Biden’s visit to Israel poses political risk – as Abu Akleh family demands a meeting

Gaza City - Shireen Abu Aqleh mural (Omar Ashtawy - APA Images)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  July 8, 2022

The family of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American journalist killed by Israel, wrote to Biden, that the U.S. “has been skulking toward the erasure of any wrongdoing by Israeli forces.”

Barack Obama put off his first trip to Israel till his second term and took a lot of flak for that from Israel’s supporters. So Joe Biden isn’t making that mistake: he’s going to Israel and Palestine next week, and ahead of the midterm elections.

But the trip may pose political liabilities for Biden.

New polling shows that more Democrats disapprove of the trip than approve of it– and that Democrats under-35 want the U.S. to lean toward Palestine not Israel by nearly three-to-one.

And today the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist killed in the occupied territories by Israel on May 11, released a letter to Biden seeking a meeting while he’s in Palestine to “hear directly from us about our… demands for justice.”

While Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Congressperson, demanded that Biden obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing when he meets the Israeli prime minister.

Tlaib’s statement on the Biden administration’s refusal to get accountability says that the State Department has “comprehensively failed its mission” to follow up on the murders of U.S. citizens and the failure is “devastating and unacceptable.”

In its statement, Shireen Abu Akleh’s family described Abu Akleh as “a role model and a mentor to aspiring Palestinian female journalists.” And it said Biden’s efforts to sweep the “extrajudicial killing” under the rug amount to expressing “acceptance for Shireen’s killing.”

[T]he United States has been skulking toward the erasure of any wrongdoing by Israeli forces…. It is as if you expect the world and us to now just move on… your administration’s engagement has served to whitewash Shireen’s killing and perpetuate impunity.

The letter scalds the State Department for failing to have a family representative present during the famous examination of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, and dismisses State’s finding that if an Israeli soldier killed her he had no “intention” to kill Abu Akleh.

Now let’s look at the polling that Shibley Telhami published in the Washington Post today showing that the trip is “risky” politically.

Overall, nearly 24 percent of Americans approved, and 25 percent disapproved of Biden’s trip to “the Middle East.” But when Telhami said it was a trip to Israel, the disapproval shot up to 31 percent. And mentioning Saudi Arabia put the disapproval up to 33 percent.

Among young Democrats the disapproval of Israel was pronounced. Only 8 percent of Dems under 35 disapproved of the trip when it was described as a trip to the Middle East. But that number shot up to 30 percent when it was described as a trip to Israel. Among all Dems, disapproval went from 10 to 17 percent when Israel was invoked.

Telhami also reported that while 59 percent of Republicans want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, only 13 percent of Dems want the U.S. to lean toward Israel. And 19 percent want the U.S. to lean toward Palestine (68 percent say lean neither way).

Again, the young are leading the way.

Young Democrats (under 35) tilted heavily toward support for Palestinians — nearly 27 percent want the U.S. to lean toward the Palestinians compared to around 10 percent who want to lean toward Israel.

The Abu Akleh family is clearly trying to use the Biden trip as a “teachable moment” despite their enormous grief.

The letter, signed by Shireen’s brother Anton on behalf of the entire family, puts the killing of “our Shireen” in the context of boundless Israeli impunity guaranteed by the U.S. — and growing Democratic impatience with that impunity.

Israeli forces have for long known no bounds, perpetrating war crimes and killing Palestinian civilians with impunity, including those clearly identifiable as children, medical personnel and journalists. Israeli officials and armed forces are enabled and empowered by unconditional U.S.-sourced weapons and financial assistance and then provided with near absolute diplomatic support to shield Israeli officials from any accountability.

Since Israeli forces killed our Shireen, lawmakers have pressed you to deliver on the strong condemnation and call for “full accountability” concerning Shireen’s death…

Your administration’s actions can only be seen as an attempt to erase the extrajudicial killing of Shireen and further entrench the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces and officials for unlawfully killing Palestinians.

The Biden administration seemed to be pitted against the Abu Akleh family during a State Department briefing on July 5 in which reporters hammered a spokesperson over how State could have reached conclusions about the killer’s intention without interviewing Israeli soldiers.

During that briefing, Ned Price said that “Senior American officials have been in close touch with the Abu Akleh family,” but a reporter said that the Abu Akleh family was “blindsided” by the American findings in the case.

This story is not going away during Biden’s trip. We can be pretty sure he won’t meet the Abu Akleh family, that reporters will ask him about that, and his eagerness to meet Israeli leaders could (finally) hurt the White House among Democrats.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006

Thanks to Adam Horowitz, Dave Reed, Michael Arria