Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy engaged in a public war of words on Wednesday over Israel’s human rights record.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry in February, Leahy, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Defense, and 10 House members listed several examples of alleged Egyptian and Israeli “gross violations of human rights.” The letter was first published by Politico on Tuesday.
“[These] incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us on your findings,” the letter said. “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.”
Netanyahu defended Israel’s security forces, as he assailed Leahy for overlooking the human rights of Israeli citizens targeted by “bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them.”
“The [Israeli Defense Forces] and the Israeli Police do not engage in executions. Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “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 added.
Knesset Member Michael Oren (Kulanu) called the letter “a travesty.”
“Israel has thoroughly investigated all the cases cited in the letter and has found them baseless,” Oren said in a statement posted on Facebook. And clearly Leahy and his co-signers care nothing about the 33 Israelis and two Americans murdered by Palestinians since October. I call on the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates to publicly and unconditionally disavow this libel.”
Leahy responded to Netanyahu in a statement of his own: “The prime minister of Israel knows — and it should go without saying — that the U.S. has long supported Israel in its struggle against Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas, and that there are many U.S. laws prohibiting aid to such groups. The congressional letter cites allegations of possible serious abuses, identified by respected international human rights organizations, by the military and police forces of Egypt and Israel. Under the Leahy Law it is the responsibility of the State Department to evaluate the credibility of such allegations.”
State Department Spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that Kerry is working on a response to the letter. “We have applied and continue to apply the Leahy Law in Egypt and Israel, in the same way we do globally,” Kirby maintained. “We do not provide assistance to any security force unit in Egypt or Israel when we have credible information that they have committed a gross violation of human rights.”