While America shuts down fire houses, cuts infant nutrition, US subsidizes Israel army sushi courses

Sushi in Tel Aviv. Lior Shapira Flickr

There’s an astonishing piece of news in Israel’s Haaretz today under the headine “Israel allocates funds to help former IDF soldiers become sushi chefs”:

Demobilized soldiers will be able to study Asian cooking this year at the government’s expense, as part of an effort to reduce the number of foreign workers employed as cooks in Asian restaurants by training Israeli professionals to replace them.

It’s shocking for two reasons – one is the xenophobia that is rising to astonishing heights in Israel: not even the cooks of foreign cuisine can be foreign (I’ll come back to this) – but because of what it says about how Israel is using US military aid at a time of drastic cuts and austerity for American citizens. Haaretz says:

The cooking courses are estimated to cost about NIS 4.5 million a year, about NIS 1 million of which will come from the Defense Ministry budget.

That’s a few hundred thousands dollars – small change in the grand scheme of things – but not for the Israeli soldiers who will enroll in the course:

Six courses are scheduled for this year in the north, center and south, with a minimum of 25 students in each course.

Some recently demobilized soldiers taking the course may receive aid for housing and living expenses for the first few months. Though the NIS 30,000 tuition [about $8,000] is fully subsidized, students will have to pay NIS 1,800 each for clothing and equipment.

Is this what US aid is being used for?

Everyone knows that the US gives several billion dollars a year of taxpayer aid to Israel’s military – with few strings attached. The US in effect subsidizes sushi-making courses for Israelis, but at what price?

Here are some examples:

  • All around the US, school systems like the one in Milwaukee, have been laying off teachers due to budget cuts, or cutting basic services like police and fire protection.

  • Public universities in the US are dramatically raising tuition fees on students to make up shortfalls in state funding.

  • Last Autumn, as Congress was looking for ways to cut the US federal deficit by cutting spending and not raising taxes, Congress chose to cut $733 million from the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program – a move which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities would see 700,000 poor women and young children in the United States lose access to a basic nutrition program this year that has been shown to improve child outcomes.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers will be getting all-expenses paid sushi courses.

No debate in US system

What’s even more striking is that despite the superficial impression that support for Israel is a hotly-contested political issue, aid to Israel is completely “bipartisan.” While Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic Party of being insufficiently supportive of Israel, leading members of the Democratic Party boast that under the Obama administration, US military assistance to Israel “has been raised to unprecedented levels.”

Recently Deborah Lipstadt – a leading Holocaust scholar and supporter of Israel – lashed out in a Haaretz interview against “over-the-top pandering” to Israel by US politicians. Lipstadt also said that abuse of the Holocaust by American politicians seeking the favor of Israel’s supporters amounted to “soft-core denial” of the Holocaust.

Lipstadt’s comments were directed at Republicans – who are having presidential primary elections unlike the Democrats – but could have just as easily been aimed at leading Democratic Party politicians as well.

One can only agree with Lipstadt that such pandering is “unhealthy” – so much so that we have absurdities such as today’s news: US-subsidized sushi-making courses for Israeli soldiers while American infants are to see cuts in nutrition and no one has the guts to object.

“Now that we’ve got the recipe, is there really any reason for them to stay?”

As I mentioned, the xenophobia inherent in almost every aspect of Israeli policy – even to the point of objecting to sushi chefs from countries that invented sushi has reached the point where it out does satire.

It reminded me of a sketch from the BBC satirical show Not The Nine O’Clock News from the early 1980s. In it Rowan Atkinson (later of Mr. Bean fame) plays a politician of Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative Party. Watch the whole sketch because you will see that what was political satire thirty years ago has now become real political discourse on a whole range of subjects.

In one line, Atkinson – satirizing anti-immigrant sentiments – says “Now, a lot of immigrants are Indians and Pakistanis, for instance, and I like curry. But now that we’ve got the recipe, is there really any need for them to stay?” The same now goes for sushi in Israel.

Oh, and don’t forget, that last year, just after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the reaction of Israel’s Ynet was, “Israelis fear sushi shortage after quake.” And here’s the Rowan Atkinson sketch.

Laugh, or you might just cry.

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Comments

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Thanks for the post. We need people to wake up and actually think about these things because no matter what your political views are, there are some seriously inherent problems here.

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Celebrity Chefs Face Visa Trouble - New York Sun,
December 26, 2006
"American officials appear to have high standards for that classification.
"It would have to be someone like Wolfgang Puck," a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Christopher Bentley, said.....
An alternative option for chefs is to apply for a temporary visa for workers with "specialty" skills. As a requirement, candidates must have a four-year bachelor degree or the equivalent training.While a skilled chef could technically obtain this visa, known as an H-1B, it rarely occurs, according to Ms. Reichard. "The occupation of a chef is generally not considered a specialty even if they went to culinary school," she said.These visas are often snatched up first by other foreign professionals, including fashion models."

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While America shuts down fire houses, cuts infant nutrition, US subsidizes Israel army sushi courses

what is wrong with the american elite? why do they love soldiers in israel more than the children of their own population. this is not only pathetic but sick.

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I live in Israel and I agree that U.S. money should not be used for this! There must be another budget within Israel that can go towards training soldiers after their release from the army.

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Learn your constitution! There is no direct connection between what the United States Government spends on Israel (Egypt, Pakistan, Palestine, Finland, Belgium and a dozen other foreign allies) or Defense (Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General) or food for that matter with what the States and Local Government spend on fire houses or infant nutrition. Nor is there any certainty what if any use would be made if America ceased subsidising Israel. As America has a $14 trillion dollar debt it might become a drop in the bucket of repaying that debt.

What is sure, is that every Congressional, Senate, Cabinet or other inquiry has come to the same conclusion. America one way or another receives very good value for money for what it gives to Israel. As every cent has to be spent in America it subsidises industries and helps to provide jobs and keep the children of workers in those places from needing food assistance.

Ali Abunimah's picture

Betty, thanks so much for your comment. For your information, many state programs rely on federal support. The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program is one of them. But there are others: For example elderly people in the Northeast risk freezing to death this winter because the US federal government is cutting funds to states for programs which help with the cost of home heating oil, as the Associated Press recently reported

Another example: Israel’s debt is effectively guaranteed by the US federal government. But even our own states don’t have that luxury. No US state’s bonds are guaranteed by the US federal government. Don’t you think it’s bizarre that a foreign country should be able to borrow cheaply on international markets due to US backstopping, while states like California are so bankrupt they have to pay people in IOUs?

As I acknowledged in my piece, the cost of the sushi classes is not the issue. It is the lack of debate about how US aid to Israel is used that is really shocking. If any other country receiving massive US aid were doing this, you know there would be a huge outcry in Congress. I find it surprising, frankly, that people who complain about US aid to every other country — especially poor ones — are content to give billions of dollars to Israel (a rich country!) where people get free healthcare and all sorts of benefits Americans can only dream about. 

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Could you please provide details on what you mean by very good value for what it gives to the entity called Israel. I am trying desperately to understand how anyone could support US funding of even 1 penny to this entity called Israel. This entity called is violating international law, contaminating the environment with toxins from the use of internationaly banned weapons and massacring and terrorizing Palestianians with US funds. Now they are ripping food right out of the mouths of impoverished US citizens so they can eat sushi made my former IDF soldiers...I can't see any value in that...please explain.

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What you say about the return of the $3 billion to the US is true, however, at what cost are we subsidizing American workers? This is the critical question. If our goal as individuals is human rights and social justice, then we must look at the Israel-Palestine issue with open minds. As Miko Peled says in "The Ethnic Cleansing of an Invented People: The Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine is not a thing of the past but an ongoing campaign that is executed by three arms of the State of Israel: The education system, a dedicated bureaucracy and the security forces. The education system is dedicated to indoctrinating and producing soldiers and bureaucrats who will execute and enforce the ethnic cleansing. The bureaucracy is charged with making rules that make life unlivable for Palestinians. Rules that restrict Palestinian access to their lands, and restrict their ability to travel freely to work and school. This same bureaucracy then demands that Palestinians pay for permits to be allowed do these very same basic things that they were denied. The security forces, the most obvious of which is the IDF, are charged with enforcing the restrictions, fighting off the resistance, armed or peaceful, and terrorizing the “invented” people of Palestine."

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Do you actually expect a debate in the U.S. about anything pertaining to Israel? A loud outcry over Israel's foreign policies comes from many other countries; however, when have you last heard, or ever heard, a negative statement about Israel's gross human rights violations by an elected U.S. public official. With bought-and-paid-for Congressional representatives, millions of Christians who believe that Israel is God's chosen country, a powerful Jewish lobby (over 50 pro-Israel PACs), and a controlled U.S. media, don't expect a cessation or reduction of military aid and carte blanche budget support for Israel. The "public" has no control over the powerbrokers in the United States of America.

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The sushi chef program seems reasonable enough. I wish the US government would train US workers to take jobs currently held by foreign workers on H1B visas.

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...remember the hope Obama? Unfortunately Mr. Ron Paul has already conveyed several Israel supportive messages.

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what a brilliant sketch to put in there too! beautifully illustrated!

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To those who think that training Israelis to prepare sushi is a "reasonable" use of US taxpayers money, the point is that millions of Americans live in poverty. Even if they work, they can't get medical insurance. WIC supported a far larger # of mothers as well as infants than mentioned here. It is a short-term program for most, which allows pregnant or recent moms to purchase milk, cheese, vegetables and can't be used for non-edibles. US priorities are totally off! Let's just cut more unemployment benefits for Americans and send that money to the IDF so they can train soldiers in gardening and yoga as well as sushi-making. And let the IDF rationalize its anti-Palestinian worker stance as well as their anti-immigrant views while their US ties are strengthened with such programs.

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This makes me sick. Literally. As I read this, waves of nausea are overtaking me. I swear I would give both my arms and both my legs to see the U.S. and Israel rendered impotent, politically humiliated and shattered, dismantled and exiled and exposed to the world as the hypocritical, ruthless, Zionist-Imperialist war criminals they are. Dear God, we humans are in ruins, for we are either mass murderers driven by arrogance, avarice, and sociopathic sadism, or, we are the shunned, abandoned, loathed, oppressed, caged and slaughtered...although I speak as though this reality is new to humanity...but of course it is not...so I can only beg of all that is Love in this Universe that the Palestinian people are the last to endure this, the absolute evil in man, and the very FIRST to be freed from the liars, thieves and genocidal torturers in Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C....

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And We have HOMELESS VET'S all over the place .
Yet we don't have a problem Kissing Israels backside.
How long are we going to prop up the Illegal occupation of Palestine?