US must respond to Israel's toleration of West Bank settlers' pogroms, terrorism

Speaking at the recent Israel Defense Forces Officer Candidate School graduating ceremony, IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Herzl Halevi declared, “an IDF soldier who stands by while an Israeli throws a Molotov Cocktail at a Palestinian cannot be an officer.”

Halevi could not be more correct. That same spirit of zero toleration for enabling for the bystander’s complicity in evil must also dictate U.S. policy regarding current events in Israel.

I am a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the IDF’,’s Judge Advocate Generals Corps. I was directly involved in implementation of the Oslo Peace Process and have been engaged in Track Two negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.

And I am very much opposed to the Netanyahu government’s judicial “reforms,” a white-washing term if ever created. I am also a dual U.S.-Israel citizen who teaches law in the U.S., and I have spoken widely on U.S. and Israel politics, geo-politics, and national security considerations.

I am deeply concerned about Israeli democracy and the Israel-U.S. relationship in particular the historical, financial US commitment to Israel for two related reasons.

The first has to do with pogroms being committed by Jewish settlers and directed at Palestinians living in the West Bank, which have also resulted in harm to U.S. citizens. These are becoming a daily occurrence, unfortunately, with the proverbial “nod and wink” approval of a complicit government whose condemnations are merely rhetorical.

The second issue is the government’s determination to eviscerate Israel’s independent judiciary, which is essential to the separation of powers and checks and balances.

These two issues directly clash with American interests, values, and norms. They do not reflect the Israel beloved by those of us who believe in a liberal democracy. For these reasons, the decades-long relationship between Israel and the U.S. is in peril like never before.

American concern regarding the current situation has been clearly articulated by President Biden and his entire administration. Whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his coalition fully understand and appreciate these clear voices of concern is an open question. 

It is an open secret in Israel that for Netanyahu, an invitation to the White House is much desired and a form of “litmus test.”  By the same token, the recently announced decision that Netanyahu will visit China is intended, one presumes, to signal his anger with Biden. The trip has been roundly criticized by Israeli security officials. Be that as it may, under no condition must Biden extend an invitation to Netanyahu.

However, the issue runs deeper than public and private voices of concern and a potential White House visit. Serious consideration must be given to addressing continued U.S. financial aid to Israel. I do not write this lightly. My recommendation that aid be cut may be understood to be against my self-interest; after all, my family lives in Israel. 

However, this is essential for both the U.S. and Israel. Given the dramatic developments here, there is no more effective mechanism for the U.S. government to directly confront these two issues.

The word “pogrom,” which cuts deep for Jews, is correctly used to describe the actions of the Jewish settlers. I am convinced, based both on my IDF experience and academic research, that the settlers committing the pogroms are terrorists and must be held accountable. As widely reported in the press, this is not happening. That is an anathema to the rule of law.

This failure encourages continued violation of human rights, which the government is tolerating. The number of arrests in direct contrast to the number of participants speaks for itself. This, too, must be of great concern to the U.S. government.

Accordingly, the question of continued U.S. financial support must be directly raised with all deliberate speed. There is no justification for failing to have this conversation. Failure to do so is a violation of Halevi’s exhortation and reflects the complicity of the bystander who enables evil.

Amos N. Guiora is professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. He is involved with the Bystander Initiative.

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