US lawmakers’ double standards on Israel
Amnesty International this week became the latest human rights organization to label Israel an apartheid state, while calling for the international community to hold its government accountable for its actions.
The group was immediately attacked by leading members of the US Senate, most of whom receive huge election campaign contributions from the pro-Israel network of political action committees, under the umbrella of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
One of those senators was Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was silent last month, when news broke that a special Israeli military unit had caused the death of an elderly Palestinian American they had abused. But he certainly was not silent on the Amnesty International report.
“I am deeply disturbed by Amnesty International’s report calling Israel an ‘apartheid state.’ This outrageous accusation belies history, facts, and common sense,” Menendez asserted.
This issue raises a conundrum. Do organizations like the US Senate put American interests above the interests of foreign nations? Or do they just stand up for whoever stuffs cash into their reelection coffers?
Menendez has expressed support for the two-state solution and defended Palestinians, saying: “The Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination.” However, Menendez also has the distinction of being among the top recipients of pro-Israel PAC money every time he has run for reelection, which for senators is every six years. In 2012, he received $342,170 in pro-Israel PAC contributions to his campaign. In 2018, it was $576,922. When he ran for the first time in 2006, he ranked ninth on the pro-Israel PAC list, according to the campaign watchdog Open Secrets.
Menendez was very quick on the draw in denouncing Amnesty International. That must be why he is at the top of the pro-Israel PAC list.
However, when Israeli forces killed 78-year-old American citizen Omar Asad in the early hours of Jan. 12, Menendez kept quiet, even though he had been vocal about the deaths of Americans in other foreign countries.
The Israeli government at first played down Asad’s death. The autopsy it conducted showed he died from a stress-induced heart attack caused by injuries he suffered when he was gagged, handcuffed and roughed up by the soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which is made up of hard-line Jewish religious extremists. According to the New York Times, the Israeli military command said they “deeply regretted” the death but would not apologize. They said the soldiers’ conduct was “a clear lapse of moral judgment.”
But apologizing would be too much, just as it must have been too much to have the chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Relations issue a statement denouncing the Israeli military’s actions that resulted in the death of an American citizen.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the State Department on Monday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gwen Moore expressed concerns about what happened to Asad. These two lawmakers are both from Wisconsin, where Asad spent much of his life. Baldwin showed courage in signing the letter, as she received $230,764 from pro-Israel PACs in 2018, putting her only three spots behind Menendez.
Apartheid is a sensitive issue for Israel, which might explain why Menendez sought to distance its system from the South African example.
The following day, Ned Price, the spokesman for Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, issued a statement that said: “The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible. We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government. We convey, again, our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Mr. Asad. The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad.”
Asad’s death came at a difficult time for Israel, as human rights organizations have increased their criticism of its policies over the past few years. This is one reason Israel has been closing the offices of such organizations.
In apartheid systems like the one that existed in South Africa for much of the last century, people like Asad were regularly killed and brutalized because of their race. No one hesitated to condemn such actions.
There are similarities between the apartheid system in South Africa and what happens in Israel today, as exemplified by the death of Asad. It is a sensitive issue for Israel, which might explain why Menendez sought to distance its system from the South African example. “This report diminishes the very real Apartheid that brutalized black South Africans for decades and does a great disservice to the pursuit of true equality and progress under the law,” Menendez noted at the end of his press release.
You know how annoying those human rights organizations can be, especially one like Amnesty International, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its “defense of human dignity against torture” and which is well known for its stance against South African apartheid.
And its 278-page report, entitled “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,” was powerful in its conclusions. It stated: “Israeli authorities impose a system of domination and oppression against the Palestinian people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and against Palestinian refugees. Laws, policies, and institutional practices all work to expel, fragment, and dispossess Palestinians of their land and property, and deprive Palestinians of their human rights. We conclude this treatment amounts to an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination defined as apartheid under international law.” The group stressed it had focused on Israeli government policy and not on people or religion.
It is hard to be silent when such an injustice is being committed or when an American dies at the hands of a foreign country’s military. Well, for some Americans at least.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania