Here's What Happens When a U.S. Senator Calls for Israel to Be Held Accountable for Atrocities
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy has piqued the temper of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and faces a rebuke from within his own party after demanding for an investigation into “gross violations of human rights” by Israel and Egypt, the top recipients of American military aid.
Released just days after an Israeli soldier was recorded extra-judicially assassinating a wounded Palestinian man in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, Leahy's demand for a probe is the latest sign that American military backing for Israel’s right-wing government is becoming a source of political tension.
On February 17, Leahy (D-Vt.) and ten Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt—incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance,” states the document, which was released to the public in late March. “We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings.”
The letter concludes that the U.S. could stand in violation of the Leahy law (named after the Vermont Senator), a legal framework aimed at preventing American military aid to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
“Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun, and Mutaz Ewisa,” the letter states. “There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.”
Writing for Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss noted that “many of the signatories, including Hank Johnson, Andre Carson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Raul Grijalva, are people of color; this is relevant because as Tamara Cofman Wittes said at Columbia Monday night, Israel support is slowly becoming politicized in the U.S. as the Democratic base becomes more heavily black and Latino, groups that have sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”
Leahy's letter is notable for placing Israeli violations alongside Egyptian atrocities—including the 2013 Rab'aa Square massacre—a rare move in a U.S. political climate where Israel is often deemed above reproach. The United States hands $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel every year, compared to roughly 1.5 billion to Egypt, which funds the country's brutally repressive military junta according to the guidelines of the Camp David Accords. Together, these two countries accounted for more than 75 percent of global U.S. military assistance in 2014.
The joint condemnation was met with sharp criticism from Ben Cardin, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a top recipient of contributions from the pro-Israel lobby. “There’s no comparison here,” Cardin told the publication Forward, according to an article published Sunday. “Israel has rule of law,” Cardin continued. “They have a system that will hold those individuals accountable… There’s no equivalency here.”
Netanyahu lashed out last Wednesday, declaring: “The IDF and Israeli police do not engage in executions. Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them.”
At 972 Magazine, Dahlia Scheindlin called Netanyahu’s response a “strange string of lies.” A report released by Amnesty International in February 2014 found that Israel is killing and wounding Palestinians with impunity, including children. Those findings were soon followed by Israel’s 51-day military assault on the Gaza strip, in which it killed at least 2,145 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians and at least 578 of them children.
According to Defense for Children International – Palestine, at least 28 Palestinian children were “fatally shot by Israeli forces in 2015,” due in part to Israel’s implementation of a shoot-to-kill policy in response to rising tensions and resistance.
Leahy also hit back against Netanyahu's claims, arguing on Wednesday that “The Leahy Law, which has existed for nearly 20 years, applies uniformly, worldwide—no country is exempt—and it applies to specific military personnel and units, not to general security forces, when U.S. aid is involved.” He continued, “This is only fair to U.S. taxpayers, and it is necessary in upholding the rule of law that our country stands for.”
Escalating the global dispute, the Israeli prime minister reportedly called Kerry on the phone Friday and demanded that the Secretary of State declare that Israel is not guilty of extrajudicial assassinations.
The ongoing tangle comes as Netanyahu demands a military aid hike of $4.5 billion a year.
But Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet, “The Netanyahu administration is being so extreme in its policies and practices that their actions are making it impossible to maintain the U.S. policies of a blank check.”
According to Suzanne Adely, co-chair of the international committee of the National Lawyers Guild, “The 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza and the 2013 Rab'aa Massacre have represented turning points, as more voices among mainstream media, government officials and ordinary U.S. citizens say enough."