Source: Blinken hasn’t decided whether to sanction Israel for alleged abuses by one of its army units


WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has yet to make a determination on whether the United States will withhold some defense assistance from Israel because of human rights abuses by one of its army’s most notorious units.

A source familiar with the State Department review of alleged abuses by units of the Israel Defense Forces on Friday pushed back against reports earlier this week that Blinken had made a determination to withhold funding from the Netzach Yehuda battalion, which was formed to integrate haredi Orthodox soldiers into the military.

There has been a determination that Israeli forces committed gross human rights abuses, the source confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, but there is not yet any decision about whether to withhold funds. The review was at the stage of determining whether Israel had applied appropriate accountability and remediation for the abuses. The process is “ongoing,” the source said and, under a U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding, U.S. officials are consulting with their Israeli counterparts.

Soldiers in the Netzach Yehuda unit have been arrested and jailed for a litany of abuses against Palestinians over the years, including torture and assault.

Israeli officials expressed alarm at news of the alleged determination after it was first reported by Axios.

“If somebody thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF — I will fight this with all my powers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Passover message. “As our soldiers are united in defending us on the battlefield, we are united in defending them in the diplomatic arena.”

Biden administration officials have been at pains to say that the process is routine under what is known as the “Leahy Law,” named for the retired Vermont Democratic senator who authored it, Patrick Leahy. The law withholds funds from units receiving U.S. defense assistance that have determined to have committed abuses.

“In any country in which we have a security relationship, we will apply the tenets of the Leahy Law fully,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Thursday in a briefing with reporters. “The law is pretty clear in terms of what those standards are, and those standards are applied across the board to every country in which we have a security relationship with. That will be the case anywhere where we find there to be action or activity that is in violation of the Leahy Law.”

Blinken said earlier this week, unveiling the annual State Department report on human rights, that he would have more to say about the review of Israel’s abuses, but did not say when that would happen.

“This is, I think, a good example of a process that is very deliberate, that seeks to get the facts, to get all the information, that has to be done carefully, and that’s exactly how we proceeded, as we proceed with any country that is the recipient of military assistance from the United States,” he said.

The Israel section of the State Department’s 2023 report focuses on abuses committed by Hamas, particularly on Oct. 7 when it launched the war with massacres of hundreds of people inside Israel.

But it also reports that Israel’s response “had killed more than 21,000 Palestinians and injured more than 56,000 by the end of the year, displaced the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza, and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis.”

The source familiar with the Leahy review insisted to JTA that the overall defense relationship between Israel and the United States has not been affected by the review.

Under the law, the country receiving assistance is given time to address the abuses.

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