To the Editor:

Both the supporters and the opponents of the Bush Administration’s “gag rule” on abortion information or counseling make a factual error when they claim, as Rachel Criswell does, that it is “global.” It may apply to other recipients of foreign aid, but it does not affect Israel, where abortions are performed and counseling provided with the help of U.S. tax dollars.

Like every other industrialized country except the United States, Israel has publicly funded national health insurance. Also, as in most other industrialized countries, abortions are legal, and in Israel, they are covered by public funds funneled through private health insurers.

Israel circumvents the “gag rule” because it is an exception to the rules governing disbursement of U.S. foreign aid. Unlike all other recipients, Israel receives billions of dollars in Economic Support Funds each year as a block grant without any ties to particular programs, hence with no accounting as to how the money is used. Since the U.S. tax dollars are freely fungible, it is impossible to say they are not being used to pay for publicly insured abortions in Israel. Under the present arrangement for pouring billions of U.S. tax dollars into the Israeli budget, it would be impossible to prohibit their use for abortions unless such services were completely excluded from Israeli national health insurance and all other publicly funded programs. It is on the grounds of such fungibility that the U.S. government denies funds to organizations even though they separate off programs that involve abortion counseling. But Israel is allowed to be exceptional.

It is understandable why the two of the most effective lobbies in the U.S. Congress do not want to publicize the point on which their positions are in conflict. But it would be interesting to see what a consistently anti-abortion administration and Congress would do in the face of the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

Jeffry Larson GRD ’70

April 12, 2005

The writer is a librarian for Romance Languages & Literatures, Linguistics and Classics at Sterling Memorial Library.