Budget is mixed bag for Jews


WASHINGTON — The release of a Bush Administration budget each year is likely to mean one of two things, depending on where you sit in this town: Good news for defense spenders, bad news for domestic spending.

The Jewish organizational world is able to indulge in a good news/bad news paradigm: Domestic Jewish lobbies fret about cuts to essential social services, while the pro-Israel lobby welcomes the billions in defense assistance inevitably pledged to Israel.


That’s especially true for the 2009 budget released earlier this month by the White House. It represents the first step toward fulfilling Bush’s pledge last year to raise Israel’s annual defense assistance package from $2.4 billion to an average of $3 billion. At the same time, Bush has proposed more cuts in domestic spending.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee was expected to welcome the boost in funding for Israel. Organizations advocating for social issues were not so sanguine at proposed cuts in spending to health care for the elderly and the poor, refugee assistance, domestic security spending and housing.

“If most of the cuts to domestic programs in this budget were adopted, it would have dire consequences for Jewish social services and the hundreds of thousands who depend on them,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the United Jewish Communities, the national arm of local Jewish federations.

The proposed cuts were criticized as well by officials at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an advocacy organization bringing together the major synagogue movements, other national organizations and local Jewish communities, and the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Daroff said opponents of the domestic cuts still have hope: While the Israel money is virtually guaranteed to win congressional approval, the opposite is true of Bush’s domestic cuts because of his lame-duck status.

“It’s important to remember that the proposal and what will be passed by Congress will be vastly different,” Daroff told JTA. “The biggest message is it is a political year, it’s an election year, there is great anticipation by a majority on the Hill that the White House will change hands. All of these forces together make it unlikely that much of this budget will end up becoming law.”

On the defense side, Israel stands to receive $2.55 billion in 2009. That will increase incrementally until 2013, when the assistance will settle at $3.1 billion annually until 2018. That’s an overall $30 billion defense package, up from the $24 billion, 10-year plan launched in 1998.

Bush upped the amount in part to assure Israel that it would maintain its qualitative edge; he is also proposing $20 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. The president has explained both proposals as needed to contain the threat of Iranian hegemony and spur Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Published Feb. 13, 2008