Senator Wyden should hold Israel to same standard as Bahrain
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is admirably legislating against U.S. arms sales to Bahrain, the autocratic Gulf kingdom which has killed at least 30 protesters during the Arab Spring. To suppress protests, Bahrain has arrested more than 1,600 protesters, has fired 2,500 from their jobs, and is handing down harsh jail terms to medical personnel who treated injured protesters. This brutal repression of Bahraini human rights led Wyden to introduce a resolution to prohibit U.S. weapons sales to Bahrain until it meets stringent human rights criteria, helping to generate enough political pressure so that the Obama Administration has delayed implementation of its shameful decision last month to sell $53 million of weapons to Bahrain.
“Selling weapons to a regime that is violently suppressing peaceful civil dissent and violating human rights is antithetical to our foreign policy goals and the principle of basic rights for all that the U.S. has worked hard to promote,” Wyden argued.
While this principle should apply to all U.S. weapons sales, it should be even more strictly adhered to when U.S. taxpayers are funding weapons sales through military aid. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid, scheduled to receive $30 billion in taxpayer-financed weapons between 2009 and 2018, and also violently suppresses nonviolent Palestinian protest and commits grave human rights violations against Palestinians living under its illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
As an example of Israel’s repression of Palestinian nonviolence, in January, Jawaher Abu Rahmah died after inhaling U.S.-supplied tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers in her West Bank village of Bil’in during its weekly protest against Israel’s illegal wall encroaching upon village farmland. In April 2009, her brother Bassem was also killed after being hit in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas canister fired by Israeli soldiers. These types of tear gas canisters from Combined Systems, Inc. of Jamestown, PA also have been linked to the killing of Bahraini protesters.
Jawaher and Bassem are two of the more than 3,000 Palestinians civilians who have been killed by Israel since 2000, according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem. Often Israel kills these Palestinians with some of the more than 670 million weapons U.S. taxpayers have funded for Israel in the same period, according to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Given Wyden’s professed commitment to U.S. weapons not being misused to further human rights violations, the Senator should be outraged as well by U.S. military aid to Israel, for which his Oregon constituents are expected to pay more than $285 million between 2009 and 2018. Yet, instead, Wyden praises Israel as “a stable democracy and a stalwart ally” and keynotes at fundraisers for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an outfit that lobbies for more U.S. aid to Israel to the detriment of unmet needs at home.
Wyden should not hold Israel to a different standard. If U.S. weapons should not support Bahrain’s human rights abuses, then neither should they support Israel’s denial of Palestinian freedom and self-determination.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.