State Department Officials Privately Criticized Funding Effort To Delegitimize Israel, Contradicting Public Statements

Biden admin won't disclose status of $1 million grant offered to investigate Israel’s alleged human rights abuses

Secretary of State Antony Blinken stands alongside President Joe Biden /
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stands alongside President Joe Biden / Getty Images
February 20, 2024

Diplomats in the Biden State Department privately expressed alarm over a $1 million taxpayer-funded grant meant to bankroll investigations into alleged Israeli human rights violations, contradicting the agency's public defense of the funding initiative. Now, the State Department won't say whether it went through with the grant.

A State Department official criticized colleagues in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) for trying to paint the funding initiative, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon in March 2022, as a mundane oversight program, when in fact the grant was meant to undermine one of the United States’ closest allies. While the agency's funding notice said the grant would be awarded by the end of 2022, the State Department declined to disclose whether it went through with the initiative, citing "internal deliberations processes."

"The issue isn’t that DRL funds programs in European countries or other countries we are allied with—the issue is that DRL is funding a program to collect evidence of human rights abuses and atrocities in a country that is our ally," wrote the official, whose name was redacted, pushing back against claims by the DRL Bureau that similar types of grants are issued elsewhere. "And the [notice] specifically says it may include documentation of violation of land property rights! (I mean, come on!) Who wrote this thing??"

While the State Department said the grant would "strengthen accountability and human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza," congressional critics accused the Biden administration of funding international efforts to delegitimize Israel and boost the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. State Department officials, at the time, publicly defended the grant, but internal correspondence obtained by the Free Beacon shows that at least some diplomats viewed it as a thinly veiled attempt to erode Israel’s legitimacy on the international stage.

The grant proposal offered outside groups up to $987,654 to "collect, archive, and maintain human rights documentation to support justice and accountability and civil society-led advocacy efforts, which may include documentation of legal or security sector violations and housing, land, and property rights," according to the notice. The previously unreported emails reveal internal tensions over the Biden administration’s Israel policies at a time when the United States was pumping millions in aid dollars into the Palestinian territories.

The internal email chain shows an unnamed diplomat pointed out that similar investigatory grants have only been issued for countries known to commit mass human rights violations.

"I went down a bit of a rabbit hole on this Israel [notice], but from what I saw, I think our DRL colleagues are in a bit of denial and don’t want to see the reality," the official wrote.

Of around 100 grant notices, only six "addressed accountability and human rights writ large in a specific country," the official wrote, noting that they include, among others, Syria, Malaysia, Libya, and Thailand.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was among the first to raise concerns about the grant, said the emails provide evidence the Biden administration was working to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.

"That notice was designed to demonize our Israeli allies and provide fodder for fabrications invented by Israel's genocidal enemies," Cruz told the Free Beacon. "There is a reason I was so vociferous in opposing it. It is very minimally heartening that there is at least one person in the entire State Department who recognized this idea was a complete disgrace and that their arguments were laughably awful. Unfortunately, that person was apparently ignored, since they used those excuses anyway and have continued trying to undermine Israel at every opportunity."

Sources familiar with the grant said it was clear the intent was to target Israel, and the incident ultimately exposed divisions over anti-Semitism inside the Biden State Department. The department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism was not consulted on the original grant, sources said, and Biden administration officials later disclosed under questioning from Cruz that the U.S. anti-Semitism envoy was only brought into the matter amid public criticism.

Additional emails related to the grant show the State Department fielding multiple inquiries from reporters and congressional offices following the Free Beacon’s initial report. In one thread, staffers on the House Foreign Relations Committee ask the State Department to explain "why [U.S. government] funding was necessary" for such a project. The State Department did not respond to these questions for nearly a month, and then promised to hold a briefing for officials in the future.

The State Department declined to comment on the correspondence, citing a policy of not discussing "internal government communications."

The spokesman said the State Department "seeks grant applications from and funds programs with a wide range of non-governmental partners around the world," and that the programs "are intended to foster respect for human rights and the rule of law and support democracy globally."

Since the Israel grant in question is "part of internal deliberations processes," the spokesman would not "publicly share information on status or outcomes."

Reed Rubinstein, senior counselor and director of oversight and investigations for America First Legal, a watchdog group that forced the emails in public view as part of litigation, said the grant marked a "shameful assault on our ally Israel’s security and legitimacy."

"To satisfy its pro-Hamas leftist and Islamist anti-Semitic base," Rubinstein said, "Biden has illegally used hundreds of millions of US taxpayer dollars to subsidize Palestinian terrorism, enriched and empowered Iran, and deployed the U.S. government’s intelligence apparatus and instruments of soft power to take down Israel’s elected government."

Published under: Israel , State Department