Ros-Lehtinen: Israel will remain top priority

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Funding for Israel will remain a top priority in a Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives, a top GOP congresswoman said.

"Security assistance to Israel is a top priority for Republicans because our Members understand that it is a vital investment which enhances our nation’s security interests and is a force-multiplier of our efforts to combat extremism in the Middle East," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement. "Charges to the contrary are baseless and politically-motivated."

Ros-Lehtinen was pushing back against suggestions by Democrats that the new Congress set to convene next month with the House under Republican control could target Israel when it slashes spending.

Such speculation was fueled in part by an interview Ros-Lehtinen gave The Jerusalem Post last week in which she said across-the-board cuts would likely apply to Israel as well.

In the past, Congress generally has exempted Israel from across-the-board cuts — for instance, in the wake of the budget crunch caused by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastation.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is set to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee in the new Congress, again suggested that funding for Israel could be pulled out of the foreign aid budget, which the pro-Israel community opposes in part because it would have the appearance of making Israel a "special case."

Ros-Lehtinen suggested that Israel was, indeed, a case apart when it came to foreign aid because of what she said was its added value.

"Republicans will not use security assistance to Israel as a political tool to excuse separate, unsubstantiated increases in U.S. development aid across the board," she said. "Security assistance to Israel advances our security priorities, and the return on our investment in this critical U.S. ally is clear, unlike many other of our overseas programs and operations."

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