Republican Opposition to Israel Aid Is the Latest Headache for the Pro-Israel Community

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Bob Good of Virginia speaks as left to right, Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida listen during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 13. All four were among 14 Republicans who voted against emergency defense aid for Israel. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA>org)

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON— Since Oct. 7, a growing number of Democrats have called for a cease-fire in Gaza, harshly criticized Israel or refused to send it more money.

But increasingly over the past few weeks, when both chambers of Congress sit down to vote, it is a faction of Republicans, allied with Donald Trump, who have impeded additional foreign aid to Israel. In control of the House of Representatives and with sway in the Senate, this group is pivoting away from something pro-Israel activists have long taken for granted: unfettered U.S. defense assistance for Israel.

That dynamic was on display on Tuesday, when the Senate passed a $95.3 billion bill to aid Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. A few Democrats voted no, protesting Israel’s conduct and the human toll of the war in Gaza. But the bulk of opposition came from Republicans, and Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said he would almost certainly not bring the Senate’s bill up for a vote.

Many of the Republicans who oppose the additional aid to Israel say they object to it on fiscal grounds — it simply costs too much alongside the government’s “unjustified, even harmful spending,” one GOP lawmaker said. Others don’t want to deliver a victory to President Joe Biden.

But Matt Brooks, the CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the most influential Jewish group in the party, says he is worried about a subset of Republicans he called “neo-isolationists” — although he believes the trend can be nipped.

“We are worried and we’re working on tamping down these folks who want to withdraw America from the rest of the world, this neo-isolationist wing,” he said. “I think the balance of our friends who have been friends over the years are still strong friends that will continue to be so.”

Other Republicans are less sanguine. “This new Republican Party will soon throw Israel under the bus,” Nachama Soloveichik, the chief spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, said Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter.

The idea of conditioning aid to Israel first gained popularity with Democrats, especially a progressive wing that sees aid as a tool to influence Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. By contrast, Republicans who have slowed down or opposed recent aid bills say they remain adamantly pro-Israel, but argue that a ballooning deficit means decades of no-strings-attached foreign aid must come to an end.

“We’re heading for a fiscal reckoning in this country, and so we’ve got to begin to address that and some of us on the Republican side are willing to try to do so,” Virginia Rep. Bob Good, one of 14 Republicans who voted against another failed Israel aid bill last week, said. Good emphasized that he has long been pro-Israel.

“And so there is much available, unjustified, even harmful spending in our federal, bloated government to pay for not just the Israel supplemental but all future supplementals,” he said, referring to the budget bill.

The 14 Republicans who voted against that bill were all members of the Freedom Caucus, which is closely aligned with Trump. That number was a sign of a growing phenomenon: Virtually the only GOP House lawmaker who consistently voted against Israel until now has been Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who was among the 14.

The Republicans who voted against the aid last week say the money must be offset somehow, whether it is through cuts to other budget items or through turning the foreign aid into a loan — a solution Trump and his allies support.

“The supplemental aid package should be a loan to the countries in question, as suggested by President Trump,” Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime staunch backer of Israel, said in a statement. Graham voted against Tuesday’s Senate bill, as did Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who are also historically pro-Israel.

“A loan on friendly terms allows America, who is deeply in debt, a chance to get our money back and changes the paradigm of how we help others,” Graham added. “”President Trump is right to insist that we think outside the box.”

Johnson has signaled that he is also on board with offsetting aid: Last November, he sponsored an unsuccessful bill that conditioned Israel aid on cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, the first time Congress conditioned aid to Israel on anything.

And he agreed with the Freedom Caucus to introduce last week’s aid bill under a process that required a two-thirds majority — dooming its chances.

Pro-Israel groups are urging a return to aid bills with no strings, and argue that the fraction of a percent of the budget that goes to aid for Israel is critical for fighting shared foes.

“As Israel battles Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian proxies on its borders, we are urging both Democrats and Republicans to move beyond partisan differences and support emergency funding for the Jewish state,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said in an email.

Richard Goldberg, a longtime Senate Republican staffer who worked closely with Democrats to advance aid to Israel, echoed the message that polarization was undercutting efforts to protect Israel and American national security.

“I’m generally concerned with the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together to support democratic allies in times of crisis, let alone their ability to invest in our own national security — whether it be securing the border or rapidly expanding our defense industrial base,” said Goldberg, now a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Six of the 14 House Republicans who voted against Israel aid last week replied to JTA queries, and all but one of them — save Massie — emphasized their pro-Israel bona fides but said that America’s finances are in dire straits.

Rep. Aaron Bean of Florida said in an email that he had voted for pro-Israel measures but that “Our national debt just surpassed $34 trillion, and in order to be fiscally secure for future generations Congress needs to offset this spending.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia sent a press release that said “Congress should not — and doesn’t need to — borrow money to support our greatest ally in the Middle East.”

Reps. Elijah Crane of Arizona and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina made similar arguments. A spokesman for Massie, meanwhile, pointed to his posts on X, in which he argued that Israel was better equipped to handle spending than the United States.

“Israel has a lower debt to GDP ratio than the United States,” Massie posted before the vote. “This spending package has no offsets, so it will increase our debt by $14.3 billion plus interest.”

Mark Mellman, who directs the Democratic Majority for Israel, which cultivates support for Israel among Democrats and works to oppose Democrats who vote against aid to Israel, said the new front of opposition to Israel aid was a cause for concern. He echoed Brooks’ fears of isolationism.

“Increasingly on the Republican side there is this revived strain of isolationism,” he said. “There’s a lot of people on their side that simply don’t care what happens anywhere else but here and don’t realize that what happens elsewhere affects what happens here.”

Brooks, however, has not given up. He feels that he can persuade pro-Israel Freedom Caucus members to support aid, even without any offsets. As opposed to some Democrats who have voted against the aid, he said, these Republicans do say they back Israel.

“They’re not voting no because they’re unhappy with Israel. They’re not voting no because they don’t support Israel,” he said. “They’re voting no from a fiscal responsibility perspective. I disagree with it in a time of war. Israel needs our help and America needs to be there. But having said that, I don’t think this is a long term concern that these people are not going to continue to be friends and allies.”


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