One quarter of the Democrats’ congressional delegation have signed an anti-Israel letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray. The letter calls for an American investigation into the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu-Akleh, while ignoring the fact that Palestinians are obstructing an investigation.
Despite the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to turn over the bullet that killed Abu-Akleh and rejection of Israel’s request for a joint investigation, the American legislators have cast doubt only on Israel’s role in the journalist’s death.
The letter was formulated by congressional allies of the “Squad” that includes Reps. Rashid Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They were joined by dozens of their Democratic colleagues. Disturbingly, many of these other signatories are generally viewed as more moderate than the habitually anti-Israel “Squad.”
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog stated, “This letter does not offer a fair representation of the case, ignores important context … and reaches a wrong conclusion.”
Illustrating Herzog’s critique, the voluminous coverage of Abu-Akleh’s death in the worldwide press—and in the congressional letter—usually fails to mention the plague of terrorist murders emanating from Jenin that drew the Israel Defense Forces to the area.
With 19 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the last few weeks—and reports of another attack being planned by U.S.-designated terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—the IDF was searching for suspects in jihadist hotbed Jenin. Their search was opposed by gunfire from PIJ terrorists there.
Abu-Akleh, a veteran reporter, was there to cover the confrontations between Israel and the Palestinian terror cells.
Palestinian reports of her shooting death immediately claimed that she was “murdered” by an Israeli sniper.
“The only source of fire in that place came from the occupation forces with the intention to kill,” said P.A. Attorney-General Akram al-Khatib said, referring to the IDF.
Initially, the P.A. claimed—and Al Jazeera and other news outlets dutifully reported—that no Palestinians were shooting anywhere near where she fell.
Then videos emerged showing a fierce firefight between the IDF and the PIJ terrorists. In fact, one of the videos recorded a PIJ gunman announcing that they had “gotten” an Israeli: In fact, no Israelis were shot that day, and the corpse on the ground was probably that of Abu-Akleh.
Those early stories were scrubbed from the Al Jazeera website, but the counterfactual allegations and narrative of a tranquil Jenin invaded by IDF assassins seeking a journalistic victim had taken root.
Videos exposing the dishonesty of the Palestinian propaganda had been published several days before the congressional letter was issued. Nonetheless, the congressional signatories propagated the lies in their letter, which states: “Palestinian journalists … say they did not see militants in the area.” The letter also cites Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist, alleging “there were no clashes or shootings in the immediate area.”
Of course, Palestinian journalists are notoriously unreliable witnesses. Veteran Middle East observers know that these reporters are threatened and strictly controlled by the Palestinian Authority. They have a reputation for reporting on incidents that are somehow always Israel’s fault.
Indeed, in Freedom House’s Press Freedom Index, the West Bank press receives a 25: Not Free. (Israel’s press scores 78: Free.)
In 2002, Jenin was also a hotspot for the Palestinian press, who supported claims the IDF massacred hundreds of Arab civilians. But when the facts were revealed, there had been fewer than 50 Arab deaths—and most of those were armed terrorist fighters killed in battle. (Twenty three Israeli soldiers were also killed.)
While the congressional request for answers pointedly implies Israel is hiding something, it neglects to mention that the linchpin of any investigation—the lethal bullet—is being held by the uncooperative Palestinians.
In fact, terrorists quickly collected Abu-Akleh’s body, and Israel immediately offered to investigate with the P.A., accompanied by American observers. The congressional letter conveniently omits the fact that the P.A. categorically refused. What the representatives want is precisely what the P.A. is blocking: A balanced and thorough determination of the circumstances of Abu-Akleh’s death.
The P.A.’s own medical examiner, who inspected the fatal bullet, said he couldn’t determine if it was from an IDF or a PIJ rifle. It is certain that Israel and the U.S. have superior ballistics labs—if the truth is really being sought.
If any party should be suspect in Abu-Akleh’s death, it is surely those obstructing justice.
In short, the intent of these congressional Democrats was clearly to carry out a hatchet job on Israel ahead of any evidence. They ignore Israel’s readiness and attempts to investigate the tragedy. They choose to disregard the P.A.’s withholding of evidence, plus the known duplicity of the P.A. and its Palestinian “witnesses.” They say nothing of the terror wave threatening Israeli citizens.
Zooming out to the bigger picture, supporters of Israel must reach a troubling conclusion: The representatives who signed this letter are serving notice that bipartisan support for Israel on Capitol Hill is deteriorating. This sizable fraction of the Democratic caucus no doubt presages future moves to undercut the U.S.-Israel bond.
Congressional Democrats, in their Abu-Akleh letter, betray—based on zero evidence—one of our strongest allies. The killing—like the death of any war-zone journalist—is tragic, but nothing thus far indicates any responsibility on Israel’s part … much less that she was targeted. The very notion is slanderous.
The Palestinian Authority’s withholding evidence and rejection of Israeli cooperation in an investigation obstructs the search for truth—and justice for Abu-Akleh.
Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.