American Sanctions on Israeli Citizens Are an Exercise in Moral Equivalence

February 13, 2024 | Liat Collins
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On February 1, the White House issued an executive order placing sanctions on four Israelis living on the West Bank for allegedly attacking or mistreating Palestinians. While there have been instances of assaults on Palestinians by Jewish civilians, the sanctions are based on exaggerated and inaccurate reports of a wave of settler violence. Liat Collins describes the logic behind this move:

President Biden’s decision is not about combating violence. It’s an attempt at moral equivalence—and it carries its own dangers. The leader of the Democratic party, running for presidential reelection, fell into a trap set up by his party’s progressive wing and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters. The presidential order establishes a mechanism of financial sanctions against people (well, Jews) accused of “directing or participating in specific actions in the West Bank, which include threats of violence against civilians, intimidating civilians to cause them to leave their homes, destroying or seizing property, and engaging in terrorist activity.”

These are abhorrent acts indeed, but fortunately figures show that “settler violence” has decreased in recent months and is limited in scope and intensity. It is also condemned by Israeli public figures from the president, prime minister, and chief rabbi down.

According to a KAN public broadcaster report, [of the four targeted individuals] three have all faced proceedings in the Israeli justice system—a sign that the country takes the matter seriously even without U.S. presidential pushing. The U.S. could have—should have—informed the relevant Israeli authorities if it had specific information and concerns.

If the Biden administration’s goal is to appease the Jewish state’s leftwing opponents, the measure is unlikely to have the desired effect. As I noted in Friday’s newsletter, such opponents will not be swayed, which means the White House is only undermining itself in the eyes of those in the uncertain middle. The president’s intent may be to say, “We’re even handed; we punish extremists on both sides,” but by establishing this equivalence, it becomes less clear why the U.S. should be supporting Israel against the Palestinians in the first place. Washington is welcome to punish bad actors, but it would make its case more effectively by making it unequivocally.

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