Photo Credit: POMED
Sarah Margon, April 9, 2019.

President Joe Biden is about to nominate the former Washington director of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Margon as the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, Foreign Policy reported Thursday (Biden Looks to Progressive for Key Human Rights Post).

Margon is an outspoken critic of authoritarian allies of the United States, most notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and has had a testy relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as well.


In May 2019, Margon mobilized 17 Democratic lawmakers who wrote Netanyahu asking that he halt the deportation of Omar Shakir, a US citizen and director of the Human Rights Watch office for Israel and the Palestinian territories. Margon told the Washington Post at the time that “taking a stronger or more vocal stance on Omar’s likely deportation would run up against their policy of having no daylight between the Trump administration and prime minister Netanyahu,” and added: “It’s unfortunate because in doing that, they are really allowing the growing democratic deficit to go forward without comment.”

In November 2019, Israel’s High Court of Justice finally ruled that Shakir’s work permit not be renewed and that he should be deported from Israel, because he is a long-standing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) activist and his role at HRW had been to advance BDS and related anti-Israel campaigns.

In response, Shakir accused Israel of “joining the ranks of Iran, North Korea, and Egypt in blocking access for HRW officials.”

If selected and confirmed by the Senate, Margon’s mission would be to re-establish the US as a defender of global human rights and to promote democracy worldwide to stem the rising tide of authoritarianism. The appointment would make Margon, who is currently director of foreign-policy advocacy at the Open Society Foundations, the most senior progressive foreign-policy expert to join the administration, FP noted.

Margon, who also served as an aide to former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, was a critic of both the Trump and the Obama administrations for their involvement with Saudi Arabia. “For too long, Washington has adopted policies in the name of protecting national security that come at the expense of human rights, forgetting the long-term costs of doing so,” she wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2018 (Giving Up the High Ground).

According to FP, Margon’s nomination would revive Biden’s “honeymoon with the left-wing of the Democratic party.” Biden is facing heavy pressure from progressive Democrats to appoint more progressives, cut defense spending, conclude the Iran nuclear talks, and “reevaluate” Washington’s relationship with Israel.


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