Biden and Blinken—Weapons to Israel Violate US and International Law

President Joe Biden speaks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) during a trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos in the East Room of the White House on April 11, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Biden and Blinken—Weapons to Israel Violate US and International Law

Will the U.S. government finally do the right thing when it comes to holding Israel to account for its clear violations of human rights standards?

As Israel continues its merciless assault on Gaza, there is at least some sanity taking hold in regard to U.S. policy on military assistance to Israel. Several weapons shipments have been put on hold by the Biden Administration and congressional leadership over concerns about Israeli conduct in its ongoing slaughter in Gaza. This is surely the result of relentless protests, organizing and advocacy by the broad, growing movement for a ceasefire.

Currently, as Israel surrounds and attacks Rafah, and ceasefire talks sputter, the U.S. government is poised to likely give Israel a clean bill of health in a report to Congress.

All that is required of Congress and the president is to do their jobs and uphold existing U.S. and international law.

The report, expected any day now, is required by National Security Memorandum - 20 (NSM-20), and is not specific to Israel. It simply states that countries receiving U.S. military assistance must follow U.S. and international law regarding the laws of war and allow humanitarian assistance to reach civilians. Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Colombia, Ukraine and Israel are the countries addressed in the report. Israel has speciously asserted that it is in compliance.

NSM-20 was adopted by the Biden administration in a compromise with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), supported by 18 other senators, when his and other amendments were denied a vote in the recent military supplemental appropriations process. Subsequently, 88 House members led by U.S. Reps. Jason Crow (D-Col.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) wrote to the Administration expressing their support for holding Israel accountable under NSM-20 and section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits U.S. security assistance to any state which restricts U.S. humanitarian aid.

Reports by the executive branch to Congress are ordinarily obscure and dry, read only by committed policy wonks. This one is justifiably getting more attention, as it is a tool for accountability that merely restates existing U.S. and international law, at a time when ending the calamity in Gaza could not be more urgent. The fact that the report may be delayed (it was due May 8) reflects internal divisions within the State Department not just about Israel’s fallacious claim of compliance, but what to recommend to the executive branch in terms of possible action against Israel.

This is likely the first bite at the apple regarding the NSM-20 process, as peace advocates, and our allies in Congress, see it as a potential lever to impact U.S. policy toward Israel, hopefully to bring about an end to the war.

Congressional action is of course only one form of pressure on the Biden Administration to end military aid to Israel and press for a ceasefire. The remarkable spread of campus protests and consistent "No Preference" or "Uncommitted" Democratic presidential primary votes in state after state are powerful statements of no confidence in Biden’s bear hug of support of Israel. All that is required of Congress and the president is to do their jobs and uphold existing U.S. and international law. The question is whether they can, for once, stand up to the pro-apartheid, anti-Palestinian human rights lobby and do the right thing.

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