US envoy blocked check of IDF human rights record as part of military aid review

In email published by Politico, David Friedman writes there is no need to reexamine vetting process as IDF ‘does not engage in gross violations of human rights’

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the 6th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem on March 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the 6th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem on March 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman rejected a State Department examination of the IDF’s human rights record as part of a military assistance review, according to a report Saturday, arguing that Israel should not be subject to the same type of scrutiny as other recipients of US military aid.

In an email from October seen by Politico, Friedman pushed back at a request for embassies in the Middle East to look into potential human rights abuses by militaries that receive US military assistance. The request was made in light of a US law that prohibits the state and defense departments from providing aid to countries found to abuse human rights.

“Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights” and “has a robust system of investigation and prosecution in the rare circumstance where misconduct occurs,” Friedman wrote in the email.

He added that “it would be against [US] national interests” to restrict military aid to Israel, “especially in a time of war.”

Israeli soldiers walk amidst smoke from a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, which was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border., May 14, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The request to look into potential human rights abuses by regional militaries came after a State Department inspector general report found shortcomings in the review process by US embassies in the Middle East, according to Politico, as well as Government Accountability Office (GAO) noting issues at the US embassy in Egypt.

In response, Friedman wrote there was no need to reexamine vetting requirements in Israel, saying “my understanding is that nothing is broken that requires a repair.” He also pushed back at the idea the findings of the GAO report applied to Israel.

“Post disagrees with the assessment that the Department should proactively address Israel based on GAO criticism of procedures in Egypt,” Friedman wrote in the email.

“We cannot and should not assume that GAO intended to apply the same criticism to Tel Aviv. If and when they do criticize Embassy Tel Aviv for these issues, it would be more appropriate to react at that time,” he added.

The report said Friedman remained insistent on the matter and that no new vetting requirements for Israel were issued.

The Politico report came amid increased international criticism of Israel’s response to deadly clashes on the border with the Gaza Strip, in which the Hamas-run health ministry says some 130 Palestinians have been killed. Dozens of the dead were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged.

Israel has rejected calls for outside scrutiny, saying Israeli forces used live-fire in accordance with military regulations and that troops only open fire at demonstrators who engage in violence, or who attempt to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel.

Israel has accused Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that runs Gaza, of using the protests as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the border fence.

Palestinians face off with Israeli forces during weekly clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on May 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Earlier this month, Friedman criticized media coverage of Gaza clashes, advising reporters to “keep your mouths shut” unless they know better than Israel how to deal with the demonstrations.

Some criticism of Israel may be legitimate, Friedman allowed, but said journalists should have worked harder to find alternatives to Israel’s use of lethal force, which has left scores of Palestinians dead, before accusing the state of wrongdoing.

“It would seem to me that in a journalistic environment where nine out of ten articles that are written about the Gaza conflict are critical of Israel, you’d think that some journalists would take the time and go and meet with experts and try to understand what could have been done differently or better before they criticize. And I just haven’t seen it,” Friedman said at a media conference in Jerusalem.

He said experts had told him tear gas, water cannons and other nonlethal means of crowd dispersal would not have been effective during the weeks of riots and clashes, but did not provide more detail.

“If what happens isn’t right, what is right? What do you use instead of bullets?” Friedman asked rhetorically.

Friedman, who was US President Donald Trump’s longtime friend and attorney before his diplomatic appointment, has deep ties to Israeli settlements, and has been criticized by some as a right-wing hawk echoing Israeli government positions. Last month he told The Times of Israel that Republicans were more pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman arrives at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Following an outcry from Democrats, Friedman defended his remarks that Republicans are better friends of Israel, while saying he continues to work toward fostering bipartisan support for the Jewish State.

“Observing overwhelming Republican support for Israel is not a ‘partisan shot’ as some have described,” Friedman said in a tweet.

“I firmly believe that American support for Israel needs to be bipartisan and I will continue to welcome any Democratic legislators who wish to visit Israel — and I hope they do!” he added.

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