Last week, while hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, President Obama called the blockade of Gaza “inherently unstable” and promised $400 million in foreign aid for “housing, school construction and business development.” Since Israel’s deadly raid on the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza last month, conservatives have been desperately trying to paint Obama as anti-Israel, and they predictably seized on the aid package.
In an interview Friday with Fox Business’ David Asman — who asked in a recent blog post, “Is the president funding terrorism?” — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that the aid “rewarded” Hamas, and that it showed Obama was siding with Iran and Hamas over Israel:
BACHMANN: I also don’t think it was a a good signal for the president to give $400 million in aid to Gaza. He had a choice to make last week. The president had a choice between standing with Benjamin Netanyahu, or standing with Ahmadinejad and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. This should not have been a difficult choice, but the President chose to stand with Hamas and then they were rewarded this week with $400 million in aid. Gee, you don’t think that will embolden them to take future aggressive actions against Israel, do you? [...]
ASMAN: Are you going to start up some sort of congressional investigation to look into this, because it would literally be against the law to contribute money to an organization that funnels money to terrorists. [...]
BACHMANN: And again, I’m against sending this $400 million to Hamas. I think it’s a very foolish thing to do to reward them for these aggressive actions that were taken last week.
Just about every part of Bachmann’s argument, from the facts to the conclusions, is wrong. First of all, the $400 million Obama promised goes to Gaza and the West Bank, and the majority of it will almost certainly go to the larger West Bank. Secondly, none of the money will go to Hamas. The funds will instead be distributed through NGOs and the U.N., as has been U.S. policy in Gaza for some time.
Moreover, Bachmann’s claim that the aid package means Obama “chose” Hamas over Israel is complete nonsense. Beyond that fact that Obama has repeatedly stressed his support for Israel, U.S. aid to Israel easily dwarfs that to the Palestinian territories, and aid to Israel has actually increased under Obama. This fiscal year, the administration budgeted $2.7 billion for Israel, while it plans to give $2.85 billion in FY 2011.
Beyond this, Bachmann’s claim is based on the false suggestion that aid to Gaza is unprecedented. President Bush continued to fund humanitarian operations in Gaza, even after Hamas won an election and took control in 2006. As the New York Times noted soon after Obama took office, “By seeking to aid Gazans but not Hamas, the administration is following the lead of the Bush administration, which sent money to Gaza through nongovernmental organizations.” Under Bush, U.S. giving nearly doubled to the U.N. agency which provides services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighboring countries. The Bush administration increased aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees from $137 million in FY 2006, when Hamas took over, to $268 million in FY 2009, Bush’s last budget.
Bachmann doesn’t explain how aid for school construction in Gaza will help President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, but considering that she called Obama’s supposed appeasement of the country “worse than Neville Chamberlain” two days before the administration led the U.N. in passing the strictest sanctions yet on Iran, she probably can’t explain it.