Democrats cautiously condemn Israel's killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Democrats cautiously condemn Israel's killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
Mainstream Democrats are cautiously condemning the killing of a Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh without explicitly naming the Israeli military as the culprit. Meanwhile, several progressives and activists are pushing back.
5 min read
Washington, D.C.
12 May, 2022
US politicians are carefully condemning the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. [Getty]

On Wednesday morning, the United States woke up to the news of the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military while she was on assignment in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

It was a big day on Capitol Hill with the Senate vote on the codification of Roe v. Wade to protect women's abortion rights as well as the visit by Jordanian leader King Abdullah II.

Still, the killing of Abu Akleh, who was wearing a clearly marked "Press" vest and helmet, by the Israeli military reverberated across the world, including the United States – intially among leftwing leaders of the Democratic party, and by the end of the day by the party's establishment.

Leading early calls for accountability in the killing were congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the only two Muslim women in the US Congress. Though Abu Akleh was Christian, Arab Christians in Congress have not tended to be outspoken on Palestinian human rights.

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Tlaib, the only Palestinian Muslim woman in Congress, started tweeting about the news first thing in the morning.

Early in the day, she gave a speech before Congress, though the attendance appeared minimal, to lead a moment of silence in honour of Abu Akleh. Those who were present stood up and bowered their heads in silence.

In her retweet of the video footage on C-SPAN, shared by Jewish Voice for Peace Action, she wrote, "Palestinian lives are not disposable."

In another tweet, Tlaib pointed to US funding for Israel as a reason for what appeared to be Israel's lack of accountability, writing, "When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say: 'Enough?'"

"Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability," she added. 

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Similarly, Omar, the only other Muslim congresswoman, repeatedly tweeted about the news throughout the day, also invoking the United States' military aid to Israel, writing, "She was killed by the Israeli military, after making her presence as a journalist clearly known. We provide Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually with no restrictions. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?"

Aside from the issue of aid, another area of contention has been the mainstream media coverage the incident. The New York Times and the Associated Press were both widely criticised for their headlines that did not highlight the perpetrators as the Israeli military, despite reports from witnesses on the ground.

"Thank you to the @washingtonpost for talking to the witnesses of the shooting, instead of just reporting the disproven official narrative as fact. And for fact checking the video released by the Israeli government. May truth and justice prevail, always," Omar tweeted, sharing the Post's article.

Representative André Carson from Indiana, one of the few Muslims in Congress, tweeted, "I join countless others in mourning the death of journalist, #ShireenAbuAkleh, who was killed by Israeli military while on assignment. The U.S. must hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits."

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Representative Debbie Dingell from Michigan, in an area with a high population of Arabs and Muslims, shared the Washington Post story on the incident, tweeting, "The killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is horrifying & heartbreaking. Freedom of the press is paramount in any democracy."

"I join the Admin in calling for a thorough investigation to hold those responsible to account," Dingell added. 

She was referring to the White House statement issued in a Twitter thread by outgoing spokeswoman Jen Psaki, with the first tweet reading, "We are heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and injuries to producer Ali Samoudi, today in the West Bank.  We send our deepest condolences to her family, friends,  and strongly condemn her killing." Her statement elicited numerous responses asking her to name the Israeli military as Abu Akleh's killer.

Other reactions failed to mention Abu Akleh's Palestinian identity, instead pointing to her identities as a journalist and a US citizen, despite having spent most of her life in Jerusalem.

Mark Pocan, a long-time progressive from Wisconsin who regularly supports Palestinian human rights, tweeted late Wednesday night, after deleting a similar tweet from earlier in the day, 'The US government’s condemnation of the killing of an American journalist is a welcome reaction to an untenable situation in Israel and Palestine. Restrictions on aid may be necessary if human rights and universally acceptable norms can't be followed."

Similarly, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted, "The killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is an horrific tragedy. A thorough, objective investigation is needed now. Congress is committed to the defense of press freedoms worldwide and protection of every journalist, particularly those in conflict zones."

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Among the progressive representatives who had not made statements on Twitter by Wednesday evening were Betty McCullum of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, and Cori Bush of Missouri. Meanwhile, it appeared that no senators, including progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warran, had made statements on social media on the incident.

As of late Wednesday evening, it appeared that no Republicans had spoken out on the incident.

Earlier this month, Representative Juaquin Castro from Texas led a bipartisan letter raising concerns about the safety of Christians in Jerusalem, possibly one of the few means of generating bipartisan support for Palestinians without explicitly naming them. Abu Akleh was a Christian from Jerusalem whose wellbeing would have, in theory, been covered by their letter.