Blinken ignores recommendation to restrict aid to Israeli military and police who committed human rights violations
04/21/2024 // Belle Carter // Views

A panel at the State Department has reportedly recommended to Department Secretary Antony Blinken to disqualify several Israel Defense Forces (IDF) members and police officers from receiving U.S. aid. According to the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum, they've reviewed allegations that these law enforcement men committed serious human rights abuses, such as murder and rape.

Blinken ignored and failed to act on the human rights violation allegations that mostly took place in the West Bank before the Hamas Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The panel included reports of extrajudicial killings by the Israeli Border Police; an incident in which a battalion gagged, handcuffed and left an elderly Palestinian American man for dead; and an allegation that interrogators tortured and raped a teenager who had been accused of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Reportedly, recommendations for action against Israeli units were sent to Blinken back in December, but "they've been sitting in his briefcase since then," an official claimed. A State Department spokesperson also said that the agency takes its commitment to uphold U.S. human rights laws seriously. "This process demands a careful and full review," the spokesperson said, "and the department undergoes a fact-specific investigation applying the same standards and procedures regardless of the country in question."

The panel, which is made up of Middle East and human rights experts, is named for former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), the chief author of 1997 laws that require the U.S. to cut off assistance to any foreign military or law enforcement units – from battalions of soldiers to police stations – that are credibly accused of flagrant human rights violations.

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Meanwhile, the Guardian reported this year that the State Department was reviewing several of the incidents but had not imposed sanctions because the U.S. government treats Israel with unusual deference. Officials told nonprofit organization and news agency ProPublica that the panel ultimately recommended that the secretary of state take action. As per the news agency, top U.S. officials quietly looked at more than a dozen incidents of alleged gross violations of human rights by IDF and Israeli police since 2020 but still had continued access to U.S. weapons for the units responsible for the alleged violations.

More than 25,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli forces since the initial attack back on Oct. 7. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly condemned the "violence" – which his government retaliated with many "genocidal attacks. U.S. President Joe Biden has been criticized for failing to rein in Israel's "indiscriminate" bombing of Gaza.

Leahy Laws' recommendations are for banning aid to other nations, but not Biden's favorite Israel

An investigation by the news outlet revealed how special mechanisms have been used over the last few years to shield Israel from U.S. human rights laws. Meanwhile, other allies' military units who receive U.S. support such as Ukraine, have privately been sanctioned and faced consequences for committing human rights violations.

According to reports, hundreds of foreign units, including Mexico, Colombia and Cambodia, have been blocked from receiving new aid. Officials say enforcing the panel's proposals can be a strong deterrent against human rights abuses. "If we had been applying Leahy effectively in Israel as we do in other countries, maybe you wouldn't have the IDF filming TikToks of their war crimes now because we have contributed to a culture of impunity," said Josh Paul, a former director in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and a member of the vetting forum. Paul resigned in protest shortly after Israel began its bombing campaign of Gaza in October.

In 2020, Leahy and others in Congress passed a law to tighten the oversight. Blinken's department set up the vetting forum to identify Israeli security force units that shouldn't receive American assistance. However, until now, it has been paralyzed by its bureaucracy.

The reports of wrongdoing come from nongovernment organizations like Human Rights Watch or press accounts. The State Department officials determining whether to recommend sanctions generally do not draw on the vast array of classified material gathered by America's intelligence agencies. Actions against an Israeli unit are subject to additional layers of scrutiny. The forum is required to consult the government of Israel. Then, suppose the forum agrees there is credible evidence of a human rights violation. In that case, the issue goes to more senior officials, including some of the department's top diplomats who oversee the Middle East and arms transfers. Then the recommendations can be sent to the secretary of state for final approval, either with consensus or as split decisions, ProPublica reported.

"Even if Blinken were to approve the sanctions, officials said, Israel could blunt their impact. One approach would be for the country to buy American arms with its funds and give them to the units that had been sanctioned. Officials said the symbolism of calling out Israeli units for misconduct would nonetheless be potent, marking a sign of disapproval of the civilian toll the war is taking," it further reported.

According to the documents the news site obtained, the forum has reviewed reports of multiple cases of rape and extrajudicial killings since it was formed in 2020. But Israel argued it has addressed allegations of misconduct and human rights abuses through its own military discipline and legal systems. (Related: UN Human Rights Council passes resolution calling for suspension of arms sales to Israel.)

Bookmark for updates on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and Iran.

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