JERUSALEM – President Obama’s reelection campaign misleadingly claimed GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich would all cut foreign aid to Israel.
“Stand against ‘zeroing out’ aid to Israel,” reads the title of a page of Obama’s official campaign website.
Continues the page: “Republican candidates for president Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel – and every other country – to zero.
“Stand up to this extreme isolationism and join the call to reject the Romney-Perry-Gingrich plan,” the campaign concludes
The claim was so faulty that Politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-check project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, labeled it a “ridiculous distortion” deserving of the site’s “Pants-On-Fire” rating.
Obama’s campaign told Politifact.com the website’s claim on foreign aid stems from a series of statements made at a foreign-policy themed debate last November in which Romney, Perry and Gingrich stated they would review U.S. foreign aid.
Discussing U.S. aid to Pakistan, Perry stated at the debate: “The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars. Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”
Perry did not say he would cut off foreign aid to all countries, but that foreign aid would start at “zero” and then aid would be discussed.
Gingrich was asked if he agreed with Perry’s position.
“What he said made absolutely perfect sense,” replied Gingrich. “Consider the alternative. You’re giving some country $7 billion a year … or in the case of Egypt, $3 billion a year. So you start off every year and say, ‘Here’s your $3 billion, now I’ll start thinking’? You ought to start off at zero and say, ‘Explain to me why I should give you a penny.’”
He continued: “The Pakistanis hid Bin Laden for at least six years in a military city within a mile of their national defense university. And then they got mad at the people who turned him over to us? And we think those are the acts of allies? I think that’s a pretty good idea to start at zero and sometimes stay there.”
During the debate, Perry was asked if his aid review policy included Israel.
He explained: “Absolutely. Every country would start at zero. Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”
Romney himself later agreed with this same approach when he was addressing Pakistan at the same debate.
“One of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments – I agree with Gov. Perry. You start everything at zero,” he said.
Following the debate, all three candidates clarified their respective administrations would continue to fund Israel.
Gingrich referred to a 10-year memorandum from the Bush administration that laid out future funding commitments.
“We have a 10-year commitment that we have to live out,” Gingrich said. “So I think because we’ve made this long-term commitment, you wouldn’t be able to go back to zero.”
Jeff Ballabon, an activist with the Perry camp, told Ben Smith of Politico that Perry’s proposal would only benefit Israel: “Perry believes Israel’s an extraordinary friend and our greatest ally. … Under Rick Perry, Israel will set the bar for judging foreign aid to any country. Perry’s Start at Zero is exactly the right policy – no country stands to benefit more than Israel from merit-based foreign aid.”
Romney’s spokesman, meanwhile, clarified to the Jewish Telegraphic agency that “he would exempt Israel from the policy.”