Margon rejects pro-BDS charge at hearing for top US human rights post

"With all due respect Ma'am, I don't believe it," Sen. James Risch (R-ID) said, adding that "saying it over and over again just doesn't square with your actions" and "doesn't make it true."

Freedom House President Mark Lagon (R) testifies as Washington Director Human Rights Watch Sarah Margon (L) listens during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on "Corruption, Global Magnitsky and Modern Slavery - A Review of Human Rights Around the World", on Capitol Hill in Washington, July (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE THEILER)
Freedom House President Mark Lagon (R) testifies as Washington Director Human Rights Watch Sarah Margon (L) listens during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on "Corruption, Global Magnitsky and Modern Slavery - A Review of Human Rights Around the World", on Capitol Hill in Washington, July
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE THEILER)

Sarah Margon rejected charges she supports the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement against Israel, at her nomination hearing for the post of assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

“I firmly oppose the BDS movement,” Margon said on Wednesday.

Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) was not swayed. He referenced a tweet Margon wrote on November 19, 2018, in support of the initial AirBnB boycott of West Bank settlements, a move the company has since retracted.

“Thanks Airbnb for showing some good leadership here, other companies should follow suit,” wrote Margon at the time.

AIRBNB SOUGHT to ban listings in Jewish communities in the West Bank. (credit: REUTERS)AIRBNB SOUGHT to ban listings in Jewish communities in the West Bank. (credit: REUTERS)

At the hearing, she attempted to walk the tweet back by explaining that she believed “the private sector has an important role to play in not pursuing discriminatory practices.”

Risch said he “didn’t understand” how her support for corporate action aligned with her denial of BDS support.

Margon tried again to reject the BDS accusation.

“Senator, I am not and have never been a supporter of the BDS movement. I oppose it,” Margon said.

“With all due respect, ma’am, I don’t believe it,” Risch said, adding, “Saying it over and over again just doesn’t square with your actions” and “doesn’t make it true,.”

Margon explained again that she opposed BDS, as did US President Joe Biden, and that if confirmed she would execute his administration’s policy.

Risch also took issue with Margon’s retweet in 2020 with approval of a New York Times opinion piece titled “I no longer believe in a Jewish state.” He asked, “Do you still subscribe to that?”

Margon responded by saying she firmly believed in a two-state solution, “so that Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side.”

With respect to the tweet, Margon said, “Sometimes when we retweet or say things in the heat of the moment, we do not necessarily think of the broader impact of them.... What I was focused on was the importance of ensuring Israelis and Palestinians could have equal protection under the law, access to democratic processes, security and prosperity. That was the thrust of my tweet,” she said.

The Idaho senator also dismissed Margon’s past statements that said US targeted killings, such as the US airstrike against the commander of the Iranian Quds Force Qasem Soleimani, were illegal.

“There are wide discussions about the legality of these strikes,” Margon explained. “If confirmed I would consult with the legal advisers of the state department to come to a determination.”

Risch ended by stating that he would not support her confirmation.

“You haven’t persuaded me at all,” he said.

Margon, who grew up in a Jewish family in New York, is the US foreign policy director at the Open Society Foundations. In the past, she served as the deputy Washington director for the NGO Human Rights Watch.

She explained that she had left the organization almost two years prior to the NGO’s determination that Israel was an apartheid state, adding she did not believe that Israel committed war crimes when it defend itself against rockets or terrorist attacks from Gaza.

“I strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” she emphasized.

Margon explained that she supported Biden’s decision to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration exited in 2018, explaining that the US more effectively is pushing for reform from within than without.

“It gives us a seat at the table, it allows us to help influence decisions, it allows us to engage and it allows us to ensure that there is not strong anti-Israel bias but that the UNHRC is looking broadly and globally at human rights abuses,” Margon said.

If confirmed, Margon said, she would work to abolish the UNHRC mandate, leveled exclusively against Israel, that its alleged human rights abuses must be debated at every session under Agenda Item 7.