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Israeli MKs discuss overcoming US ‘settler’ sanctions

"We're talking about simple families that work in agriculture. We must defend their right to live," Likud lawmaker Amit Halevi told JNS.

Israeli lawmaker Amit Halevi (Likud Party) speaks during a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli lawmaker Amit Halevi (Likud Party) speaks during a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israeli lawmaker Amit Halevi (Likud) summoned an urgent meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday to explore ways Jerusalem can come to the aid of citizens who face international sanctions.

On Feb 1., U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order sanctioning “persons undermining peace, security and stability” in Judea and Samaria, citing “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction.”

The White House named four Israelis as the targets of sanctions: Yinon Levi of Meitarim Farm; David Chai Chasdai of Givat Ronen; Einan Tanjil of Kiryat Ekron; and Shalom Zicherman of Mitzpe Yair.

Biden’s “unacceptable” decision to levy sanctions was “not only unfriendly, but also unfair,” Halevi told JNS, noting that Israel takes “very strong—maybe more than needed” action against lawbreakers, “especially against the settlers in Judea and Samaria, unfortunately.”

Of the four, only Chasdai has ever run afoul of Israeli authorities. In 2023, he was sentenced to four months of administrative detention following his alleged participation in a riot in the Samaria town of Huwara. 

However, fearing being cut off from the U.S. financial system, several Israeli banks have moved to proactively freeze the accounts of some of the sanctioned individuals, as well as their spouses.

“At the end of the day, it is a diplomatic [matter],” Tali Keisar, deputy supervisor of banks at the Bank of Israel, told lawmakers on Wednesday. “The Israeli banking system cannot be perceived as circumventing sanctions. This would harm the market and the economy.”

The committee meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the state, banks and the families harmed by the sanctions, focused on finding a solution.

“If the issue cannot be solved through political channels and if the regulator, the Bank of Israel, does not put out clear instructions, we suggest a new law. In these cases—when there are sanctions of foreign state of Israeli citizens— we must back those citizens,” said Halevi.

“Even according to the Biden presidential instruction, it’s not [required] that the Levi family, for example, should die of starvation,” he continued.

Sapir Levi told the committee that the family has been unable to purchase groceries and diapers for their children since Bank Leumi blocked a joint account with her husband earlier this month.

“We’re not talking about sanctions against businessmen that have billions, like [Roman] Abramovich, because he did business with Russia; we’re talking about simple families that work in agriculture. We must defend their right to live,” said Halevi.

One of the options suggested by coalition lawmakers entails the government providing affected families with an open-ended loan for the duration of the sanctions against them.

Halevi noted that Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have, since the start of the war with Hamas, often urged Israel to take into account the rights of “uninvolved” civilians in Gaza.

“Let’s leave the question of whether Gazans are really not involved; this is another issue. But what about this principle?” charged Halevi.

During Wednesday’s summit, Committee chairman David Bitan and Moshe Passal, both of the ruling Likud Party, warned that “tomorrow,” Biden could decide to impose sanctions on all 500,000-plus Jews in Judea and Samaria, or on all Israeli soldiers who enter Rafah in Gaza.

On Tuesday, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman blasted the Biden administration’s sanctions of Jews in Judea and Samaria as a “disgrace” that could potentially apply to anyone who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.

“So anyone who the State Department feels is hostile to creating a Palestinian terror state could wake up one morning and find his funds frozen at his local bank!” Friedman tweeted.

“Not only is this an unlawful interference in another nation’s internal politics (and a key ally to boot!) but it illegally punishes Israelis for exercising their free speech,” the ambassador claimed, calling the move a “remarkable betrayal” of the Jewish state.

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