The Israeli government on Wednesday pushed back against a new effort by Democrats to pressure the Obama administration into launching a probe of alleged Israeli human rights violations, a move that could threaten U.S. military aid to the Jewish state.
A group of 10 Democrats, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), has petitioned the State Department to investigate the Israeli and Egyptian governments for human rights violations. The congressmen cited reports claiming Israeli security forces engaged in the torture and killing of Palestinians.
The letter prompted an angry response from the Israeli government, which dismissed the lawmakers’ allegations and accused them of unjustly attacking the Jewish state while ignoring Palestinian terrorism.
The request for a probe could further complicate already strained relations between the United States and Israeli and jeopardize the military aid provided annually to the Jewish state.
"The [Israeli Defense Forces] and the Israeli Police do not engage in executions. Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "Where is the concern for the human rights of the many Israelis who’ve been murdered and maimed by these savage terrorists?"
"This letter should have been addressed instead to those who incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism," Netanyahu said.
The State Department confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday that it had received Leahy’s letter and explained that no U.S. aid is currently being given to any Israeli or Egyptian authority guilty of human rights violations, as is mandated under a human rights measure known as the Leahy Law.
"The Department has received a letter signed by Senator Leahy and is responding to it," State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "We have applied and continue to apply the Leahy Law in Egypt and Israel, in the same way we do globally. We do not provide assistance to any security force unit in Egypt or Israel when we have credible information that they have committed a gross violation of human rights."
The lawmakers who wrote the letter—Leahy and nine House members, including Reps. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.), Chellie Pingree (D., Maine), and Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—accused Israel of "gross violations of human rights," according to a copy of the letter sent last month to Secretary of State John Kerry.
"There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt—incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance," the lawmakers said.
The reports include alleged "extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police" and "reports of the use of torture," according to the lawmakers.
The claims are based on reports issued by Amnesty International, which is known for its harsh and, some say, unfair criticism of Israel, and "other human rights organizations," according to the letter.
The lawmakers pressed the Obama administration to investigate these allegations and determine if they violate the Leahy Law, which mandates that no U.S. aid be awarded to foreign military units that violate human rights.
Critics of the effort accused these Democrats of teaming up with anti-Israel advocates to launch a politically-motivated attack on the Jewish state.
Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, expressed outrage on Twitter.
"Sen. Leahy accuses Israel of illegally killing Palestinian terrorists but is mum about terrorists murdering Israelis?" he asked in a tweet.
Some in Vermont’s pro-Israel community expressed surprise that Leahy would target the Jewish state.
"Senator Leahy has caught the entire pro-Israel community in Vermont completely off guard," Vermont-based Rabbi James Glazier told the Free Beacon. "I would think that the senator might have considered consulting with some of his constituents before issuing such an anti-Israel statement."
"Linking a totalitarian Egypt with a democratic Israel goes far beyond the pale of logical thinking," Glazier said. "I am at a complete loss as to the senator’s current thinking. I only wish Senator Leahy was more outspoken about the violence being perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists against innocent Israelis and Americans."
Others noted that longtime anti-Israel activists are likely fueling the lawmakers’ effort.
"It is disturbing to learn that Sen. Leahy is working with Jewish Voice for Peace, a [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] group that regularly traffics in anti-Semitism and openly calls for Israel's destruction," said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. "The senator is a disgrace."