What’s Senator Leahy Really Up To?

There’s some confusion about whether a powerful U.S. senator is planning to introduce an amendment to the foreign aid bill to cut off American assistance and equipment to three elite IDF units accused of human rights violations.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Democrat of Vermont) said he is not proposing any new law, as reported in Haaretz, and well-placed Capitol Hill sources confirm that.
Leahy’s web page says the Haaretz article “contains significant inaccuracies,” and the Senator “has not proposed legislation to withhold U.S. aid to units of the Israel Defense Forces.”
However. That explanation is accurate but also disingenuous.
Leahy is the author of 1997 law to block aid to foreign security forces in “gross violation of human rights” that the military failed to properly investigate. The senator has been leaning on the State Department to find three particular elite IDF units — Shayetet 13 unit, undercover Duvdevan unit, and the Israel Air Force Shaldag unit — qualify under his amendment for punishment, my sources inform me.
“It is, of course, absurd, because whatever mistakes have been made by IDF units, it is hard to argue that they have engaged in ‘gross’ violations of human rights and that they have not been investigated by the Israeli military,” I was told. “So, he is right in that he is not pursuing a new amendment, but he is trying to make a case that they qualify under his existing amendment.”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, presumably an old friend dating to the 1990s, told Leahy as much when the two met recently in Washington.
What makes Leahy’s threat so troubling is that he chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, which has jurisdiction over foreign assistance, and Israel is the biggest recipient. Leahy has a pro-Israel voting record but has repeatedly criticized the Jewish state for not being forthcoming enough in peace talks with the Palestinians. He has been closer to PMs Yitzhak Rabin and Barak than to Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu.
Barak reportedly told the senator, "The difference between Israel and terror groups or other countries in the Middle East is that we give an accounting and there is monitoring." The defense minister added that the IDF military advocate general has broader powers than his American counterpart and is not subservient to the military command, according to Haaretz.
"If a Palestinian is injured, he can approach the High Court of Justice," Barak said. "The investigations undergo judicial review that is independent of commanders. There are dozens of hearings every year that are based on Palestinians’ complaints against soldiers. They reach the highest and most independent authorities," he said.(Haaretz)
Leahy has often proven inaccessible to Israeli diplomats and pro-Israel lobbyists. One new Israeli diplomat who couldn’t get a meeting with the senator during debate on a critical issue tried to speak to him in the hall outside of a committee meeting; Leahy dodged him and complained the Mossad was shadowing him. He knew better, which made his attitude even more troubling.
Leahy may say he’s being consistent but he is really being disingenuous. He knows Israel, like the United States and other democracies, has the legal structure for dealing with violations of human rights. Ehud Barak explained that to him but, given his extensive foreign policy experience, he should know better than to confuse Israel, with its well-established and respected rule of law, with our autocratic allies.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.