It was a political phenomenon of sorts, it seemed, the likes of which has never been seen in Israel: A Republican senator arrives for a visit and shamelessly tells us that the U.S. will have no other option but to slash defense-related financial aid it provides Israel, despite the yearly aid package of $3 billion essentially amounting to marbles in comparison to the U.S. national debt.
"He must be an Israel hater," some will say in regard to Senator Rand Paul's comments in Jerusalem. The senator, on more than one occasion, hasn't hesitated to preach the need to decrease financial aid. He expressed as much during discussions with us — even if he did so in a tone befitting a first-time visitor. He threw his proposal into the Israeli wind, even surviving publicly without someone tagging him as an Israel hater.
The senator, it appears, is first and foremost tending to his country's financial crisis. He explained himself to us in a logical manner that was easy to understand: In his words, every second that passes the U.S. takes out a loan of $50,000 to deal with the deficit. And in regards to foreign aid: It's an expenditure that has never been popular among the American public, and yet the vast majority of lawmakers in both houses of Congress approve the Israeli aid package without batting an eyelash.
Senator Paul wonders why the United States continues to pour financial aid to countries where the American flag is burned in city squares, "Indeed, this phenomenon of burning American flags is an expression of hate toward America that I haven't seen in Israel," Paul told us. The cut to the Israeli aid package, he emphasized, would be done gradually, but first the flow of financial aid to Pakistan must be stopped, for example, as well as to other countries in the region.
Senator Paul doesn't hate Israel. His speeches point to clear support for us. In general, American analysts saw his visit here as the opening salvo of his 2016 presidency campaign. He's a rising star in his party. The call to cut aid to Israel, and foreign aid in general, doesn't exclusively affect Israel.
"To me it has always been about whether it makes sense for me to borrow money from China to give to Pakistan,” he said.
Despite this view being in the minority in the Senate, we can learn something significant from it. Already in 1996, in his first speech before U.S. Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his goal of reducing, until it completely stopped, American aid to Israel. This declaration was received with applause by the lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Indeed, we only receive military aid, not civilian. But, in light of the financial crisis in the U.S., won't Senator Paul's proposal fall on his colleagues' receptive ears?
Lawrence Solomon, an economic analyst for the Financial Post, wrote that Israel has a "powerhouse economy — the best performing in the developed world — that could easily absorb a $3-billion hit." The question is whether Israel's defense establishment is preparing for the day when the stream of dollars becomes a trickle.