Biden Wanted To Sanction An Israeli Battalion But He Didn’t Because Israel Said No

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readApr 27, 2024

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

The Biden administration has reportedly canned its plans to issue sanctions on an extremist IDF unit for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, following backlash from Israel and its high-powered supporters within the US government.

Axios reports:

The State Department has put on hold its intention to impose sanctions on the Israel Defense Forces “Netzah Yehuda” battalion for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank and is reviewing the issue in light of information Israel provided in recent days, U.S. sources familiar with the issue said.

Why it matters: The review is part of a consultation process outlined in an agreement between the U.S. and Israel. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also been under extensive pressure from the Israeli government, members of Congress and some senior Biden administration officials to reconsider the possible sanctions.

The big picture: The Biden administration had intended to withhold U.S. military aid and training from the Netzah Yehuda battalion — an unprecedented move in the history of relations between the countries.

As Dr Assal Rad has highlighted on Twitter, this decision follows a sequence of events in which ProPublica revealed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was ignoring his own State Department’s recommendation to sanction Israeli military units that have been credibly accused of human rights abuses like rape and torture, after which Blinken announced that he was preparing to issue sanctions after all. This announcement was met with outrage from Israel and its apologists, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu penning a furious screed calling the planned sanctions “the height of absurdity and a moral low”. Those planned sanctions are now canceled.

Or to put it more simply, the Biden administration had planned to sanction an IDF battalion, but it didn’t because Israel said no.

Which would be about par for the White House under Joseph R Biden, who throughout his too-long political career has received more campaign funding from the Israel lobby than literally anyone else in Washington. As Quincy Institute’s Trita Parsi recently explained in an article for Foreign Policy, this administration’s adamant refusal to set any limits whatsoever with the Israeli state is a dramatic deviation from the norm, with other presidents frequently displaying a well-documented willingness to give Tel Aviv a smack whenever it got too insane.

This incident with the IDF battalion sanctions is a good example of the way the Biden administration has had a standing policy of pretty much just letting Israel write its own rules for itself in Washington. We saw this illustrated yet again in a recent exchange at a press briefing with Deputy State Department Spokesman Vedant Patel, who when asked about the mass graves being discovered in Gaza kept defending the administration’s line that this was something Israel needs to investigate for itself.

Here’s a transcript:

PATEL: Go ahead, with the glasses.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: The Gaza civil service today held a press conference this morning, which was televised, and they said that evidence showed that many of those pulled out from the three mass graves that they found, including children, were tortured before being killed. Some even showed signs of being buried alive, along with other crimes against humanity that they accused Israeli forces of. They called for an independent forensic investigation. This administration repeatedly says that it asked Israel — the Israeli Government — to investigate itself.

As a mediator for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, how does it ever make sense that the United States asked the accused party to examine itself and provide reports that you have previously said that you actually trust? What’s wrong with an independent, scientific, forensic investigation? I mean, if there — if the results of such an independent investigation prove the accusations to be baseless, then that would be in Israel’s favor, wouldn’t it?

PATEL: So as it relates to the continued reporting about — we’re seeing about these mass graves, first, National Security Advisor Sullivan spoke a little bit about this yesterday, but we continue to find these reports incredibly troubling. And that’s why yesterday you saw the National Security Advisor call for this to be thoroughly investigated. We want to see these facts looked into. And simultaneously, we’re continuing to press the Government of Israel for more information. The IDF has spoken to this in some sense already, but we are continuing to press them for additional information.

QUESTION: But why not have an independent, forensic scientific — which the Palestinians are calling for?

PATEL: We think this does need to be thoroughly investigated, but in terms of the modality, we continue to want to see some additional information from the Government of Israel before we make other assessments.

QUESTION: But you’re asking the accused to investigate itself.

PATEL: We believe that through a thorough investigation, we can get some additional answers. We’re also hoping to continue to get more information from the Government of Israel on this.

QUESTION: But to his —

PATEL: Guita, go ahead.

Have you ever seen anything more absurd?

Having a position that literally every accusation of Israeli criminality in Gaza just means Israel needs to investigate itself is exactly the same as having a position that Israel can commit any crime it wants with no consequences whatsoever, because obviously Israel is never going to convict itself of any wrongdoing. But that is indeed the Biden administration’s position.

The message that Israel has been consistently getting from Washington from October 7 onward is, do whatever you like. Commit whatever crimes you want to commit. Our support is unconditional and there will be no consequences for any of your actions, ever. And Israel is certainly taking up every bit of slack it’s being given on that front.


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Featured image via U.S. Embassy Jerusalem (CC BY 2.0 DEED)