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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Biden Exaggerates Aid to Israel

Vice President Joe Biden incorrectly told a pro-Israel group that President Obama’s $3.1 billion request for military aid to Israel last year was “the most in history.” The record was set in fiscal 2000, when the Clinton administration secured $3.12 billion for Israel — which is not only slightly more in nominal dollars but much more in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Biden is also taking credit for a level of spending that was set by the Bush administration as part of a 10-year, $30 billion agreement reached with Israel in 2007. In requesting $3.1 billion in his fiscal 2013 budget last February, Obama was honoring that agreement.

The vice president spoke on March 4 to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group that describes itself as “America’s leading pro-Israel lobby.” A year ago, when he was running for reelection, Obama addressed the group himself. In that speech, Obama correctly said that “security assistance has increased every single year” under his administration.

The vice president, however, went too far in labeling the president’s fiscal 2013 request a record.

Biden, March 4: President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service produces reports on U.S. foreign aid to Israel. On table B-1 of its March 2012 report, the CRS says military aid to Israel reached its highest level in raw dollars at $3.12 billion in 2000 – slightly more than the $3.075 billion given to Israel in fiscal 2012 and the $3.1 billion Obama has requested for this fiscal year.

The report says that the “FY2000 military grants include $1.2 billion for the Wye agreement and $1.92 billion in annual military aid” for a total of $3.12 billion. The annual military aid — known as the Foreign Military Financing grant — was supplemented that year by additional military funding as an incentive to sign the so-called Wye River Memorandum, an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration as part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the late 1990s.

The additional military funding that year was so important to President Clinton that he vetoed the fiscal 2000 foreign aid appropriations bill “in part because it did not include the Wye funding,” CRS says. Congress shortly after approved the $1.2 billion in Wye funding for Israel.

In addition to being slightly more in raw dollars, the $3.12 billion given to Israel in 2000 has the buying power of nearly $4.2 billion in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

This is not the first time that an administration official called the $3.1 billion military assistance to Israel a record high. Antony J. Blinken, the deputy national security advisor and former national security advisor to Biden, made the same claim in a speech on March 26, 2012. “And despite tough fiscal times, President Obama has requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for 2013 — the most ever,” Blinken said.

One last thing: The $3.1 billion in the president’s proposed 2013 budget is in keeping with the funding level agreed to by the Bush administration in 2007.

The CRS report says that the Bush administration and Israel signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding in 2007 on a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package that would “raise Israel’s annual Foreign Military Financing grant from a baseline of nearly $2.55 billion in FY2009 to approximately $3.1 billion for FY2013 through FY2018.”

Jarrod Bernstein, the former White House director of Jewish outreach, in a Feb. 14, 2012, blog post on the White House website said: “Our overall security assistance to Israel has gone up every year since 2009, with $3.1 billion requested for 2013 — a $25 million increase from 2012, which fulfills the commitment made in our ten year Memorandum of Understanding.”

— Eugene Kiely