The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 235

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 235, May 3, 2024

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we delve into the problem with the United States continuing to reward Netanyahu’s war crimes with the push for an Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization deal, examine how a coalition of lawyers are urging President Biden to halt military aid to Israel due to its unlawful use of American-supplied weapons, and analyze the attacks by pro-Israel extremist mobs and police against anti-genocide demonstrators on college campuses.

The U.S. Continues to Reward Netanyahu’s War Crimes

The continued discussions regarding potential Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization come at a time when Netanyahu is facing global condemnation for war crimes committed in Gaza. (Photo from AP)

The U.S. Continues to Reward Netanyahu’s War Crimes

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi officials in Riyadh for talks on a variety of issues, including the ongoing efforts for a possible normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Biden administration’s continued push for this now is problematic for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, it comes at a time when the Netanyahu government in Israel is facing significant worldwide condemnation and outrage regarding its abusive military actions in Gaza. Domestically in the United States, massive anti-war rallies have emerged on college campuses across the country, while a growing number of government officials have privately expressed concern with Israeli human rights violations and war crimes. At the global level, countries have brought forth cases against Israel regarding its actions in Gaza and seeking to halt increasingly-criticized arms sales. Thus, normalizing Israeli-Saudi ties would serve as a reward and diplomatic win for the Netanyahu government, despite all of its transgressions. Secondly, as fair-minded observers lamented in the past regarding the folly of the Abraham Accords, the normalization of ties between Israel and Arab nations should only take place in conjunction with fair Israeli concessions to Palestinians. In the absence of this, these deals only serve to perpetuate the status quo of continued illegal Israeli occupation and injustices.

The fact that the United States is pushing for Israeli-Saudi normalization is troubling, as U.S. officials themselves have even expressed serious concern over Netanyahu and Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law during the War on Gaza. In a recently leaked internal memo, a joint assessment from multiple U.S. bureaus outlined Israel’s repeated attacks against civilian infrastructure, the killing of humanitarian workers and journalists at an unprecedented rate, and the arbitrary restriction of humanitarian aid, among other unlawful actions. This is in line with what international watchdog organizations and human rights groups have been saying for months about the scale of Israeli atrocities taking place in Gaza. U.S. laws are meant to prohibit arms transfers to entities who engage in these human rights abuses, yet the Biden administration has continued to initiate weapons sales for the Netanyahu government. Instead of punishing and alienating Israel by suspending military aid, on top of this Biden officials are still striving for potential Israeli-Saudi normalization, in what would amount to a diplomatic victory for Netanyahu even in the face of the acknowledgement of these egregious war crimes.

Growing evidence of Israeli human rights abuses in Gaza has reached a point where it has also elicited concern among Netanyahu government officials. This week, it was revealed that the International Criminal Court (ICC) may issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, and senior military officials, prompting unease regarding the prospect of this taking place – so much so that the Israeli cabinet decided to address the matter in one of its meetings. Israeli officials are particularly unsettled that the ICC could issue secret orders, whereby individuals would only know that they were wanted when they traveled to another country. While Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, any warrants would put Israeli officials at risk of being detained in other countries, including much of Europe.

In addition to the issue of pursuing normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia given the plethora of documented recent Israeli war crimes and human rights violations committed in Gaza under the Netanyahu government, one of the supposed conditions for the potential move – a pathway towards the creation of a Palestinian state – is something that the Israeli prime minister has repeatedly rejected. This shows that there is no intention from Israel to alter the status quo. Rather, it has been argued that what normalization would really boil down to is an unjust diplomatic prize for Israel, while Saudi Arabia reaps the benefit of U.S. agreements on defense and security commitments, as well as nuclear cooperation. The United States and Saudi Arabia are believed to be very close to completing their side of the deal, which would then, as U.S. officials put it, turn a theoretical question real and force Israeli officials to make decisions on the conditions and guarantees that are purportedly laid out. Since there is an awareness that a potential Saudi-Israeli normalization deal could be held up indefinitely by Netanyahu’s refusal to agree to a pathway to Palestinian statehood, it was recently reported that Saudi Arabia may be pushing the U.S. to sign a limited defense pact “Plan B” which would exclude the need for Israeli approval. According to this alternative plan, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would sign a bilateral defense agreement, and then Israel would be offered a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia in exchange for acceptance of the two-state solution.

Coalition of Lawyers Urge Biden to Halt Military Aid to Israel

The U.S. decided not to sanction the Israeli military despite findings that several units had committed gross human rights violations. (Photo from Getty Images)

Coalition of Lawyers Urge Biden to Halt Military Aid to Israel

A group of lawyers are calling on President Biden to halt military aid to Israel due to its unlawful use of American-supplied weapons, with the attorneys expressing that Israel’s actions in Gaza do not comply with U.S. and international humanitarian law. An increasing number of senior U.S. officials, including ones within the State Department, have highlighted this to Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well. The coalition is planning to submit a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and others across the Biden administration in which they outline Israel’s violations of pertinent U.S. statutes and international conventions. In it, they reference Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of hospitals and schools in Gaza, and their numerous strikes against humanitarian aid convoys. The letter also draws attention to how the majority of Americans believe that the United States should halt its arms shipments to Israel until it ends its destructive military operations in Gaza. The signatories to the letter consist of a diverse array of attorneys from various U.S. departments, the European Commission, and the private sector, and are just some of the latest to add themselves to the growing number of voices who are speaking out against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

This recent development comes as the United States decided not to sanction the Israeli military despite findings that multiple units had committed gross human rights violations. The U.S. State Department determined and acknowledged that five units had done so, but that they would still continue to receive U.S. military assistance. Impartial analysts would be justified in failing to see the logic and accountability of this, especially considering that U.S. law declares this type of finding is precisely what should prohibit a foreign military unit from receiving American support. The United States appeared to be on the brink of blocking military aid over the human rights violations, but instead later announced that it would be delaying the potential decision while it claimed to be reviewing “newly-provided information from Israel regarding the suspected offending incidents.” Before the change of course, the United States was expected to not only impose sanctions on at least one Israeli military unit, but was even considering taking measures against other military and police units credibly accused of engaging in human rights abuses.

On top of the coalition of lawyers, humanitarian watchdog organization Amnesty International has also urged President Biden to immediately suspend weapons transfers to Israel. In a new report, the group similarly contends that Israel has used the American-supplied arms against Palestinian civilians in clear violations of international law standards. They document a host of incidents in which civilians have been killed through unlawful attacks on non-combatant infrastructure. The report asserts that as a result of this, “The United States government must immediately suspend the transfer of all weapons and other articles to the Israeli government so long as compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law is not demonstrated.” To date, the Biden administration has continued to provide weapons to Israel at an alarming rate, even with overwhelming and growing evidence that war crimes are being committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in Gaza using U.S. munitions. Rights activists have expressed that the alleged written assurances submitted by the Israeli government claiming they are not violating international humanitarian law are not credible or reliable, and it is regrettable that the United States is seemingly going along with this while experts detail ample evidence which points to the contrary.

The calls to suspend weapons transfers by both the group of lawyers and Amnesty International have surfaced at an apt time, as the Biden administration is facing a May 8th deadline to submit an assessment to Congress about whether or not Israel has abided by international law in its use of American-supplied weapons. Back in February, in response to increasing pressure and scrutiny regarding Israel’s War on Gaza, the White House stated that it would require countries that are engaged in conflict and receive U.S. weapons support – such as Israel – to provide assurances that they will use them in accordance with international law. In the lead up to the looming Congressional deadline, a joint submission from at least four U.S. bureaus – Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Population, Refugees, and Migration; Global Criminal Justice; and International Organization Affairs – has raised serious concern regarding non-compliance with international humanitarian law during the course of Israel’s War on Gaza.

Attacks by Pro-Israel Extremist Mobs and Police Against Anti-Genocide Demonstrators on College Campuses

Fair observers have criticized police and campus security for standing by while pro-Israel extremist rioters violently attacked a Gaza solidarity encampment at UCLA. (Photo from Getty Images)

Attacks by Pro-Israel Extremist Mobs and Police Against Anti-Genocide Demonstrators on College Campuses

Earlier this week, a pro-Israel extremist mob violently attacked a Gaza solidarity encampment of anti-genocide college students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – throwing fireworks and assaulting demonstrators as city police and campus security stood by. Several student journalists who work for the UCLA Daily Bruin outlet were also attacked, having been encircled by the rioters, sprayed with mace, and physically beaten. Witnesses reported that instead of quelling and detaining the mob, “security and police both retreated as pro-Israel counter-protesters and other groups attacked protesters in the encampment.” Regrettably, this is not the first time that police have been criticized for either their response, or lack thereof, to the wave of recent overwhelmingly peaceful anti-genocide demonstrations on college campuses. More than 2,000 people have been arrested across dozens of college campuses. In many cases, police and universities have responded with gratuitous force, as an array of videos and pictures have been shared of both students and faculty members being brutally detained for mere peaceful rallies and demonstrations.

Civil liberty groups and rights activists have denounced the alarming militarization of campuses and police brutality that has been too commonplace since the onset of these anti-genocide protests. They have correctly pointed out that the exercising of freedom of speech through peaceful means is a cornerstone of our democracy that should be protected, and it is disheartening that in too many instances, this has been met with suppression and censorship. There is also a need for fairness in regards to both the response and much of the media coverage to the violent attacks against the college campus demonstrations. As one advocacy organization highlighted, if the student protesters who are simply advocating for Palestinian rights and against Israel’s destructive War on Gaza had engaged in a fraction of the violence that was carried out by the extremist mob at UCLA, there would have been a national outcry – especially had police failed to intervene and protect those who were attacked. Thus, it is important to be consistent in condemning this behavior across the board whenever it takes place. Additionally, while there are certainly some media outlets that are ethical in impartially reporting on incidents such as the one which occurred at UCLA, unfortunately there are others that tend to inaccurately label these as “clashes between protesters and counter-protesters” rather than what they really are: violent attacks by rioters and instigators against peaceful protesters.

President Biden’s recent remarks on the college campus demonstrations triggered criticism for his characterization of them, which failed to specifically condemn extremist pro-Israel mobs and law enforcement for attacks against students, and did not draw attention to the violence and suppression that they have faced. There was no mention of the fact that many of the university administrators have called upon heavily-armed police forces to the campuses to crack down on non-violent demonstrations and encampments. At college campuses in states like New York, Texas, and others, law enforcement agencies have far too often utilized brutal and unnecessary force on students, and even professors, who have taken part in peaceful protests against the War on Gaza. It is not right that these incidents fail to elicit quick denouncement, while on the other hand, inflammatory words from agitators who are frequently unaffiliated with the anti-genocide solidary movement as a whole receive much of the focus and attention. These are then unfairly used to try and justify the unwarranted nature of the police crackdowns themselves. The wrongful conflating of criticism towards Israel’s actions with antisemitism is a major problem as well, and is also employed as a means of silencing opposition and seeking to defend the suppression tactics. Those who are actually actively involved in the anti-genocide solidarity demonstrations, an eclectic mix of people from various backgrounds, note that it is a peaceful movement aimed at standing up for Palestinian rights and protesting Israel’s devastating War on Gaza. Above all, as some free speech activists have outlined, these individuals that are honoring the United States’ long tradition of peaceful civil dissent deserve protection and admiration, not violence and smears against them.

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