Senator Leahy to Netanyahu: Investigating Alleged Israeli Abuses 'Only Fair to U.S. Taxpayers'

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Sen. Patrick Leahy during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2012.Credit: AP

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday rejected Prime Minister Netanyahu's criticism and said that American law requires that the State Department investigate allegations of abuses by security forces in countries that receive U.S. aid, such as Israel

"This is only fair to U.S. taxpayers, and it is necessary in upholding the law that our country stands for," Leahy said in a statement.

Earlier, Netanyahu on Wednesday attacked Senator Leahy for a letter asking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate reports that Israeli forces may have committed exjudicial public executions of Palestinians.

"The IDF and security forces are not murderers," Netanyahu said in a statement. "IDF soldiers and Israeli police put their lives on the line to defend themselves and innocent civilians from bloodthirsty terrorists who try to kill them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 10, 2016.Credit: Olivieh Fitoussi

"Where is the concern for the violations of the human rights of many Israelis who have been murdered or wounded by criminal killers? This letter should have been addressed to those who incite children to engage in acts of cruel terrorism," Netanyahu said.

Responding to Netanyahu's criticism, Leahy said that Israel, unlike Hamas, is subjected to scrutiny due to the fact that it is a recipient of U.S. military aid.

"The prime minister of Israel knows – and it should go without saying – that the United States does not provide weapons or other aid to Hamas or any other terrorist group," the statement said. "One reason Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid is to help defend against terrorist attacks."

Leahy stressed that American law says no country is exempt from scrutiny when it comes to security aid. He noted that the law applies to military units and personnel, and not to a security force as a whole, and would only apply when the government has failed to act.

"[The law] has led to the suspension of U.S. aid to military personnel and units found to have committed abuses in many countries when governments fail to punish those responsible, and only when governments themselves have failed to act."

The letter to Kerry, first reported in Politico, asserts that "[t]here have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt. [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."

Leahy, head of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Defense, is considered one of the most senior senators in Congress. The Leahy Law, enacted in 1997, prohibits U.S. funding from equipping or training foreign military forces suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes. 

Leahy promoted a bill several years ago aimed at imposing restrictions on U.S. military aid to Israel, in particular the Israel Navy's Shayetet 13, the Israeli Air Force's Shaldag and the undercover Duvdevan units, on the grounds that they harm innocent Palestinians and the lack of mechanism to ensure they do not violate human rights. Leahy proposed the same restrictions on military aid to countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan. However, the move never came to fruition.

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