What we sacrifice by continuing to arm Israel

Note: This introduction is longer than normal. Click here to skip to the meat of the article.

It’s early April, and as I’m writing this, over 33,000 people have been slaughtered by Israel in Gaza. Over 13,000 of those killed have been children. That means Israel has killed more children in the last four months than were killed in all global conflicts from 2019 to 2022 combined. It’s likely these figures are underestimates at this point. The health services in Gaza have totally collapsed, meaning it’s impossible to effectively account for all deaths. And once we count excess deaths from the appalling conditions in Gaza, the final tally will come in staggeringly high. 

And through it all, the Biden Administration has enthusiastically continued supplying weapons to Israel. The Administration insists that Israel has committed no crimes. Biden has been unwilling to hold Israel accountable for the increasing Palestinian civilian death toll. For example, he has repeatedly refused to attach conditions to weapons sales and transfers to Israel. 

In contrast, President Biden was incredibly swift to pull hundreds of millions in funding to the UNRWA in response to Israeli claims that a small contingent of the relief agency was affiliated with Hamas. Since then, Western allies like Canada and Australia have reinstated their funding, as Israel has refused to provide evidence to back up their claims. However, Biden has remained steadfast in refusing to reinstate funding, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that this will be permanent. 

The voices urging Biden to change course have become increasingly louder over the last few months. Privately, those within his Administration have urged him to reconsider his unconditional support for Israel. Some staffers have resigned in protest. Publicly, Americans have engaged in countless protests. They have also started a large “vote Uncommitted” movement to voice their dismay during the Democratic Primaries. This movement has garnered hundreds of thousands of votes. I recently wrote an article about how the “vote Uncommitted” movement may impact Biden’s re-election chances. 

As opposition to his policies has risen, Biden has resorted to using Executive loopholes to bypass Congress and continue sending weapons to Israel. This article is going to focus on a single recent arms transfer, where Biden sent 1.8k MK84 2,000-pound bombs, 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, and 25 F-35A fighter jets. I am going to contextualize the magnitude of this transfer by showing what else we could have done with the dollar-equivalent value of this transfer. Click below to skip ahead to any comparison of your choice:

  1. Funded school lunches for 2.75 million students
  2. Provided Section 8 Housing Vouchers for over 205,000 Americans
  3. Restored UNRWA funding of the next 5 1/2 years
  4. Supported ~50,000 Israeli Holocaust Survivors currently living in poverty


There’s so much more I can write here, but this introduction is already getting too long. The point of this article is to contextualize the cost of just a single arms transfer, keeping in mind that Biden has been doing this more or less non-stop for the last 6 months. 

Before we continue, I should note that I evaluate the dollar-value of this arms transfer to be between $1.78 billion and $1.98 billion. This is derived from Defense Budget estimates of the value of these items.

School Lunches

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According to recent estimates, nearly 13 million American children live in food insecure homes. For these kids, free school lunches are crucial to avoid going hungry. For some of them, it’s the only real meal they get during the day. Of course, these free lunches don’t materialize from thin air. After all, something something no such thing as a free lunch. The School Nutritional Association estimates that it currently costs $3.81 to produce a school lunch. So how many student lunches do we sacrifice for the arms transfer at hand?

For the cost of this arms transfer, the U.S. could provide free school lunches for ~2.74 million children for a full school year. 

Helping Americans Afford Housing

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Many Americans feel they are facing a cost-of-living crisis. Perhaps chief among their complaints is the skyrocketing cost of housing. Rents are now an astounding 29.9% higher than they were before the pandemic. Consequently, over 22 million households are “rent-burdened”, meaning that they spend over 30% of their income in rent. 

One of our main housing relief programs is the Section 8 Voucher program, where the HUD subsidizes rent so that applicants pay no more than 30% of their income on housing. There are no good figures on how much the Federal government spends on an average Section 8 Voucher, as each one depends on the income level of the household. However, we can get a reasonable conservative estimate by assuming the “Extremely Low” income level limit for each household (rather than “Very Low” or “Low”), as this means a higher government subsidy. We also consider individuals (i.e. 1-bedrooms) only here. 

The implications here are astounding to me. For the cost of a single arms transfer to Israel, we could provide Section 8 Vouchers to over 200,000 Americans for a year. That is even if we use conservative assumptions. 

Restore UNRWA Funding

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As I mentioned earlier, Biden recently pulled all funding for the UNRWA — the leading humanitarian relief agency operating in Palestine. Over the last two years, the U.S. provided roughly $340m in annual funding to the agency, accounting for nearly a third of the agency’s total budget. The (potentially permanent) withdrawal of U.S. funding to the agency will likely prove catastrophic. The agency will have to significantly scale back its efforts moving forward, even as the need for humanitarian aid to Gaza has exploded by orders of magnitude. 

So, how much funding to UNRWA could Biden have provided instead of this arms transfer?

The United States could restore over 5 years of funding to UNRWA for the cost of this single arms transfer. 

Helping Holocaust Survivors

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Did you know that advocacy groups estimate that one-third of Israeli Holocaust Survivors live in poverty? That means roughly 50,000 Holocaust Survivors live in poverty while their government spends untold billions on subjugating and killing neighboring Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 

This comparison is a lot more back-of-the-envelope, but Smart Asset estimates that it costs ~$3,150/month to retire in Tel Aviv. 

Using the rough Smart Asset retirement estimate, I estimate that the U.S. could fully support the retirement of all 50,000 Israeli Holocaust Survivors currently living in poverty for at least a full year. It feels like this would be a much more appropriate use of American aid funds. After all, the survivors of one of (if not the greatest) tragedies in human history deserve to live the rest of their lives in the utmost comfort and happiness. 


The good news is that a turning point may be coming. Israel made the fatal mistake of killing 7 White, Western citizens this week. And for Biden, this is where the line is drawn (to be clear: it was not the deaths of 13,000 Brown children). He has finally started to put pressure on Israel to start letting more aid through to Gaza. But that’s as far he is willing to go for now. He is still unwilling to change his overall policy towards Israel, meaning that the unconditional weapons sales and transfers will continue until morale improves.

I hope that this article gives people a taste of the kinds of things we sacrifice when we unconditionally fund Israel’s military. These figures are applicable to just one arms transfer. I realize that the economics of arms sales are tricky  it’s often not a straightforward donation of arms to the recipient country. But in this case, arms transfers are funded by U.S. security assistance or grants (per the Congressional Research Service).

As you can probably tell from the tone of this article, I am beyond frustrated with Biden. He has shown himself incapable of applying international norms to Israel in ways that his predecessors have. For God’s sake, Reagan was more willing to pressure Israel when it crossed the line. 

Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Don’t forget to subscribe below if you want to read more stuff like this. I also sometimes write about non-political stuff like sports. Here’s a palette cleanser: an acoustic version of Inwood Hill Park by 6LACK that I just cannot stop listening to.


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