Senator demands US probe Israel for alleged human rights abuses

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that, if proven, could affect US military aid to these countries.

By: Politico and World Israel News Staff

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.

Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions US military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses.

“In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law,” the signatories state in the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday evening from an organization that provided input for it.

The Leahy Law’s application and impact has been difficult to measure, and while US funding to a particular foreign military unit may be cut off as a result of the law, overall US military aid to the country need not be stopped.

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The letter’s real impact may be political: Israel’s unusual, if not unprecedented inclusion with Egypt on such an inquiry is likely to rile Israel’s allies in Washington, who bristle at the notion that the Middle East’s only established democracy could be lumped in with a notorious human rights abuser like Egypt.

Though it was sent to Kerry well beforehand, the timing of the letter’s release comes just days after an Israeli soldier was filmed shooting a wounded Palestinian terrorist at close range – setting off fury in the Arab world and launching a military disciplinary process.

Egypt’s inclusion may be no easier to navigate, as the military-backed Egyptian regime has proved a vexing problem for President Barack Obama as he has sought to balance the US’s traditional concern for human rights with its need to maintain Cairo as an ally in an increasingly chaotic Middle East.

The US is so wary of losing Egypt’s friendship it declined to call the military’s 2013 takeover over of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government a coup — a label that would have triggered a legal obligation to suspend military aid. Israel, meanwhile, remains America’s closest ally in the region despite tense relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it has received billions in US military assistance over the years.

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The letter questions the current mechanisms that the US has to monitor its military assistance to both countries and asks for clarity on how the various divisions of the State Department “document and determine the credibility of information related to allegations of gross violations of human rights by foreign security forces.”

“According to information we have received, the manner in which US military assistance has been provided to Israel and Egypt, since the Camp David Accords, including the delivery of assistance at the military service level, has created a unique situation that has hindered implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance,” the letter states.

State Department officials and a spokesman for Leahy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Netanyahu: What About the Israeli Victims?

“The IDF and the Israel Police do not engage in executions,” Netanyahu stated in response. “Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them. Where is the concern for the human rights of the many Israelis who’ve been murdered and maimed by these savage terrorists?

“This letter should have been addressed instead to those who incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism,” he asserted.