As the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the policy arm of the Black members of Congress, convenes its annual legislative conference in the nation’s capital this week, there are a myriad of discussions on the resource needs of the African-American community. Talk to any Black mayor or state legislator and they will share their frustration over strapped state budgets and the lack of investment from state governments in their communities. The focus of the conversation eventually shifts to Washington DC and the need for greater federal funding of critical areas such as public education, training for law enforcement officers, and transportation infrastructure. The list is long and growing.
It is why the silence of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members on the recently announced White House aid package to Israel is puzzling and disappointing. The CBC’s rhetoric on the needs of the African-American community is not matched by its members demanding equity in the federal aid process. This is all the more intriguing when a Democrat is sitting in the Oval Office, as Caucus members belong to the party of the current president.
This week the Obama administration announced an aid package for the state of Israel; $3.8 billion per year over ten years. That’s $38 billion over a decade, by far the most foreign aid the United States provides any country. The sum also represents less than Israel sought, $12 billion less. This aid package is unprecedented in many ways. To start, it is the most military aid the United States has ever granted a foreign nation. Congress was completely cut out of the process. Though lawmakers must approve the funding on an annual basis, its approval will be a formality. For the first time it includes funding, some $500 million, for missile defense programs and includes a stipulation that Israel must eventually purchase all of its military products from American defense industries. The Memorandum of Understanding constructed between the White House and Israel does prevent Congress from increasing aid to Israel but the appropriation bill in Congress had earmarked $3.4 billion, slightly less, for Israel. This was the ultimate backroom deal, with the signing ceremony not taking place with the two country’s leaders but surrogates in a low-key event at the State Department. The Washington Post reported national security adviser Susan Rice stating that the deal represents the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel. It does break the bank.
To make matters worse, our aid to Israel is overwhelmingly used to support its military operation in a region where significant human rights abuses have occurred against an isolated and literally quarantined Palestinian population. While the United States government argues against nuclear proliferation, our dollars help to support a government that possesses nuclear weapons.
As our nation invests heavily in the defense of Israel, the needs of many African-American communities go unmet. And the silence of Black members of Congress to this inequity is deafening. African-Americans in places like Detroit, Baltimore, Ferguson and Baton Rouge are drowning in drought conditions. The scarcity of resources and the economic devastation in these communities calls for a federal strategy. There is little likelihood of that occurring if the very legislators who represent these communities remain silent when aid is disproportionately earmarked for a foreign nation. The calls for an “urban Marshall Plan” or “urban agenda” or the litany of needs cited by Caucus members fall flat when we continuously come up short when the budget pie is divided. Fair share in Washington DC seems to mean our elected officials co-sign checks and demand nothing in return.
To put aid to Israel in perspective, you have to consider the paltry support provided sub-Saharan African nations, many of them larger in size and population. Nigeria receives about $703 million, South Africa $480 million, Kenya $600 million and Ghana $155 million. Then you look at Haiti, a country still beset with problems related to the devastating 2010 earthquake. The United States provides Haiti about $291 million in aid. Against this backdrop China is making major investments in western Africa to the point that its state television network, CCTV, features a regular program on development in the continent. The outsize influence of the Israeli government over U.S. foreign policy is frightening.
Let’s bring it closer to home. The federal appropriation for Howard University is $221,821,000. This, for a historically Black college that is struggling despite its tremendous legacy and contributions to this nation. Federal support for Howard has remained relatively flat over the last five years. If Howard were to receive an aid package equivalent to what we provide Israel, it would dramatically transform that institution, create a world-class public research university with a mission of educating African-Americans and make it an economic engine for the entire Washington region.
This scenario is a dramatic failure of Black leadership. Little matters in politics except where dollars end up. Moral victories are few and far between, and when achieved, fall short in solving the challenges that are universally recognized as encumbering Black people. We are the only political constituency that is expected to believe that money doesn’t matter. Whether it’s paltry federal support for public education, allowing the infrastructure of our communities to deteriorate or minimal federal student aid and support for historically Black colleges, we are consistently told that we just need to manage resources better. Meanwhile we find nothing wrong with our aid to the Israeli government or spending an obscene amount on our military.
From a practical perspective this aid package to Israel further frustrates efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in that region. With the United States playing such a heavy hand, and showing an obvious bias toward Israel, there is little hope for a two-state resolution. In fact, there is little reason to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has any intention in working toward the creation of a geographically defined Palestinian state. It’s why the posture of President Obama on this matter is disappointing and this aid package a failure. According to a report in the Washington Post, the president expressed hope that now that the aid package had been finalized Israel would be more accommodating to the question of Palestinian rights. It seems a strange way to negotiate when you have the upper hand.
African-Americans must hold our elected officials to a higher standard and begin raising the expectation for a fairer and more just allocation of federal resources. At a minimum we should have the expectation that our elected officials will not give away the bank and return to us emptyhanded. Silence is no longer an option.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.