J Street Statement on Potential Application of Leahy Law to Netzah Yehuda Battalion

April 22, 2024

J Street believes strongly that enforcement of US law regarding its security assistance to allies must be applied consistently and objectively. The Leahy Law prohibits the provision of US military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights. Indications from the Biden Administration that the Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Israel Defense Forces will likely be found to have violated the Leahy Law are deeply distressing but not surprising in light of the unit’s history of problematic and violent behavior toward Palestinians in the West Bank over the past decade.

As an organization that advocates US security assistance to Israel so it can defend itself against a myriad of threats, J Street believes it is essential that Israel use that aid to ensure the safety of Israelis and Palestinians alike in a manner consistent with US and international law.

The Netzah Yehuda battalion, which is disproportionately comprised of soldiers drawn from the far-right of the settlement movement, is the unit responsible – among other high-profile incidents – for the January 2022 detention and brutal treatment of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad that resulted in his death. The battalion’s egregious conduct has led former IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi to condemn its actions as “repugnant” and former Minister of Diaspora Nachman Shai to call for its disbandment.

In addition to appropriately prohibiting the transfer of US military assistance to a deeply problematic unit of Israel’s military, the Biden Administration’s action marks a necessary step forward in demonstrating a meaningful commitment to enforcing longstanding US and international laws protecting civilians in conflict. These laws are only effective if applied in a consistent and impartial manner. Shying away from their due enforcement against Israeli military units would be to apply a double standard that undermines both American credibility and the safety of all civilians – including Israelis and Palestinians – at an especially dangerous moment in the region.