Washington DC – When Nikki Haley was Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the global body’s Libya envoy.
The reason had nothing to do with his experience or qualifications. Haley, who served under former US President Donald Trump, specifically rejected Fayyad because he is Palestinian.
“The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state, nor does it support the signal this designation would send within the United Nations,” Haley said in a statement in February 2017, accusing the UN of being biased in favor of the Palestinians to the “detriment” of Israel.
The episode was one of many in which Haley made headlines during her time at the UN by rebuking the Palestinians and voicing support for Israel.
Haley, 51, officially launched her campaign for the 2024 US presidential race from her home state of South Carolina on Wednesday. But her candidacy has renewed criticism from Palestinian rights advocates who say Haley’s diplomatic career has been defined by pro-Israel advocacy — and her “bigotry” toward Palestinians has often been overlooked.
“Nikki Haley has a shameful history of enabling Israeli violence against the Palestinian people, a key feature of her tenure as UN ambassador,” Iman Abid, director of advocacy at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), told Al Jazeera.
Abid cited Haley’s defense of Israeli forces after they shot dead dozens of Palestinians in Gaza protesting the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
During a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the killings at the time, Haley praised what she called Israel’s “restraint” and left the meeting when the representative of Palestine began to speak.
“We remember her cruel callousness as Israel shot and killed more than 60 Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border on May 14, 2018, and her open racism and disregard for Palestinian life,” Abid said in an email.
The daughter of Indian immigrants and a former governor of South Carolina, Haley served as ambassador to the UN for the first two years of Trump’s tenure, often spearheading the president’s foreign policy decisions, including moving the embassy to Jerusalem in violation of international law.
Her campaign did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
While US support for Israel at the UN is a decades-long bipartisan policy that continues under the current administration of President Joe Biden, rights advocates say Haley’s anti-Palestinian bias was particularly brazen.
At the start of her tenure as envoy, Haley made it clear that she would make support for Israel at the UN a priority. She often praised Israel and accused the UN of “bullying” the country.
“Nowhere has the failure of the UN been more consistent and egregious than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” she said at a Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017.
After Trump decided to move the US embassy to Israel in late 2017, Haley warned the international community that Washington would “take names” as the UN sought to condemn the move.
Despite Haley’s veiled threat, which came along the way Twitter then 128 countries voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution declaring Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void”. Only seven countries joined the US and Israel in voting against the measure.
Even while she has not been in government since 2019, Haley has often made pro-Israel statements.
Israel has the right to self-defense.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) January 29, 2023
John Hagee opens Haley’s campaign launch
Haley’s pro-Israel stance was on full display at Wednesday’s presidential campaign launch. Pastor John Hagee, founder of the Christian-Zionist group Christians United for Israel, was the first speaker to take the podium at the event.
In his remarks, Hagee, who has previously described Muslim immigrants in the US as an “invasion,” praised Haley’s record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “As she was the defender of Israel, so may she experience God’s promise given to Abraham and to all who are righteous,” said the pastor in prayer.
Republican Congressman Ralph Norman also said at Haley’s rally on Wednesday that the former UN envoy would “fight to support our only democracy in the Middle East, Israel.”
Haley herself also mentioned Israel during her announcement, pledging to “stand with our allies from Israel to Ukraine.”
Those remarks — as well as a string of speakers like Hagee — drew condemnation from some critics.
“Haley has devoted her time as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN to undermining international law and attacking any attempt to hold the Israeli government accountable for violating Palestinian rights,” Beth Miller, political director at JVP Action, an arm of Jewish Voice for Peace, told Al Jazeera.
“One need look no further than her racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic supporters – such as Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee – to see that she poses a threat to all of our vulnerable communities.”
In an old sermon that resurfaced in 2008, Hagee described Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a “hunter” sent by God to force Jews to move to Israel.
Abed Ayoub, executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), also criticized Haley for giving Hagee a platform to launch the campaign. He added that he rejects “moderately” label that some mainstream media attached to Haley during her tenure under Trump.
“There is nothing moderate about being a fanatic,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.
He called Haley’s views on the Palestinians “problematic,” saying her decision to block Fayyad’s U.N. appointment shows that anti-Palestinian — and anti-Arab bigotry in general — often gets a pass in American politics.
“She wouldn’t have gotten away with this if it was someone from any other nation,” Ayoub said.
A pro-Israeli competition
When it comes to pro-Israel advocacy, Haley could have strong competition for the 2024 Republican nomination.
With the growing influence of evangelical Christians, some of whom link Israel’s survival to biblical prophecy, unconditional support for Israel has become an almost unquestioned position in the Republican Party.
The only other official candidate in the race is Haley’s former boss, Trump, who is often described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — both staunch supporters of Israel — are also expected to run.
Ayoub expressed concern that Republican candidates may try to outdo each other with anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia to attract “extremists in their base.”
“With so many people entering the race and trying to match Donald Trump, things are going to get uglier as they go along,” he said.
Haley spoke Wednesday about her experience as a public servant, describing herself as a “tough as nails woman.” The 51-year-old also called for a change of generations.
“If you’re tired of losing, believe in the new generation,” Haley told the crowd. “And if you want to win – not only as a party, but also as a country – be with me.”