The Israel Exception


Justice, fairness, and freedom of expression are fundamental American values. And while we don’t always live up to them, we certainly always aspire to when making public policy. But when it comes to the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, the U.S. makes unusual exceptions to standard U.S. policy norms, and those exceptions often come at the expense of basic American values. Here are the odd ways Israel receives exceptional treatment:

Violating the First Amendment to Protect Israel from Criticism

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects one of the most sacred American values: the right to free expression. Political boycotts are not only protected by the First Amendment, they are are a celebrated American tradition, from the American revolution that was founded on a boycott of British goods, to the civil rights movement that relied on the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s to advance racial justice. But today, there are incessant legislative efforts across the country to criminalize boycotts of Israel. In other words, American legislators are attempting to shield Israel from criticism and accountability at the expense of the First Amendment rights of Americans. Here are a few examples of these efforts:

  • National legislation known as the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” which seeks to punish Americans who join calls to boycott Israel by international institutions. (1)

  • In the Texas city of Dickinson, those applying for Hurricane relief had to first certify that they do not boycott Israel. (2)

  • A math teacher in Kansas was asked to certify that she does not boycott Israel before she could be contracted with the state in order to teach. (3)

Beyond boycotts, there are also efforts to shield Israel from criticism by conflating such criticism with anti-Semitism. This includes efforts to pass the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” which would adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel. This definition was specifically developed for data collection in Europe, and its own author strongly opposes applying it in the U.S. to curb advocacy for Palestinian rights, saying such domestic adoption would be an “affront to academic freedom,” as well as “unconstitutional and unwise.” (4)

Receiving Foreign Military Financing in One Lump Sum so that Israel Can Draw the Interest Instead of the US Treasury

Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign military aid, receiving a massive package of $38 billion this decade (5). While other countries receive their U.S. aid in quarterly installments, Israel receives its entire aid package at the beginning of each fiscal year, allowing it to turn additional interest on it. (6)

Leahy Law Does not Allow US Support for Foreign Militaries Engaged in Human Rights Abuses, Except for Israel

The Leahy Law prohibits U.S. security assistance to foreign military units engaged in gross human rights violations (7), and even though such violations are thoroughly documented by international human rights organizations in the case of the Israeli military, the Leahy Law was never applied to Israeli military units.

U.S. Arms Export Control Act


The U.S. Arms Export Control Act (AECA) also specifies that U.S. weapons sales to foreign countries must be used solely for legitimate purposes like “internal security, for legitimate self-defense,” and a few other particular functions (8). Illegal military occupation is not one of the specified functions, and the law states that such sales must cease when the weapons are misused for other purposes (9). Israel has yet to be held accountable under any of these laws.











Firas Nasr