Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Congress Is Blazing through the Budget Process this Year

According to our initial research findings, during the Bush Administration, Israel killed more than 3,000 Palestinian civilians, often with U.S. weapons, in violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. Since President Obama took office in January, we’ve been trying to press his Administration and Congress to both investigate Israel’s violations of the Arms Export Control Act and hold it accountable for these violations by cutting off or, at the minimum, conditioning future U.S. military aid. Toward that end, we published an open letter to President Obama, signed by more than 400 organizations, which echoed this demand; we also sent a similar sign-on letter to the Appropriations Committees signed by 40 prominent national organizations opposing the President’s FY2010 budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel. In previous blog postings, we let you know about our unsuccessful attempts to get into the House Appropriations Subcommittee and Committee “mark-ups” of the FY2010 budget, where U.S. military aid to Israel should have been debated but was actually put through to the next budgetary step without discussion. Unfortunately, we have more bad news about the willingness of Congress to approve suggested FY2010 military aid levels to Israel without debate. On July 9, the House moved with alacrity and passed H.R.3081, the FY2010 appropriations bill for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, which includes the President’s budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel. Also, on the same day, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction for foreign aid programs apparently neglected to do its job and sent the appropriations bill directly to the full appropriations committee for it to “mark-up.” In a previously unannounced session, the committee approved the budget by a vote of 29-1. The budget now goes to the always-opaque Senate calendar for the full Senate to vote on at some future date. It’s ironic that Congress took a big step towards approving nearly $3 billion in military aid to Israel in the FY2010 budget on the 5th anniversary of the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that Israel’s Apartheid Wall is illegal and must be torn down. The ICJ ruled that no state may “render aid or assistance” to Israel to maintain its still-standing illegal wall. How about that for a big U.S. thumb in the eye of international law? Barring a miraculous objection by a Senator on the floor of the Senate or a Presidential veto, the FY2010 appropriations bill approving $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel is likely to be a done deal as soon as this month. Usually Congress doesn’t reach this point in the budget process until the leaves start changing colors and a fall breeze is in the air. This is good news for a crisp budget process, but bad news for our plans to try to influence the budget process this year. In fact, Congress’ new-found budget alacrity has really messed up our planning process. We had anticipated that the August Congressional recess would be the perfect time for activists to meet with their Members of Congress to discuss with them their concerns about the FY2010 budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel and to raise budget amendment language with Members of Congress to prevent U.S. military aid to Israel from being used to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians. So far, we’ve got a great response to our call for activists to schedule meetings with their Members of Congress—more than 125 people in 32 states and 90 Congressional districts are in the process of doing so. We’ve even made this really cool Google Earth map below to show you in which Congressional districts people are organizing meetings. (To view the map, you’ll need to install the Google Earth plug-in. Follow the on-screen directions and give it a few minutes to install and load.) Well, all is not lost. Even though Congress has already more or less finished the budget process for FY2010 relating to military aid to Israel, we can still use this opportunity to press for accountability and demand of our Members of Congress that previous Israeli violations of the Arms Export Control Act are investigated and reported on before this money is actually disbursed in the fall. If you would like to volunteer to set up a meeting with your Member of Congress during the August Congressional recess to discuss this issue, then please click here. It’s our responsibility as good citizens to convey our ideas and concerns to our Members of Congress. If we don’t and if we don’t make it manifest to them that they have constituents who oppose military aid to Israel, then we can’t expect otherwise than for Congress to continue approving this aid without objection. Sign up to organize a meeting with your Member of Congress in August by clicking here.