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Israeli leaders criticize expected US sanctions against military unit that could further strain ties

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Israeli leaders criticize expected US sanctions against military unit that could further strain ties
News

News

Israeli leaders criticize expected US sanctions against military unit that could further strain ties

2024-04-22 02:47 Last Updated At:02:50

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday harshly criticized an expected decision by the U.S. to impose sanctions on a unit of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Israeli military.

The decision, expected as soon as Monday, would mark the first time the U.S. has ever imposed sanctions on a unit inside the Israeli military and further strains relations between the two allies, which have grown increasingly tense during Israel’s war in Gaza.

While U.S. officials declined to identify the sanctioned unit, Israeli leaders and local media identified it as Netzah Yehuda — an infantry battalion founded roughly a quarter of a century ago to incorporate ultra-Orthodox men into the military. Many religious men receive exemptions from what is supposed to be compulsory service.

Israeli leaders condemned the decision as unfair, especially at a time when Israel is at war, and vowed to oppose it.

“If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF, I will fight it with all my might,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netzah Yehuda, or Judea Forever, has historically been based in the occupied West Bank and some of its members have been linked to abuses against Palestinians. It makes up just a small part of Israel’s military presence in the territory.

The unit came under heavy American criticism in 2022 after an elderly Palestinian-American man was found dead shortly after he was detained at a West Bank checkpoint.

A Palestinian autopsy said Omar Assad, 78, had underlying health conditions, but had suffered a heart attack caused by “external violence.”

It said doctors found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded. A military investigation said that Israeli soldiers assumed that Assad was asleep when they cut off the cables binding his hands. They didn’t offer medical help when they saw that he was unresponsive and left the scene without checking to see if he was alive.

Assad had lived in the U.S. for four decades. After an outcry from the U.S. government, the Israeli military said the incident “was a grave and unfortunate event, resulting from moral failure and poor decision-making on the part of the soldiers.” It said one officer was reprimanded and two other officers reassigned to non-commanding roles, over the incident.

But the army decided against criminal prosecution, saying military investigators could not directly link their actions to the death of the U.S. citizen.

Human rights groups long have argued that Israel rarely holds soldiers accountable for the deaths of Palestinians.

Investigators said soldiers were forced to restrain Assad because of his “aggressive resistance.” Assad’s family has expressed skepticism that the behavior of an ailing 78-year-old could justify such harsh treatment.

Amid the uproar with the U.S., Israel moved Netzah Yehuda out of the West Bank in late 2022 and reassigned it to northern Israel. The battalion was moved to the southern border with Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack triggered the ongoing war.

In a statement Sunday, the army said its Netzah Yehuda soldiers “are currently participating in the war effort in the Gaza Strip.”

“The battalion is professionally and bravely conducting operations in accordance to the IDF Code of Ethics and with full commitment to international law,” it said. It said that if the unit is sanctioned, “its consequences will be reviewed.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that he had made a decision on reviews of allegations that several Israeli military units had violated conditions for receiving U.S. assistance outlined in the so-called Leahy Law and that they would soon be made public.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, said in a statement that he spoke Sunday evening with Blinken and told him the decision is a “mistake” because it would harm Israel's international legitimacy during wartime and because Israel's judicial system is “strong and independent.”

Two U.S. officials familiar with the situation said the U.S. announcement could come as soon as Monday.

The officials said about five Israeli units were investigated and all but one had been found to have taken action to remedy the violations. The Leahy Law, named for former Sen. Patrick Leahy, bars U.S. aid from going to foreign military units that have committed human rights abuses.

A reservist in the Netzah Yehuda unit, Sgt. Maj. Nadav Nissim Miranda, said the Assad death was “an unfortunate incident” but also an aberration. He told Channel 12 TV that targeting the battalion would hurt efforts to encourage religious men to enlist.

But Yesh Din, an Israeli legal advocacy group, said the case was not isolated. It said one out of every five soldiers convicted of harming Palestinians or their property since 2010 comes from Netzah Yehuda, making it the unit with the highest conviction rate for such cases.

The U.S. review was launched before the Hamas war and not connected to recent Israeli actions inside Gaza or the West Bank — which has experienced a dramatic spike in deadly violence since the Gaza war erupted. The U.S. has also recently imposed sanctions against violent settlers.

Gadi Shamni, a retired general who once served as the military’s commander over the West Bank, said a main problem with the unit is that it was traditionally assigned exclusively to the West Bank. Violence between troops and Palestinians and settlers and Palestinians has surged there in recent years. In contrast, he said other units regularly rotate in and out of the volatile area.

He said the exposure to nonstop friction and violence had caused a level of “tiredness” among the troops. Nonetheless, he said it was a stereotype to punish the entire unit and it would have been better to target specific individuals or commanders.

But Ori Givati, the director of advocacy at Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group of former combat soldiers critical of Israel’s occupation, said the problems run much deeper than any particular unit.

He said abuses of power by soldiers toward Palestinians are systematic and the lack of repercussions for wrongdoings are fueling incidents like the death of Assad.

Israeli hard-liners blasted the expected U.S. decision. Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said the U.S. crossed a “red line,” and Tally Gotliv, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, accused the U.S. of antisemitism.

But even the head of the opposition, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, rejected the move.

He said the sanctions are “a mistake and we must act to cancel them.” He noted that “the source of the problem is not at the military level but at the political level.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Jack Jeffery in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

FILE - Mourners carry the body of Omar Assad, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Jiljiliya, north of Ramallah, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Israeli leaders on Sunday, April 21, 2024, harshly criticized an expected decision by the U.S. to impose sanctions on a unit of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Israeli military. The unit came under heavy American criticism in 2022 after the elderly Palestinian-American man was found dead shortly after he was detained at a West Bank checkpoint. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

FILE - Mourners carry the body of Omar Assad, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Jiljiliya, north of Ramallah, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Israeli leaders on Sunday, April 21, 2024, harshly criticized an expected decision by the U.S. to impose sanctions on a unit of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Israeli military. The unit came under heavy American criticism in 2022 after the elderly Palestinian-American man was found dead shortly after he was detained at a West Bank checkpoint. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

Next Article

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53

2024-05-24 23:38 Last Updated At:23:40

NEW YORK (AP) — Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee whose most famous works skewered America's food industry and who notably ate only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53.

Spurlock died Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement issued Friday by his family.

“It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” Craig Spurlock, who worked with him on several projects, said in the statement. “Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man. I am so proud to have worked together with him.”

Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking film “Super Size Me,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film chronicled the detrimental physical and psychological effects of Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days. He gained about 25 pounds, saw a spike in his cholesterol and lost his sex drive.

“Everything’s bigger in America,” he said in the film. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”

In one scene, Spurlock showed kids a photo of George Washington and none recognized the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

The film grossed more than $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded the release of Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which accused the industry of being bad for the environment and rife with labor issues.

Spurlock returned in 2019 with “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” — a sober look at an industry that processes 9 billion animals a year in America. He focused on two issues: chicken farmers stuck in a peculiar financial system and the attempt by fast-food chains to deceive customers into thinking they’re eating healthier.

“We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”

Spurlock was a gonzo-like filmmaker who leaned into the bizarre and ridiculous. His stylistic touches included zippy graphics and amusing music, blending a Michael Moore-ish camera-in-your-face style with his own sense of humor and pathos.

“I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.

After he exposed the fast-food and chicken industries, there was an explosion in restaurants stressing freshness, artisanal methods, farm-to-table goodness and ethically sourced ingredients. But nutritionally not much had changed.

“There has been this massive shift and people say to me, ‘So has the food gotten healthier?’ And I say, ‘Well, the marketing sure has,’” he said.

Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con. One of his films looked at life behind bars at the Henrico County Jail in Virginia.

With 2008's “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” Spurlock went on a global search to find the al-Qaida leader, who was killed in 2011. In “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Spurlock tackled questions of product placement, marketing and advertising.

“Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” Spurlock told AP at the time. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees."

“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 but it was shelved at the height of the #MeToo movement when Spurlock came forward to detail his own history of sexual misconduct.

He confessed that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant. He also admitted to cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.

“For me, there was a moment of kind of realization — as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right — of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.

Spurlock grew up in Beckley, West Virginia. His mother was an English teacher who he remembered would correct his work with a red pen. He graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993.

He is survived by two sons — Laken and Kallen; his mother Phyllis Spurlock; father Ben; brothers Craig and Barry; and former spouses Alexandra Jamieson and Sara Bernstein, the mothers of his children.

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock of the CNN series "Inside Man" poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Director Morgan Spurlock from the film "Focus Forward" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge on Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock arrives at the premiere of "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Morgan Spurlock poses at the Los Angeles premiere of his film "Super Size Me," Thursday night, April 22, 2004, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film, "Go North", at AOL Studios on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in New York. Spurlock, an Oscar-nominee who made food and American diets his life’s work, famously eating only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

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