Blinken Hasn't Ended Aid for Israeli Military Units Tied to Killings, Rapes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watches U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak to the media in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 12, 2023.

(Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Blinken Hasn't Ended Aid for Israeli Military Units Tied to Killings, Rapes

"Blinken continues a very long American tradition of very selective enforcement of human rights laws," said one critic.

Amid global condemnation of Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip and the Biden administration's complicity, ProPublicarevealed Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has for months ignored staff recommendations to cut off American aid to Israeli military and police units accused of human rights violations including killings and rapes.

"The incidents under review mostly took place in the West Bank and occurred before Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel," which was the catalyst for the current Israeli escalation in Gaza, reported ProPublica's Brett Murphy. "They include 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."

Murphy obtained government documents and emails and spoke with current and former U.S. State Department officials, who said the recommendations from the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum—named for former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who authored laws restricting aid to human rights abuses—were sent to Blinken in December and "they've been sitting in his briefcase since then."

While U.S. President Joe Biden has gradually increased his criticism of Israeli forces killing civilians in Gaza, "multiple State Department officials who have worked on Israeli relations said that Blinken's inaction has undermined Biden's public criticism, sending a message to the Israelis that the administration was not willing to take serious steps," Murphy wrote.

The Israeli government did not respond to the reporter's request for comment, but a U.S. State Department spokesperson did. "This process is one that demands a careful and full review," the American representative said, "and the department undergoes a fact-specific investigation applying the same standards and procedures regardless of the country in question."

Global critics have long accused the U.S. government of giving Israel special treatment while Israeli officials and troops subject Palestinians to apartheid, ethnic cleansing, occupation, settler colonization, and now "plausibly" genocide, according to the International Court of Justice. Since October, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza.

The reporting sparked a fresh wave of outrage. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights declared that "this is how Antony Blinken will go down in history: for enabling Israel to commit the gravest of war crimes with U.S. tax dollars."

Alex Kingsbury, a member of The New York Times editorial board, noted that "Blinken continues a very long American tradition of very selective enforcement of human rights laws," while Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official, said that "this would be a career ender for a normal Cabinet secretary under normal circumstances."

Democracy for the Arab World Now "submitted Leahy sanctions requests for two of the Israeli units that Antony Blinken has putzed and punted on, in breach of U.S. law, despite clear evidence of despicable abuses—[including] torture, executions, and even murder of an American," according to executive director Sarah Leah Whitson. "But Antony Blinken insists on special privileges and exemptions for Israel, refusing to hold it accountable, U.S. law be damned."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Robert S. McCaw said in a statement that "despite these internal report State Department reports detailing egregious human rights abuses by the Israeli government, including allegations of rape and torturing children in the West Bank, Secretary Blinken has ignored his own staff and continued to greenlight weapon shipments to the responsible Israeli military and police units."

"The glaring disconnect between the gravity of the accusations and his refusal to act on them is deeply disturbing," McCaw added. "Secretary Blinken must halt any further weapons transfers that the Israeli government will use to commit more human rights violations."

Human rights attorney Qasim Rashid pointed out that in contrast with how the Biden administration has treated Israel, the U.S. government pulled funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East—as Palestinians in Gaza starve to death—over the "mere allegation" that a small number of staff were involved with Hamas.

"If we had been applying Leahy effectively in Israel like 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," Josh Paul, a former director in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and a member of the forum who resigned in protest in October, told Murphy.

Another State Department official, Annelle Sheline, stepped down late last month as a foreign affairs officer at the Office of Near Eastern Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. She said that with the U.S. government continuing to arm Israel as it devastates Gaza, "trying to advocate for human rights just became impossible."

Sheline's resignation came just days after the Biden administration accepted Israeli government assurances that its use of U.S.-supplied weapons complies with international law—which human rights advocates and officials worldwide, including some congressional Democrats, have challenged over the past few weeks.

Over two dozen Democrats wrote Wednesday to Blinken and two other top officials that "we remain concerned by the stark differences and gaps in the statements being made by the State Department and White House on how Israel has not been found to be in violation of international humanitarian law, either when it comes to the conduct of the war or when it comes to the provision of humanitarian assistance, which are contradictory to those made by prominent experts and global institutions."

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