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Should Zionists Oppose Foreign Aid?

This week, the Congresswomen of “The Squad” pushed to rescind $1 billion in American foreign aid to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, predictably whipping the American Jewish community into a frenzy
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September 28, 2021
An Iron Dome anti-missile station (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

This week, the Congresswomen of “The Squad” pushed to rescind $1 billion in American foreign aid to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, predictably whipping the American Jewish community into a frenzy. Influential individuals and organizations alike released statements condemning the move, with Congressman Ted Deutch going so far as to accuse Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib “and all those who see no place for a Jewish state on the map” of antisemitism. I applauded Congressman Deutch and the Democrats for immediately reassuring their constituents of their commitment to the American-Israeli alliance by overwhelmingly voting to fund the Iron Dome later that week. Worth noticing during the unfolding drama, however, was a familiar sentiment arising among younger Zionists in our community, many of whom have recently expressed the opinion that in an era when Israel faces accusations and mischaracterizations of imperialism and colonialism, perhaps making a spectacle over the United States’s funding of the Jewish state’s military is not the wisest move. 

Rudy Rochman is one of these pro-Israel activists, and an impressive one at that. Rochman achieved fame in specifically younger Jewish circles by publishing Youtube videos of him in conversation, and often in confrontation, with Palestinian activists, anti-Zionist Jews on college campuses, and neo-Nazis. His popularity has only increased over time— he now stands at nearly one hundred thousand followers on Instagram, where he promotes educational videos on Zionism and his own appearances on various talk shows. Rochman is known for characterizing the Jewish people as a great indigenous tribe, comparable to the Native Americans, and therefore tethered to Eretz Yisrael with a natural right to resurrect our ancient civilization there. I have my own opinions on this angle of pro-Israel activism, but no one can deny its positive impact on, for example, AIPAC’s student coalition.

“The way the aid is structured causes Israel to be completely dependent on the US. I don’t want Israel to be dependent on any country…Israel can sustain itself and build its own weapons here.”
— Rudy Rochman

A recurring, eyebrow-raising Rochman argument is that Israel should not be given foreign aid. “The way the aid is structured,” he says, “causes Israel to be completely dependent on the U.S.. I don’t want Israel to be dependent on any country…Israel can sustain itself and build its own weapons here.” Rochman asserts that Israeli military manufacturing companies are going out of business by way of American replacement, symbolic of a greater issue at hand: Israel is adamant about its sovereignty, independence, and legitimacy, but actions speak louder than words. 

This begs the question: should Zionists oppose foreign aid? 

My answer is no, not because I don’t greatly admire the activism of Rochman, but rather because I believe that Zionism has consistently been successful thanks to its habit of forging alliances. An example of this would be the shocking mutual recognition of Israel in 1948 between bitter adversaries, the United States and the Soviet Union, … a decision that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik famously cited as proof of God’s approval of Zionism. 

Of course, my heart compels me to romanticize Israel as the grand embodiment of Jewish self determination, unrestrained by the burden of shady weapon deals and political maneuvering. And of course, I understand where young Zionists come from in ascribing to this idealism. This impulse is what led many of us, myself included, to feel uneasy immediately following the signing of Abraham Accords. We felt compelled to celebrate that Israel had made peace with Arab states after decades of intolerance, yet found it impossible to ignore the human rights track record of said Arab states. At the end of the day, we applauded, because knowledge of nations and their histories, especially in the Middle East, informs us that peace is not built upon symbolic acknowledgements of each other’s “right to exist,” but rather on mutual interests. To expect anything else of the American-Israeli relationship would exceptionalize the Jewish state, rather than normalize it.  

I want the two nations I feel the utmost affection for to be aligned with each other in the diplomatic arena, not by way of “dependence,” but by way of cooperation and coercion. Israel should pressure the United States away from signing another Iran Deal, and the United States should pressure Israel away from further settlement construction in the West Bank. None of this is possible without a good relationship, which any voyeur of international politics will tell you means a transactional one.

Zionist Jews in the Diaspora should not oppose foreign aid, and should indeed stand up for our fellow Jews when life-saving Israeli defense infrastructure is under attack, not because Israel is not strong enough to stand on its own two feet, but because the highest indicator of strength for any country is in engagement with the world, not isolation from it. 

Zionist Jews in the Diaspora should not oppose foreign aid, and should indeed stand up for our fellow Jews when life-saving Israeli defense infrastructure is under attack, not because Israel is not strong enough to stand on its own two feet, but because the highest indicator of strength for any country is in engagement with the world, not isolation from it.


Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

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