Israeli military aid delegation to Japan returns home

The Israel Defense Forces’ aid delegation to Japan returned home, leaving medical equipment behind for local doctors to use.

The delegation, which brought 62 tons of medical supplies and 18 tons of humanitarian aid to the city of Minami-Sanriko, hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March, landed in Israel on Tuesday.

In its more than two weeks in Japan, the team of 50 doctors, communications specialists and search-and-rescue experts established a medical clinic and cared for 220 patients.

The team left behind the majority of the medical equipment, including X-ray machinery and lab equipment.

U.S. Spending Ignores Domestic Deficits

Write the word "fiscal" and know that a hefty proportion of your readers will find something else to read. So, let’s talk about money instead.

Specifically, about the money the states don’t have.

The only thing you need to know by way of background is that almost all states are required, by their own laws, to balance their budgets. They cannot — as the federal government can — spend more money than they have. So when they find that their expenses are greater than their revenues, they must either cut their expenses or raise their revenues or do both.

When the states enacted their 2003 budgets, they had to deal with an estimated shortfall of $50 billion. That estimate turned out to have been about $25 billion light, which means that the states must now find another $25 billion.

And then comes 2004, with an additional $75 billion in new cuts or new revenues required. So, over a two-year period, there is a total of $150 billion in gaps that by law must be closed.

Plainly, most Americans have no way to process such numbers. Here’s one way to think of them: Aggregate state spending runs about $500 billion a year.

So we’re looking at a shortfall of some 30 percent. And you don’t find the money to cover that kind of shortfall without cutting — slashing, really — core programs and/or raising taxes. Not unless the federal government is prepared to come to your aid in a massive way — which this federal government is most assuredly not.

As it is, the federal government has itself moved from very substantial surpluses to a two-year deficit of $732 billion. On April 24, President Bush said, "This nation has got a deficit because we have been through a war."

But when you add up all the costs of the war — including homeland security, Sept. 11 recovery, Afghanistan and Iraq so far, the total is only $160 billion — about 20 percent of the deficit. Tax cuts for the two years come to $510 billion, or nearly 70 percent of the total. But the president’s deceptions are a matter for another time.

For 2004, the president has asked for $399.1 billion for the military — 51 percent of what’s called "discretionary spending," as compared to $49 billion for health and $29 billion for international affairs, more than five times the aggregate state deficit for the year.

What have our military expenditures to do with the state of the states? After all, we are a long way from the guns vs. butter arguments, when we used to show how many new schools or hospitals could be built for the cost of one new aircraft carrier. Approve the recent war or condemn it, it was as swift as it was and caused as few (relatively) casualties as it did in significant part because of that same aircraft carrier, the precision munitions and so forth.

Like it or not, we are the world’s only superpower, and there really are some people out there who seek to do us harm, and there really are some other people out there who need our help if they are to live in anything approximating dignity.

Few people would argue that all domestic priorities ought take precedence over any military expenditures. So the question is: How much is too much? Which is to say, at the outer "edges" of our military budget –say, the last $100 million or $200 million — are we confident that what we are buying is sufficiently important to warrant cutting back on Medicare, education or on any of the other items that comprise the core of our commitment to our citizens?

For example, we have nine supercarrier battle groups, with a 10th under construction. No other nation has even one. We have more advanced fighters and bombers than all other nations combined, and we have two new stealth aircraft types awaiting production. No other nation has any.

One of those new planes is the F-22, designed during the Cold War to counter new Soviet planes that have in fact never been built. The F-22s cost $204 million each, and the cost of the total program is a shade under $70 billion.

The problem here is obvious: Very, very few of us are competent to say that the F-22 is a luxury we cannot afford. When we do, we sound naive or unpatriotic; fearing ineffectuality, we remain silent or grumble privately. But the Pentagon has a virtually endless supply of "experts," and the geographically decentralized nature of defense contracting today ensures widespread congressional support for major military procurement programs.

Many years ago, I developed a definition of personal affluence: Affluence, I decided, was when you could go ahead with your summer vacation plans even after learning that one of your children needed orthodontia.

I still regard that as a reasonable definition and fear greatly that in the current temper and with our current leadership, we first make our travel plans and only then, if there is money left over, turn our attention to our dental needs — and to food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and health care for all. And there is no money left over. None. As the president well knows.

Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope (Jewish Lights, Woodstock, Vt, 2001).

What To Do About Kosovo?

Israelis are divided over NATO’s military campaign against Serbia — and opinions and policy are being informed as much by history and the Holocaust as by current political realities.

Israeli sympathy for the Serbs, who were fellow victims of the Nazis during World War II, is countered by the images of massacres and streams of refugees as ethnic Albanians flee their native Kosovo.

Some 72 percent of Israelis support Israel’s relief efforts for the ethnic Albanians who are fleeing Kosovo, according to a poll by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke for many when he said last week: “Israel condemns the massacre being carried out by the Serbs and denounces any mass murder.”

Others, recalling how some Albanians actively supported the Nazis, find themselves less sympathetic to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians.

And still others, believing that the “friend of my enemy is my enemy,” are focused on the outside support for the Kosovo Liberation Army, which spearheaded the fight for independence from Serbia before Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic clamped down on the region with an iron fist.

Elyakim Haetzni, an outspoken supporter of Israeli nationalism, lashed out last week at the “leftists” who, in their support for the Kosovo refugees, are “ignoring the fact that the KLA was collaborating with the Iranians and other enemies of Israel.”

But even left-wing Israelis are not unanimous in support of the NATO raids.

Among them is Raul Teitelbaum, a veteran journalist who, at the end of 1943, was among the Jews of Prizren, Kosovo, who were put on a transport to Bergen-Belsen by members of an Albanian division that was working on behalf of the Nazi SS.

“Of course, there were among the Albanians those who fought against the Nazis,” Teitelbaum told JTA. “But those who now say that the Albanians were known to have given shelter to the Jews are manipulating history.

“Clinton says the bombings in Yugoslavia are a lesson of the Holocaust. How can one compare this with the Holocaust? How can tiny Serbia be compared with a world power like Nazi Germany? How can Milosevic be compared with Hitler?”

Teitelbaum also questioned the effectiveness of the NATO raids.

“In a way, President Bill Clinton is the best ally of President Milosevic,” he said. “Thanks to the bombings, there is no longer any [internal] opposition to Milosevic. Thanks to the bombings, Milosevic is able to carry out ethnic cleansing on a scope he had never dreamed of before.”

On the other side of the divide, people such as Labor Knesset member Shlomo Ben-Ami, a historian, had only praise for the NATO operation. In his view, the operation has changed international norms of behavior in the face of atrocities that used to be considered “an internal matter.”

“Kosovo is a belated response to the Nazis,” said Ben-Ami. “From now on, intervention on a moral and humanitarian level is justified.”

Just the same, he conceded — as the Pentagon has already done — that the NATO strikes were unable to stop Serbian roundups of the ethnic Albanians.

“Alas, even the greatest military power in the world, the NATO alliance, cannot prevent a genocide,” said Ben-Ami.

As the public debate continued, the Israeli government, caught up in an election campaign, appeared uncertain how to respond to the NATO offensive.

Israel’s relations with Serbia have been problematic ever since the disintegration of Yugoslavia earlier in the decade. Despite memories of the Serbs as fellow victims of Nazi oppression and despite the fact that Bosnian Moslems were being aided by volunteers from Iran, Israel could not allow itself to support Milosevic, an international outcast.

Israel’s diplomatic relations with Serbia were resumed only three years ago, after the war in Bosnia had cooled. Since then, Israel’s arms industry has sought to sell military equipment to Serbia.

The Serbs have reportedly appealed to Israel for military supplies, according to the April 1 edition of the newsletter Foreign Report. In addition to what the London-based newsletter described as a “shopping list of military equipment,” it says the Serbs are also seeking medicines and credit. The Israeli response is not known.

It was not until March 31, a week after the offensive began, that Netanyahu, denying allegations that he had failed to express his position on the Kosovo crisis, came out in support of the NATO operation.

But his foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, was less enthusiastic regarding the NATO strikes. In remarks quoted last week by Yediot, Sharon told a closed-door audience that Israel had reason not to support the strikes, out of fear that the Jewish state might one day be similarly targeted.

The newspaper said that he asked his audience to imagine what might happen if the Arab residents of the Galilee ever demanded that their region be recognized as autonomous — with links to the Palestinian Authority. Would NATO strike at Israel under such a scenario, as it had done in the wake of the Kosovo Albanians’ attempts at autonomy, Sharon asked.

“Israel must look to the future. It should not give legitimacy to an intervention like that exercised by NATO,” Yediot quoted Sharon as saying.

Sharon subsequently denied the report, as he stated that Israel expects “NATO forces do their utmost to end the misery of innocent people and renew the negotiations between the parties as soon as possible.”

But the subject came up again during a meeting with European ambassadors, when Sharon was asked by the ambassador of Italy what Israel would do if the Palestinians asked for international intervention, as the ethnic Albanians had.

“I hope the question remains hypothetic,” said Sharon. “Israel will never succumb to international pressure.”

While most Israelis are spurning such historical analogies, one journalist saw a parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and the Palestinians.

Harking back to the 1948 War of Independence, Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz wrote: “Kosovo has already been here. At the time, there was no NATO and no television from all over the world, but during 20 months, between December 1947 and September of 1949, between 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were deported from their homes and turned overnight into refugees.”

Meanwhile, as the debate continues, Israel has begun sending aid to the Kosovo refugees.

Last Friday, an Israeli plane carrying warm clothes, tents, medicines and other equipment was sent to help those refugees who had fled to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

And during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government agreed to send additional aid, including a medical team of eight doctors to set up a field hospital in either Albania or Macedonia. Health Minister Yehoshua Matza is leading the mission.

JTA correspondent Douglas Davis in London contributed to this report.