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If Biden is cutting aid to Egypt over human rights violations, why doesn’t he cut aid to Israel?

September 21, 2021 at 5:45 pm

US President Joe Biden arrives before addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021 in New York [JOHN MINCHILLO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Following complaints from prominent rights groups, US State Department spokesman Ned Price announced last Tuesday that the Biden administration is expected to withhold $130 million in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns. President Joe Biden is thus departing from the policy of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who ignored congressional checks on military aid to Egypt, whose ties with the US improved when it mediated a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian resistance groups in May. However, Biden has made it clear that he intends to put pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi over his regime’s human rights violations.

“We will bring our values with us into every relationship that we have across the globe,” the State Department pledged in March. “That includes with our close security partners. That includes Egypt. We take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention.”

This was not enough to deter Al-Sisi, whose prisons hold tens of thousands of political prisoners, Islamists and secularists alike. Nor was the pledge enough to prove that the US is really committed to human rights, but it is better than nothing. We are surely entitled to ask, though, why the US is taking such a measure against Egypt but will never dare to cut aid to Israel for the same reason. The occupation state has a long and brutal record of human rights violations committed on a daily basis.

READ: US waiving restrictions on military aid to Egypt puts it at risk of complicity in rights abuses

Successive US administrations have given full support to Israel in order to maintain it as the strongest state in the Middle East. Washington also makes sure that Israel is protected from any attempt to make it accountable for its actions. Israel can, literally, get away with murder and act with impunity. It’s clear for all to see. So why is the US concern for human rights extremely selective?

Martin Kramer wrote an article in 2006 for the pro-Israel Washington Institute in which he criticised Professors John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt whose research was first published in the same year but came out as a book — The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy — in 2007. Mearsheimer and Walt, he pointed out, wrote that the “Israel Lobby has effectively hijacked US policy in the Middle East so that it serves Israel’s, not America’s, interests.” The Lobby, they said, operates “through fronts as diverse as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and so on.”

In trying to discredit this argument, Kramer noted that the US has been using the “peace process” between Israel and the Arabs to achieve its own interests, turning “even revolutionary Arab leaders into supplicants at the White House door.” Kramer stressed that these Arab leaders “would not be there if a strong Israel did not hold something they want, and if the United States was not in a position to deliver it.” In short, he didn’t believe that “the Lobby” has anything to do with US support for Israel, or not as much as was claimed. Mearsheimer and Walt, however, demonstrated very successfully, I believe, that Israel spends a lot of money funding lobby groups in the US precisely because they do make a difference.

The Israeli constant attack on Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

During the recent Israeli offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip, William Roberts wrote to Al Jazeera about the impact and power of the pro-Israel Lobby in US politics. He took a different position on the importance of the Lobby. “Pro-Israel interest groups donate millions to US federal political candidates,” he said. This automatically renders them supporters of Israel who will exert their utmost efforts to protect it in order to maintain the millions donated by the Lobby.

A study conducted by Kali Robinson published by the Council on Foreign Relations stated that there are shared interests between the US and Israel related to control over the Middle East and facing up to countries and movements which do not keep up with US policies. “As a result of these shared interests,” explained Robinson, “the United States has pledged to help safeguard Israel’s military superiority over any hostile combination of countries in the region.”

Given Israel’s clear human rights violations against the Palestinians, the US clearly does not care about democratic values or human rights; as such, it does not really consider these issues when it decides to send or suspend US aid for any country. There are many examples of countries which are not democratic or have awful human rights records but are still regular recipients of US aid.

Many analysts claim that the US only really became a strong supporter of Israel following the end of the Cold War, and after it had proved itself to be a strong country. The US, though, was the first country to recognise Israel as a sovereign state in 1948. The issue is not strength and power; the issue is shared interests, even if human rights are trampled on. The US recognised Israel despite the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the destruction of more than 500 towns and villages across Palestine, all of which happened in full view of the world. More than 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes; they and their descendants have been refugees ever since. Israel has never allowed the refugees to fulfil their legitimate right to return to their land, even though that was a condition of the nascent state’s membership of the UN.

Stephen Zunes wrote for the Institute for Policy Studies two decades ago that there are strategic reasons for America’s ongoing support for Israel. “There is a broad bipartisan consensus among policymakers that Israel has advanced US interest in the Middle East and beyond.” He continued: “Israel has successfully prevented victories by radical nationalist movements in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as in Palestine, Israel has kept Syria, for many years an ally of the Soviet Union, in check, Israel’s air force is predominant throughout the region and Israel’s frequent wars have provided battlefield testing for American arms, often against Soviet weapons.”

READ: Egypt rights groups denounce Biden’s decision to grant Sisi military aid

Zunes added that “Israel has served as a conduit for US arms to regimes and movements too unpopular in the United States for openly granting direct military assistance, such as apartheid South Africa, the Islamic Republic in Iran, the military junta in Guatemala, and the Nicaraguan Contras.” He also said that “Israeli military advisers have assisted the Contras, the Salvadoran junta, and foreign occupation forces in Namibia and Western Sahara.”

It’s fairly obvious, therefore, why Washington is never going to alienate a faithful ally that has been, and remains, a precious proxy in the Middle East. Until and unless something drastic happens, and US administrations suddenly acquire a moral compass from somewhere that doesn’t depend on US “interests” taking precedence over justice, the Palestinians will continue to suffer under brutal Israeli colonial-occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.