The recent announcement by the United States Department of Justice of launching an investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American Aljazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh marks an unprecedented development in Israeli American relations. But more importantly, it indicates that the international campaign to turn Abu Akleh’s unfortunate death into Israel’s Khashoggi is exercising effective pressure in Washington. The DOJ’s investigation, which Israeli officials already criticized, is not likely to arrive at different results from the Israeli investigation. Yet, it is likely to embolden and encourage anti-Israel activists.
Nearly six months ago, Abu Akleh was killed during an exchange of fires between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants that took place while she was covering an IDF raid in Jenin. Abu Akleh was a veteran journalist and wasn’t new to the harsh reality of armed clashes on the ground. The Palestinian Authority, Aljazeera, and pro-Palestinian activists rushed to accuse Israel of deliberately assassinating her, an accusation which Israel denied. The subsequent internal Israeli investigation determined that Abu Akleh was most likely unintentionally killed by a stray bullet shot by IDF troops. What is interesting is that according to many reports, the US observed and took part in the investigation and the State Department was satisfied with the way it was conducted and with its finding. This begs the question of why the DOJ determined to open its own investigation and if it seeks to find findings different from the Israeli investigation already. Does the DOJ have access to new evidence that Israel didn’t have?
The answer to this question, I believe, lies in the months-long international campaign accusing Israel of assassinating Abu Akleh and demanding “justice and accountability” for her death. In other words, this campaign, pushed by Qatari-funded Aljazeera seeks to turn Abu Akleh’s case into Israel’s Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered by Saudi intelligence in Turkey, and turn it into a condemnation by the Western liberal institution of Israel. The face of this campaign is Abu Akleh’s young niece, Lina Abu Akleh. For months, Lina has been traveling around Western capitals, giving dozens of interviews, meeting with US policymakers, Secretary Anthony Blinken, with the Pope, and submitting a complaint to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Lin Abu Akleh even made it to the Time 100 Next list, a list for rising stars of international influences and change makers. With such a level of access and international mobility, it is clear that the campaign is funded and supported by large anti-Israel bodies such as Aljazeera. With growing pro-Palestinian sympathies among US Democratic policymakers, the campaign is bearing unprecedented fruit and is likely to be only the beginning of more pressure to come.
At the heart of this international campaign lies an unmistakable bias against Israel and a clear presupposition of Israeli malice and guilt. The very core of its message is that Israel is guilty of intentionally murdering the journalist and of fabricating a fake self-absolving investigation process. Such a misanthropic view of Israel is not new and is shared widely by those who hate Israel and seek its undoing. The United States has historically stood to the side of Israel against the campaigns of the international mob and ensured its defense from such internationally institutionalized hatred. This makes the DOJ’s announcement significantly more alarming. Moreover, the same DOJ has proven impossible to reach when justice was demanded for victims of Palestinian terrorism. This is the case for the family of Malki Roth, one of the 15 fatalities of the 2001 Sbarro terrorist bombing, who for years failed to push the DOJ to pressure Jordan to extradite Ahlam al-Tamimi, the mastermind of that horrific Jerusalem attack. Tamimi lives peacefully in Jordan, regularly on Jordanian television, and has even hosted a show on a Hamas TV channel. Moreover, US officials, including Secretary Anthony Blinken, are yet to meet with the family of Malki Roth and other victims of Palestinian terrorism.
This new episode shows that the incoming Israeli government of Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu will be dealing with a US administration that seems to be more than a bit willing to give in to anti-Israel pressure. Some even speculated that the announcement of the investigation was in part motivated by the American desire to fire a shot at Netanyahu and his incoming government. This is merely speculative, but it is not totally out of the question given the history of tension between the Likud leader and American democratic administrations. Regardless, if this was the case, there are no reasons to assume that the investigation is not politically motivated and is sure to be seen as a triumph by anti-Israel activists in their international war of public opinion against the state of Israel. This will only motivate more similar attacks and campaigns which means that for both the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community in the US, more challenging days lay ahead. Already, voices from the democratic party have been increasingly calling on the US to treat Israel the way it treats Saudi Arabia, as a renegade ally who is in need of reform. While the decision-making circles of the democratic party have shown thus far to be impervious to such voices, one must wonder if this may change in the near future especially if one takes the larger context of Middle East foreign policy reorientation in context.
Hussein Aboubakr Mansour is the Director of EMET’s program of Emerging Democratic Voices from the Middle East
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