Biden’s nominee for US human rights post withdraws after criticism of stance on Israel
US President Joe Biden’s nominee for a top State Department human rights post has withdrawn her candidacy as she faced intense scrutiny from a Republican senator who refused to agree to her nomination due to her statements on Israel.
Sarah Margon, whose nomination to serve as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor had been announced in April 2021, and who was not yet confirmed, in a statement shared first with Politico on Tuesday, described her decision not to be re-nominated as the new Congress has taken over.
“At present, I don’t see a path forward for confirmation, and after one and a half years, it’s time to move on,” Margon said in the statement. “I will continue to work on democracy and human rights, and am grateful to President Biden and Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken for their confidence in me and the honor of a nomination.”
Margon faced opposition from James Risch, the Idaho senator who is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Risch, citing past tweets of hers, accused Margon of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes Israel due to its policies toward the Palestinians.
Margon denied supporting the movement but her attempts to clarify the tweets didn’t sway Risch, neither did a letter of support from a bipartisan group of foreign policy professionals, some of them prominent in the Jewish community, who dismissed the allegations against Margon.
Margon likely had the votes to advance on the committee as the Democrats are in the majority, and she had the backing of its chairman, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the most prominent supporters of US-Israel relations in the Democratic caucus.
However, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a tradition of “comity,” where the chairperson and ranking member jointly agree to set agendas on business meetings, including when to schedule votes on nominees. Menendez would not break with that tradition.
Risch also took issue with Margon’s retweet in 2020 with approval of a New York Times opinion piece titled “I no longer believe in a Jewish state.”
At a hearing in September, Risch asked Margon, “Do you still subscribe to that?” Margon responded by saying she firmly believed in the so-called two-state solution, “so that Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side,” adding, “What I was focused on was the importance of ensuring Israelis and Palestinians could have equal protection under the law, access to democratic processes, security and prosperity.”
Margon, who grew up in a Jewish family in New York, is the US foreign policy director at the Open Society Foundations, the organization founded by billionaire George Soros. In the past, she served as the deputy Washington director for the NGO Human Rights Watch, a group that has clashed repeatedly with Israel’s government.
She explained that she had left the organization almost two years prior to the NGO’s determination that Israel was an apartheid state, adding she did not believe that Israel committed war crimes when it attacked Palestinians from Gaza.
The United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, and the International Court of Justice have all said Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In December last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “unequivocally” opposed to the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements. The top US diplomat said the Biden administration would work “relentlessly” to preserve a “horizon of hope,” however dim, for the creation of a Palestinian state.