Netanyahu: Absurd for US to sanction IDF soldiers as they fight terror

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting terrorist monsters, the intention to sanction a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” Netanyahu wrote in a post on X.

 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on February 29, 2024.  (photo credit: NIMROD KLIKMAN/POOL)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on February 29, 2024.
(photo credit: NIMROD KLIKMAN/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the United States for its plans to issue its first-ever sanctions against IDF units over alleged human rights violations, starting with the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which in the past has been accused of mistreating Palestinians.

Among the more high-profile incidents was the death of Palestinian American Omar As’ad, 80, of a heart attack in January 2022 after he had been detained, blindfolded, gagged, and handcuffed by that battalion in the West Bank.

Netanyahu calls for the government to act against move

“I will fight this with all my powers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli public on Sunday in a video address.

Minister Benny Gantz, who is a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday and asked him to rescind the decision, which, he warned, “will harm Israel’s international legitimacy during the time of war.”

He also explained that “the Israeli judicial system is strong and independent. All IDF units are subject to the IDF’s code of conduct and orders in accordance with international law.”

 Netzah Yehuda Battalion  (credit: HILEL MEIR)
Netzah Yehuda Battalion (credit: HILEL MEIR)

The decision, Gantz wrote in a post on X, “sets a dangerous precedent and conveys the wrong message to our shared enemies during wartime.”

Netanyahu wrote on X on Saturday night that the decision was “the height of absurdity and a moral low.”“In recent weeks, I have been working against the leveling of sanctions on Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with senior American government officials,” he stated.

“The government I head will act by all means against these moves,” Netanyahu stressed, adding that “sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces!”

 Netanyahu spoke out against such a move, first reported by Walla, just one hour after he wrote a message on X thanking the House of Representatives for passing a $23.2 billion military aid bill for Israel, which now moves to the Senate.

Reflecting the moves of the Biden Administration

The two messages reflect two concurrent moves by the Biden administration. Since the Hamas invasion of Israel on October 7, it has deepened its support of Israel while at the same time cracking down on extremist Jewish violence against Palestinians.

On Friday, the US imposed sanctions on Ben-Zion Gopstein, founder and leader of the right-wing group Lehava, and two entities that raised money for Israeli men accused of settler violence.

The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits the funding of foreign military units believed to be involved in human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killing, torture, and rape.

On Wednesday, the investigative US-based news site ProPublica reported that Blinken had been sitting on the State Department’s recommendation that he apply the Leahy Law to “multiple Israeli military and police units.”

When asked about the report at a press conference in Italy on Friday, Blinken said that application of the Leahy Law was time-consuming and “has to be done very carefully both in collecting the facts and analyzing them – and that’s exactly what we’ve done.  

“And I think it’s fair to say that you’ll see results very soon. I’ve made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead,” Blinken said.

On Saturday night, Walla reported that the US was expected to sanction the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, largely composed of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, which for years had served in the West Bank but which was relocated to the Golan two years ago and has been deployed in Gaza in the aftermath of the October 7 attack.

The IDF said it had not received any notification about pending sanctions against the unit as it underscored the heroic actions of its soldiers under fire.

Labor Party leader MK Merav Michaeli said that pending sanctions should not come as a surprise since “the US established a team to investigate the battalion” already two years ago.

“The political and military echelons cannot pretend they did not know about it,” Michaeli stated.

“Instead of wising up and dealing with the situation, we get yet another dose of denial and foot-dragging, lies and covering up the bitter reality,” Michaeli said.

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion should have been disbanded many years ago, she said, as she charged that the battalion “legitimizes” settler violence, “kills Palestinians for no real reason,” and “abuses Palestinian detainees.”

To defend the Netzah Yehuda unit as an “integral part of the IDF casts “a heavy shadow over the entire IDF” and damages its credibility, Michaeli said.