Biden Administration’s Capitulation to Israel

By preventing a U.N. Security Council vote on Israel’s illegal settlements, Marjorie Cohn says Biden failed to demonstrate even the modicum of reason exhibited by the Obama-Biden administration.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs guestbook at the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (White House, Adam Schultz)

By Marjorie Cohn


As the new right-wing Israeli regime ramps up its oppression of Palestinians, the Biden administration has taken its capitulation to Israel to a new and absurd level.

After nominating an independent expert to serve on a human rights commission, the U.S. State Department withdrew the nomination because the expert accurately called Israel an apartheid state. A week later, the United States prevented the United Nations Security Council from voting to condemn Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestinian territory.

On Feb. 10, the State Department nominated Professor James Cavallaro as an independent expert on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Cavallaro is “a leading scholar and practitioner of international law with deep expertise in the region as well as the Inter-American human rights system,” the State Department declared. Cavallaro, executive director of the University Network for Human Rights (UNHR), was a member of the IACHR from 2014-2017 during the Obama administration and even served as its president.

IACHR commissioners are independent human rights experts, not spokespersons for their countries’ foreign policies. They hear cases about massacres, extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances only in the Americas. They have no jurisdiction over Israel.

But that didn’t stop the State Department from withdrawing Cavallaro’s nomination on Feb. 20 after The Algemeiner, a U.S.-based Jewish newspaper, criticized him for (correctly) describing Israel as an “apartheid state” and accusing Israel of “atrocities.”

Cavallaro also ran afoul of the Biden administration by criticizing House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) for his close relationship with the powerful pro-Israel lobby, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Cavallaro tweeted that Jeffries had been “Bought. Purchased. Controlled” by AIPAC. Indeed, in 2020, Jeffries told an AIPAC meeting that “back home in New York City we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough.

In defending the withdrawal of Cavallaro’s nomination, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “[Cavallaro’s] statements clearly do not reflect U.S. policy. They are not a reflection of what we believe, and they are inappropriate to say the least.”

Cavallaro: ‘No Remit Over Israel & Palestine’

James Cavallaro while chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2016. (Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS, CC BY 2.0)

But an independent expert is just that — independent. Cavallaro would not be representing the United States if he served on the IAHRC.

As an independent expert, “I would not have represented the United States government and I would have had absolutely no remit over Israel and Palestine!” Cavallaro told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! “The Inter-American Commission oversees human rights in the western hemisphere. That’s the other hemisphere, Israel and Palestine.”

Nevertheless, the State Department withdrew Cavallaro’s nomination so as not to anger Israel. Cavallaro would have served as an independent expert on the Americas. But he failed to pass the U.S. litmus test, which requires fealty to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, called the U.S. action, “A state driven attack on a brilliant human rights lawyer because of his view on Israel apartheid,” noting, “The U.S. government has not engaged with the legal and empirical bases of positions on Israel apartheid. Instead, it is censoring, shutting down debates, and threatening.”

Callamard’s sentiments were echoed by Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, who said the U.S. withdrawal of Cavallaro’s nomination “suggests that for the State Department, believing that Palestinians deserve basic rights disqualifies one from serving on a human rights body. Shameful and yet U.S. foreign policy in a nutshell.”

“While Cavallaro’s potential participation on the commission would have absolutely no impact on U.S. policy on Israel, the withdrawal of his nomination will have real consequences for human rights in the Americas,” the UNHR said. “Cavallaro has been a courageous and committed voice for justice for victims of human rights abuse across the region; as an experienced commissioner in his second term, he would have advanced the cause of human rights in the hemisphere significantly.”

“Human rights practitioners and scholars should not fear professional reprisal for expressing their views about human rights violations, especially those carried out by U.S. allies,” 83 leading human rights organizations, that include Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyers Guild International Committee, and more than 300 academics and advocates, including this writer, stated in an open letter to Blinken protesting the withdrawal of Cavallaro’s nomination to the Commission. “This undermines free expression, academic freedom, and the work of all human rights advocates, particularly those who do not have the same kind of platform as Cavallaro.”

The 450 signatories from 20 countries, including members of the IACHR as well as current and former UN special mandate holders, added, “The State Department’s move is harmful to the global human rights movement and undermines the credibility of the United States in advocating for human rights in other parts of the world.”

Israel Is an Apartheid State

Israeli ground forces in August 2022 during an IDF air strikes campaign against Gaza. (IDF)

Moreover, Cavallaro’s characterization of Israel as an apartheid state is accurate. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and Michael Lynk (UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967) have all called Israel an apartheid regime.

In his March 2022 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Lynk affirmed that Israel practices apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory. “There is today in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system that privileges the 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

Lynk continued, “Living in the same geographic space, but separated by walls, checkpoints, roads and an entrenched military presence, are more than three million Palestinians, who are without rights, living under an oppressive rule of institutional discrimination and without a path to a genuine Palestinian state that the world has long promised is their right.”

Furthermore, Lynk reported, “Another two million Palestinians live in Gaza, described regularly as an ‘open-air prison’, without adequate access to power, water or health, with a collapsing economy and with no ability to freely travel to the rest of Palestine or the outside world.”

Lynk cited inhumane acts, extra-judicial killings, torture and the denial of fundamental rights to Palestinians. He also noted collective punishment, home demolitions, an abusive military court system and a high child mortality rate for Palestinians.

Apartheid is defined in the Apartheid Convention as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Those acts include “legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms.”

In addition, the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as inhumane acts “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention to maintaining that regime.”

Both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute consider apartheid to be a crime against humanity. Although Israel has not ratified the Apartheid Convention or the Rome Statute, apartheid is prohibited by jus cogens, which means that all countries are bound by the prohibition against apartheid.

Preventing Vote on Settlements

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (right) with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. representative at the U.N., Aug. 1, 2022. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The Biden administration continued its shameful capitulation to Israel by brokering a deal to avoid a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. If that resolution (which was scheduled for a vote on Feb. 20) had come to the floor of the Council, the United States would have been in the awkward position of having to veto it in order to avoid angering Israel.

As President Barack Obama was leaving office, his administration (in an unprecedented move) abstained from a similar resolution. By preventing a Security Council vote on Israel’s illegal settlements, Biden failed to demonstrate even the modicum of reason exhibited by the Obama-Biden administration.

After Israel announced it was legalizing nine illegal settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and had approved the building of 10,000 new houses in current settlements, the Palestinian Authority (PA) backed a Security Council resolution denouncing the settlements. Resolutions passed by the Security Council are considered binding under the United Nations Charter.

Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N. addressing Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, Feb. 20. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

But the Biden administration convinced the PA to back down from supporting the resolution in return for a “presidential statement” by the Security Council that criticizes the Israeli settlements. Israel agreed to temporarily halt its unilateral actions in the occupied West Bank for several months, suspend the demolitions of Palestinian homes and evictions for a few months, and decrease Israeli military raids on Palestinian cities. Israel also agreed to increase Palestinian tax revenues by more than $60 million a year. The PA agreed to resume security coordination with Israel that the former had suspended after last month’s Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp which killed nine Palestinians.

The PA administers the occupied West Bank. The decision of the PA to withdraw the resolution “goes against the Palestinian national struggle,” Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Al Jazeera.

“We reject equating between two sides — one that is an aggressor and an occupier, and the other that is living under occupation and apartheid,” Barghouti said. “Some are saying we need to focus on diplomatic and political resistance, so why has the decision been withdrawn? Even diplomatic resistance is forbidden? Even resistance based on international law?”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to uncritically support Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands to the tune of $3.8 billion in annual military assistance.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, and the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” radio.

This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

10 comments for “Biden Administration’s Capitulation to Israel

  1. D.H.Fabian
    March 1, 2023 at 13:38

    Enough. The portrayals of tiny Israel (roughly the size of New Jersey, sole Jewish nation, some 1% of the Mideast region) as a military mega=power with supernatural control over the US government, need to go in the same trash bin as “Iraq’s stockpiles of WMD” and “Russia stole the election.”

  2. Arch Stanton
    February 28, 2023 at 18:35

    Poor Palestinians, living and enduring similar hellish conditions as those who were contained in Warsaw ghetto in WW2.
    The US are sanctioning all of this but in the same breath claim to spread freedom & democracy.
    It’s a sick and twisted joke, if there is such thing as hell then the Ziocons will fill it to the brim.

  3. Lois Gagnon
    February 28, 2023 at 14:42

    The Security Council is nothing more than a tool for the US and it’s vassals to violate international law at will. The double standard is glaring. We are ruled by monsters.

  4. mgr
    February 28, 2023 at 10:11

    The US seems hell bent on being on the wrong side of history in absolutely everything it does. Of course, the world is envious of our values… I note that America’s actual values are usually on display with its representatives to the UN.

  5. Moi
    February 28, 2023 at 01:43

    The US has turned Israel into a de facto UNSC veto power and deserves equal condemnation for actions against the Palestinians.

    • Andrew Nichols
      February 28, 2023 at 14:15

      “the credibility of the United States in advocating for human rights in other parts of the world.””

      Credibility? Seriously? What credibility?

  6. John Ressler
    February 27, 2023 at 20:53

    When I think about the many homeless/freezing people standing on street corners all over this country (name the town/city) collecting spare change or all the struggling families on the edge of peril or already over that edge – it’s then that I remember the $3.8 dollars we provide Israel every year to oppress/eliminate the Palestinians in the shooting gallery for the IDF. There is a price to pay for the cold-heartedness toward those on or beyond the margins of this heartless country. Karma . . .

    • Valerie
      February 28, 2023 at 03:37

      It’s not just the USA, John. The traiterous Arab countries normalising relations with Israel should be considered too. This betrayal must deeply wound the Palestinians and make their plight even more difficult.

    • Robert Sinuhe
      February 28, 2023 at 13:29

      The $3.8million you speak of John is only what the administration tells us. It’s quite a bit more.Uncovering creative accounting would place the figure closer to $10 million. When Israel bombs Gaza, the reconstruction contracts, I hear, are given to Israeli companies.This is just one of the ways Israel receives its money. Consider the Iron Dome project. Is this part of the $3.8 million? Is there a responsible and all inclusive accounting of the funds we give to Israel? Considering the power of the Israeli lobby and the Jews who support Israel, it is unlikely that will come to pass.

      • JonnyJames
        February 28, 2023 at 15:17

        I agree, but not millions, billions rather.

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