Obama takes action on Israel, but it’s not sanctions

**Breaking News Update

This update is regarding a law Knesset passed on December 8 about African refugees in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea.  The bill refers to them as “work infiltrators” much like the American discussion around migrants and refugees from Mexico and Latin America.

From Association for Civil Rights in Israel

Update: On December 18, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction to prevent the implementation of the law. Accordingly, no new asylum seekers can be sent to the Holot detention facility. The state has until December 28 to lodge a formal response.

Statement from Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

Israeli Human Rights Organizations Appeal against the Newest Anti-Infiltration Law: “The Government is Continuing to ignore and mock the High Court of Justice”

A collection of human rights organizations submitted an expedited legal petition to the High Court of Justice calling for the invalidation of the latest amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, and for an interim order to delay the implementation of the law with regards to those who are yet to be summoned to the Holot Detention Facility. The petition was submitted to the court this morning (December 18, 2014)

The Guardian posted an article featuring interviews with refugees filmed in April

we heard fresh accounts of many former Holot detainees having decided to return to East Africa out of despair only to be arrested by state authorities upon their arrival. They are then either imprisoned for treason or disloyalty for initially fleeing the country, or simply disappear without trace.
All of the detainees have lived in Israel for at least five years. Many own businesses and speak fluent Hebrew; some are orphans who have just graduated from Israeli high school. Their visible frustration at finding themselves in this situation is understandable. 
Shortly after we visited more than 800 men marched out of Holot and through the desert in the searing heat towards the Egyptian border. They demanded to be recognised as refugees released from the facility, issuing the following statement: “We have made a commitment to keep on struggling for our basic rights and we will never give up, justice and equality will last forever.”

And now back to the main article

Republicans claim that Obama hates Israel, responding angrily to even the possibility that Obama might sanction Israel over more illegal settlement building

The stories prompted an outcry from congressional Republicans.

“Recent reports suggest that your administration has held classified meetings over the past several weeks to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Israel for its decision to construct homes in East Jerusalem,” said a letter sent Friday by 48 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome.”

It turns out that Obama is not sanctioning Israel, but Obama did take action on Israel.

On Friday Obama did however sign into law S. 2673, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.  The bill started during the summer war in Gaza.  Here is Senator Boxer introducing the bill to the Senate on August 1. (Rep Ros-Lehtinen introduced the original bill in the House in 2012)

We have a bill, Senator BLUNT and I, and it has 81 cosponsors on it. It is the Israeli American strategic partnership act, and it will send a strong signal today that we stand with Israel. We want peace. We want justice. We want a good life for the Israelis and the Palestinian people. But you cannot do it when you have a terrorist organization running, in essence, the Gaza Strip.


this bill authorizes $200 million in the value of U.S. weapons sales in Israel to a total of $1.8 billion. It is a stockpile that is intended to be used by U.S. forces, but in event of emergency, Israel can tap that. And, my God, this is an emergency. It is so critical. In fact, just last week the United States provided Israel with ammunition from the stockpile after Israel requested help to replace its depleted supplies. We shouldn’t be waiting another hour to pass this, and here we are as the clock ticks down and we go off on our break and as my friend knows, this bill doesn’t cost one slim dime—not one slim dime—not one penny. It is such a signal to Israel that we stand with her. It also has an energy section where we help Israel develop her natural gas supplies to become energy independent.

Keep in mind why this language from Congress is important. We learned in September 2013 from Snowden documents that NSA shares raw data with Israel as outlined in a March 2009 agreement published by the Guardian. (WashingtonBlog wrote that the revelation Implies NSA May Be Putting Israel’s Security Ahead of America’s”)

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Israel is allowed to receive “raw Sigint” – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: “Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”

The memorandum of understanding, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain “any files containing the identities of US persons” for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA’s special liaison adviser when such data is found.

Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government”. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.

While Israel is a US strategic partner in military and intelligence matters, Israel is also a target of US intelligence  

Although Israel is one of America’s closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US – Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.

The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.

And now we can go back to Obama’s press release after signing the bill, saying (emphasis mine)

underscores the United States unshakeable [sic] commitment to Israel’s security and its future. This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my Administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties. It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my Administration.  It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture, and technology.  Sections 11(b) and 12(c)(2) of this bill purport to require me to provide to the Congress certain diplomatic communications and direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives.  Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.

Here are some key sections as summarized by CRS of the most recent version that

Passed House without amendment (12/03/2014)

(This measure has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on September 18, 2014. The summary of that version is repeated here.)

Section 7

Authorizes the President to:(1) share and exchange with Israel research, technology, intelligence, information, equipment, and personnel that will advance U.S. national security interests; and(2) enhance U.S.-Israel scientific cooperation.

Authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter into cooperative research pilot programs with Israel to enhance Israel’s capabilities in: (1) border, maritime, and aviation security; (2) explosives detection; and (3) emergency services.

(Sec. 11) Requires any certification that a sale or export of major defense equipment to a country in the Middle East will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge to include:

  • an explanation of Israel’s capacity to address the improved capabilities provided by the sale or export;
  • an evaluation of how the sale or export alters the regional strategic and tactical balance;
  • an identification of any new capacity or training that Israel may require to address the regional or country-specific capabilities provided by such sale or export; and
  • a description of any additional U.S. security assurances to Israel made, or requested to be made, in connection with the sale or export.

Despite Obama administration officials anonymously calling Netanyahu names to Jeffrey Goldberg and shaking their head at illegal settlement building, Obama is silent on even the possibility of sanctions.  (see also Richard Silverstein’s post here).

Christian Science Monitor reports that instead of sanctions other actions may be taken.

According to those unnamed officials: “For example, the United States may refrain from vetoing condemnatory resolutions against the settlements in the UN Security Council. Or it could issue clearer instructions to American officials about the ban on cooperating with the settlements or funding activity in them.”


just a year ago, Obama’s White House was campaigning vigorously against a European Union plan to outlaw funding to Israeli settlement groups.

The US has been a steady funder of Israel since the country’s independence. Since 1996 alone, the US has given $50 billion to Israel, most of that military aid. The earmark for this year was over $3 billion.

Reductions and delays in such aid have been rare in modern US history. You have to go back to Ronald Reagan, who halted delivery of cluster munitions to Israel between 1982 and 1988 for the last major step to curtail military aid (Reagan acted over concerns the munitions were being used illegally in the war in Lebanon). The last US financial rebuke to Israel was under President George H. W. Bush, who delayed the provision of loan guarantees to Israel in 1991 contingent on a freeze in settlement expansion. The following year the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to a freeze. The loan guarantees were delivered, though settlement expansion continued.

In spite of Obama’s reluctance to impose sanctions against Israel generally, in 2011 the State Department did sanction

a leading Israeli company, Ofer Brothers Group, for activities supporting Iran’s energy sector.

While the State Department’s decision caused Israel considerable embarrassment, it was the timing that created the greatest stir. It came soon after Mr. Netanyahu’s friction with Mr. Obama over using the 1967 borders as a basis for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


According to the State Department, the Ofer Brothers Group and its Singapore-based subsidiary, Tanker Pacific, are being sanctioned along with Associated Shipbroking of Monaco for their roles in a September 2010 transaction that provided a tanker valued at $8.65 million to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The shipping company has been cited by the United States and the European Union for its role in supporting Iran’s proliferation activities. Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg told reporters in Washington that “Iran uses revenues from its energy sector to fund its nuclear program, as well as to mask procurement of dual-use items.”

The State Department determined that Tanker Pacific and Ofer Brothers Group “failed to exercise due diligence and did not heed publicly available and easily obtainable information” that would have indicated that they were dealing with the Iranians. As a result, the two companies are barred from security financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, from obtaining loans over $10 million from American financial institutions and from receiving United States export licenses, the State Department said.

While sanctioning one business for violating sanctions against Iran is a good step (issues of sanctions against Iran aside), Obama should take a stronger stand against Israel’s actions instead of just shaking their heads and calling each other names and diplomatic statements like Obama

remained concerned about the settlement construction and had made that frustration “known very clearly” to the government of Israel.

Obama can take some advice from his Republican predecessors, normally seen by Republicans as great friends of Israel regardless of their actual records, including George W. Bush, who [among other amazing examples pointed out here by NJDC]

made the explicit threat to withhold loan guarantees from the Israelis due to the expansion of their “security fence” deep into Palestinian territory.

as Zaid Jilani pointed out in 2010 when Republicans were again outraged at Obama (because when are they not angry at him) when Obama envoy George Mitchell suggested that loan guarantees could be withheld (sort of the threat of a threat) in order to pressure Israel in the peace process.

Eisenhower threatened sanctions twice against Israel which were effective in changing behavior. 

Finally, it was the threat of sanctions that forced Israel in March 1957 to withdraw. Eisenhower threatened that the US would cut off all private assistance to Israel, which amounted to $40 million in tax-deductible donations and $60 million annually in the purchase of bonds. He would also terminate shipments of agricultural products and all military assistance, including deals already in the pipeline. He canceled export licenses for the shipment of munitions or other military goods. The threat of sanctions in the form of a resolution to the UN requiring the termination of all aid to Israel by UN members if it failed to withdraw was also decisive. Similarly, to force the British to pull out, the US administration withheld financial aid and applied an embargo on American oil.

Not the first time

In January 1952 the Truman administration threatened to withhold economic assistance if Israel did not replace its guards along the Jordan river, who were known to be particularly violent, and Israel complied. In 1953, Israel began to construct a canal near the B’not Yaakov bridge which would divert water from the Jordan river into Israel. The canal was being constructed in a demilitarized zone, and violated the armistice agreements. Israel had done something similar in 1951 when it drained another lake that was part of the Jordan River system, and was also in the demilitarized zone. In October 14-15 of 1953, Israel raided the Jordanian village of Kibya. This seemed to be the last straw for the Eisenhower administration. The UN Security Council strongly condemned Israel for the Kibya raid (with no veto by the US) and the State Department confirmed publicly they had suspended the $26 million of allocated Mutual Security Act funds. Israel then agreed to stop work on the diversion canal, and the US approved payment of the funds that were suspended.

The Institute for Historical Review in 1996 compared Eisenhower’s actions towards Israel with Kissinger’s later diplomacy  and looks at some of the possible consequences that resulted from Kissinger’s leniency towards Israel.

Kissinger’s policy was prohibitively costly to the United States. By making Israel the military superpower of the region, the Kissinger policy also led to tragic events. These included Israel’s bloody 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an action based on its new arrogance of power stemming from US-supplied weaponry. Even graver, however, was the fact that Israel was allowed by Washington to continue its occupation and settlement of Jordanian and Syrian land. This occurred during the same period that the United States became Israel’s major patron and supporter starting in the 1970s under President Richard M. Nixon and Kissinger.

The dramatic increase of US aid while Israel violated official US policy against military occupation was a declaration to the world that where the Jewish state was concerned politics outweighed principle. These events led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Yigal Amir, the murderer, was one of the Jewish fanatics who emerged during the long occupation and were dedicated to retaining the occupied territories. Had Kissinger, like Ike, driven Israel off the occupied land, Amir’s motive for the assassination would never have existed. The occupation would not have lasted nearly three decades and the extremist cult devoted to keeping the land that began growing strong in Israel in the 1970s would not have come into being.

Reagan actually followed through on threats as Jim White pointed out during the war in Gaza last summer when he asked if Obama would show the courage that Reagan did

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut.


On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988″

Syria recently called for sanctions against Israel after Israel (“allegedly”) bombed Damascus Airport and Dimas, a neighborhood near Damascus.  (Richard Silverstein says “This would make at least the sixth Israeli invasion of Syrian territorial sovereignty to attack military-security targets.”)

Syria on Monday called for U.N. sanctions against Israel over alleged airstrikes on Syrian soil, including one that struck the Damascus International Airport on Sunday.

Muallem made the comments at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who echoed his sentiments.

Russia, which along with Iran is the Syrian regime’s chief international backer, demanded an explanation from Israel on Monday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that Russia was “deeply concerned about this dangerous development, which requires a detailed investigation.”

This week saw the beginning of a new relationship with Cuba after the 50-plus year embargo and assassination attempts failed to bring about the changes we wanted to see in Cuba. Maybe it’s time we rethink how “successful” our relationship with Israel has been and maybe back up our anonymous name-calling and diplomatic statements such as

remained concerned about the settlement construction and had made that frustration “known very clearly”

with sanctions against illegal activity, or even threats of sanctions which have also been effective when shown to be real threats of action.

This entry was posted in Israel, Obama, Refugees, Sanctions. Bookmark the permalink.

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