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 envoy to Libya.
The reason had nothing to do with his experience or qualifications. Haley, who served under former US President Donald Trump, explicitly rejected Fayyad because he is Palestinian.
“The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations,” Haley said in a statement in February 2017, accusing the UN of bias in favour of Palestinians to “the detriment” of Israel.
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The episode was one of many where Haley made headlines during her time at the UN by rebuking Palestinians and voicing support for Israel.
On Wednesday, Haley, 51, formally launched her campaign for the 2024 US presidential race from her home state of South Carolina. But her candidacy has renewed criticism from Palestinian rights advocates who say Haley’s diplomatic career was defined by pro-Israel advocacy — and her “bigotry” against Palestinians was often overlooked.
“Nikki Haley has a shameful history of enabling Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people, a defining feature of her tenure as the UN ambassador,” Iman Abid, advocacy director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), told Al Jazeera.
Abid cited Haley’s defence of Israeli forces after they shot dozens of Palestinians in Gaza who were demonstrating against the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
During a UN Security Council session addressing the killings at that time, Haley praised what she called Israel’s “restraint” and walked out of the meeting when Palestine’s representative began to speak.
“We remember her cruel callousness as Israel shot and killed over 60 Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border on May 14, 2018, and her open racism and disrespect for Palestinian life,” Abid said in an email.
The daughter of Indian immigrants and the former governor of South Carolina, Haley served as UN ambassador for the first two years of Trump’s term, often spearheading the president’s foreign policy decisions, including the embassy move 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 especially brazen.
Early in her tenure as envoy, Haley made it clear that she would make backing Israel at the UN a priority. She often heaped praise on Israel and accused the UN of “bullying” the country.
“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” she said in her Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017.
After Trump decided to relocate the US embassy in Israel late in 2017, Haley warned the international community that Washington will be “taking names” as the UN pushed to denounce the move.
Despite Haley’s veiled threat, which came via Twitter at the time, 128 countries voted in favour of a 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 in her time outside government since 2019, Haley has frequently made pro-Israel statements.
Israel has a 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”, paid a nod to Haley’s record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “As she has been a defender of Israel, so let her experience the promise of God given to Abraham and to all who are righteous,” the pastor said in a prayer.
Republican Congressman Ralph Norman also said at Haley’s rally on Wednesday that the former UN envoy “will fight to support our only democracy in the Middle East, Israel”.
Haley herself also made a reference to Israel during her announcement, pledging to “stand with our allies from Israel to Ukraine”.
Those remarks — as well as the lineup of speakers like Hagee — drew condemnation from some critics.
“Haley devoted her time as Donald Trump’s UN ambassador to undermining international law and attacking any attempt to hold the Israeli government accountable for its violations of 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 push Jewish people to move to Israel.
Abed Ayoub, executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), also criticised Haley for giving Hagee a platform at the campaign launch. He added that he rejects the “moderate” label that some mainstream media outlets have attached to Haley during her time serving under Trump.
“There’s nothing moderate about being a bigot,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.
He called Haley’s views on Palestinians “problematic”, saying that her decision to block Fayyad’s UN appointment demonstrates that anti-Palestinian — and broadly anti-Arab — bigotry often gets a pass in US politics.
“She wouldn’t have gotten away with this if it was somebody from any other nation,” Ayoub said.
When it comes to pro-Israel advocacy, Haley may have some stiff competition for the 2024 Republican nomination.
With the growing influence of evangelical Christians, some of whom link Israel’s survival to Biblical prophecies, unconditional support for Israel has become a nearly unquestioned position in the Republican Party.
The only other candidate officially in the race is Haley’s former boss, Trump, who is often described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the “best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House”.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — both staunch Israel supporters — are also expected to run.
Ayoub voiced concern that Republican candidates may try to outdo one another with anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia to appeal to “the extremists in their base”.
“With so many folks entering the race and trying to match Donald Trump, things are going to get uglier as they proceed,” he said.
On Wednesday, Haley talked up her experience as a public servant, describing herself as a “tough-as-nails woman”. The 51-year-old also called for a generational change.
“If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation,” Haley told a crowd of supporters. “And if you want to win — not just as a party but as a country — stand with me.”