By: Avi Strauss  | 

Students Debate Aspects of U.S.-Israeli Relationship

On Monday, December 14, YUPAC, the Israel Club, and the Debate Club hosted a debate on U.S.-Israeli relations. The debate featured three students who sparred over the topics of Jonathan Pollard and United States aid to Israel vs. Israeli self-reliance in front of a crowded Rubin Shul.

Junior Esti Hirt (SCW ‘17), the Programming Director for YUPAC and moderator of the debate, explained why the clubs organized the event. “We felt that unlike other campuses in the U.S., we are predominantly pro-Israel and wanted to delve deeper into the issues of American-Israeli relations rather than just address the relationship itself.”

Hirt formally introduced the topic of United States aid to Israel prior to commencing formal debating between the two sides. She noted that Israel currently receives 3 billion dollars annually.

Speakers were each given five minutes to argue their respective sides followed by two-and-a-half-minute rebuttal times.

Junior and economics major Eli Diamond (YC ’18) opened up by arguing in favor of continued U.S. aid to Israel. He explained that the aid comes from discretionary funding from the U.S. foreign aid budget. He pointed to the chaos around the world and in particular in the Middle East and that continued aid to Israel is vital.

He then continued by pointing to the fact that despite differences on many issues, the entire, diverse Republican presidential primary field, with the exception of Rand Paul, agrees that aid to Israel must remain in place.

He ended by citing Vice President Joe Biden’s assertion that military foreign aid, 1% of military spending, is the best bargain American taxpayers get when it comes to government spending.

Senior and political science major Yaacov Sultan (YC ’16) argued against the status quo, opening that aid is harmful to the Israeli economy and undermines Israel’s ability to be self-reliant, stating, “Accepting aid from the United States has forced Israel into a state of dependency.”

He pointed to the successes of Zionism, both militarily and culturally, citing Yuval Levin, who detailed how Israel’s economy was growing around 5% in the 1950’s and 60’s prior to receiving U.S. aid. However, after Israel began receiving aid in the 1960’s, Israel’s growth rate shrunk to about 2.1% for the following 25 years.

Sultan then shifted his focus to the United States Military-Industrial Complex, a term coined under the Eisenhower Administration. Given the conditions tied to the aid Israel receives, Israel is forced to buy military supplies and equipment from the so-called Iron Triangle of entangled military interests in the United States rather than support its own military manufacturing and industry. Israel is seen as the Robin to the U.S.’s Batman and a puppet of the U.S. in the Middle East.

Diamond began his response by emphasizing the fact that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu recently requested an unprecedented $50 billion dollars from the United States. Diamond said Israel needs to be able to protect itself against the emerging threats in its region.

Sultan then challenged Diamond’s assumed facts and asserted that in his most recent speech to Congress, Netanyahu stated to Congress that he wanted to reduce the amount of aid Israel received.

The debate then shifted to the topic of recently released Jonathan Pollard, who was imprisoned for 30 years for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel, and whether or not we should welcome him back into the Jewish community.

In this round, Sultan affirmed the premise of the debate. He started by noting that Israel was entitled to the intelligence that Pollard admitting to handing over based on past agreements between Israel and the United States, the Memorandum of Understanding. Sultan then transitioned to inform the audience that Pollard ended up being sentenced to a far longer term than he agreed to in a plea deal.

Sultan then stressed that the issue of gaining Jonathan Pollard’s release was a bipartisan cause in the Israeli Knesset, uniting even the Arab and Jewish parliamentary members.

Junior Daniel Geller then took the floor arguing that Pollard should not be viewed as a hero. Geller argued that in addition to passing off information to Israel, he disclosed the names of thousands of the U.S.’ confidential informants, greatly putting United States security interests at risk.

Geller proceeded to argue that Pollard certainly put United States lives at risk, did what he did for money and, given Pollard’s treason, he should certainly be deprived of rights in the same way a standard felon is.

Sultan cited reports that indicated all crimes against Pollard were “alleged” and refuted the premise that Pollard did what he did for money. Sultan also stressed that since the trial and Pollard’s imprisonment, nearly all the information surrounding the circumstances of his crime and arrest have been declassified. Therefore, he continued, it makes no sense to waive claims that there isn’t enough information for us to know if Pollard’s actions were in fact more extreme than what we’ve otherwise been told.

Geller spent much of his rebuttal challenging this framing of the issue. He ended by arguing that harboring a double standard by Jewish criminals in contrast to others does immense damage to the Jewish community’s standing on such issues as crime and loyalty to America.

After the rebuttals, Hirt opened the floor to questions from the audience, which ranged from questions about facts brought up during the debate to the core values that each debater was trying to represent.

Those in attendance seemed to have gained a significant amount from the event, after listening to two sides of two issues that aren’t generally at the forefront of political debate, like Israel’s immediate security concerns and settlement construction. “It was fascinating to see two peers take diametrically opposing positions on such relevant controversial issues” said Stern College for Women Student Council President Rachel Rolnick.

“I definitely feel I gained a tremendous amount,” said junior Aron Harkham. “Even though I was familiar with many of the facts the two sides presented, it was unique and impactful the way the presenters linked them together into coherent arguments.”

Hirt was proud with the way the event ran and the opportunity to host a debate for the student body. “This was the first event like this that we’ve run, but we’re certainly looking into having more opportunities to present the nuances of different sides to different issues.”