Saudi boys” carried out the September 11 attacks, adopted the Friedman initiative and turned into the “Saudi peace plan.” Friedman must have noticed that the Saudis added a condition that no Israeli could accept: The immigration of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (“1948 refugees”) to Israel, thereby amending its demographic character. Did Friedman fail to understand back then already that this is a symptom of the problem: The Muslim world’s unwillingness to accept Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East?
Israeli know-how at America’s service
In a recent interview, Friedman accused Israel of misusing American money precisely when the US needs it more than ever to boost US employment. Many foreign journalists believe that the Jewish People exists here only because of America’s money. When they are told that the Israeli economy’s scope is hundreds of billions of dollars a year and that US aid constitutes a miniscule portion of it, they refuse to believe it.
Of the $3 billion handed over by the US annually, only $690 million are transferred to Israel in practice. The rest – 75% of the aid – remains in the US and constitutes an indirect government subsidy to US arms manufacturers – Boeing, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas etc. – thereby enhancing US employment.
Israel’s acquisitions in the US are far greater than the American grant. Just recently we read about a $1.8 billion acquisition of Hercules aircraft from Lockheed. Does Friedman think there are no other global cargo plane manufacturers? Moreover, as result of the US grant, Israel has given up on the development of weapons that would compete with America’s military-industrial complex. In addition, Israeli developments were integrated by American manufacturers, thus saving the lives of US troops on the battlefield.
Friedman must also be aware of the tens of thousands of Israeli engineers – the finest scientists, educated through investment of billions – who brought their know-how to Silicon Valley. This constitutes a huge contribution to the US economy. A CEO of a Silicon Valley company who admitted that he seeks Israeli employees told me there is no better background than Israeli education and chutzpah, coupled with a few years in the IDF, in order to produce “Yankee ingenuity.”
The price of Arab oil
So what are we talking about here, Mr. Friedman? The $690 million in aid transferred by the US to Israel in shekels? As the Americans like to say: That’s peanuts. After all, the $200 billion aid offered to AIG by the US Administration quickly left the US for overseas banks: Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and other Swiss banks where oil billionaires deposit their money. Meanwhile, the Fed repurchased more than a trillion dollars in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage bonds – yet who got the money ultimately? Hundreds of billions of dollars flowed out of the US into the pockets of Saudi sheikhs who held these bonds. Where did the Saudis get all the money they lend you with interest so that you inflate your real-estate prices, Mr. Friedman? It’s the Arab oil you poured into your SUVs – and this is certainly not Israel’s fault.
So take back the $690 million you gave us. We’ll do just fine without it. It comes out to about NIS 400 (roughly $120) per every Israeli citizen – most certainly not something that would bring us down. We don’t have to read claims about Jews and money in Friedman’s writing. We could hear them for free, for 20 years, at Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s sermons.
If Friedman still wishes to know what the US money contributes to the regional conflict, I learned about it when I escorted foreign journalists during a tour in the territories. A Palestinian industrialist told me: "There will be no peace between us until Palestine has a normal economy. I’m an industrialist and one of the only ones who produce something in Palestine. Yet what we have here is an economy unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s not only the official budget of the Palestinian Authority, who receives about $2 billion annually from abroad and spends it on tens of thousands of needless internal security orgnizations and government jobs. The Americans and Europeans are completely crazy."
The Palestinian industrialist added that "the US and Europe contribute several more billions a year to the UN, UNWRA, ANERA, USAID, and to hundreds of other humanitarian groups that finance Palestine’s private consumption. Tens of thousands of Palestinians create nothing, make a living by producing occupation-related documents, and receive thousands of dollars a year in exchange."
"If Israelis want genuine peace, they must curb the flow of money to the Palestinians," the industrialist said, "peace will only come when we the Palestinians and rest of the Arab world realize we must choose between productive work and the ongoing struggle against the Jews."
Overall, one should not conclude that Israel has no need for the US or its aid. America and Israel share deep interests, and moreover, in my view no other nation in the world is able to overcome crises in a more admirable way than the US. Personally, wherever I visited in the US, I only encountered warmth and solidarity with Israel and Israelis, based on a sense of shared destiny, shared values, and mutual sympathy. In addition, no other nation in the world holds the Jewish aspiration to freedom more highly as the Americans. It is for good reason that the Jewish myth of the Exodus can be found in many American traditions.
In the final analysis, I suggest that Israel renounce the small portion (25%) of US aid that flows directly to Israel, ensuring that all of the aid will be used for acquisitions at American plants and remain in the US to support american job growth.
Avi Trengo is a journalist