Democrats calls for investigating Abu Akleh killing are unprecedented – but a ‘cog in Israel’s whitewashing machine’

A tribute to Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank, in Nazareth (Reuters)

Philip Weiss  / 

Mondoweiss  /  May 17, 2022

Mainstream Democrats were shocked by the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but their calls for an investigation were vague — a recipe for “whitewashing,” says a human rights group.

The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the violent disruption of her funeral last week got a lot of attention in the U.S. mainstream, with even The Washington Post reporting that the overwhelming evidence is that Israeli forces killed Abu Akleh. As a result, the killing elicited unprecedented comment from liberal U.S. mainstream leaders.

Even Nancy Pelosi called, vaguely, for a “thorough, independent investigation” of the killing, and she was soon joined by many others in the Democratic establishment and in the liberal Zionist camp.

None of those leaders goes so far as the progressive politicians who call for investigating Israel, such as Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, and Andre Carson (who tweeted, “The U.S. must hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits”).

Nor do they go as far as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the Washington thinktank the Foundation for Middle East Peace, which stated that the context of the killing is “apartheid.”

Here’s a survey of some of the responses from the mainstream. Nancy Pelosi’s tweet set the tone for establishment Dems:

The killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is an horrific tragedy. A thorough, objective investigation is needed now.

Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York and Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts and others retweeted the leader, with Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen tweeting that Pelosi is right.

Anyone who believes in press freedom and justice should call for a thorough and independent investigation into the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

What is a thorough and independent investigation? All these statements leave open the possibility that Israel can investigate the killing. Like CT Sen. Chris Murphy’s vague press release: “There must be a thorough investigation and full accountability for those responsible.”

Senator Van Hollen was similarly vague after the attack on Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral. “Need immediate accountability for these attacks… And her killer must be brought to justice.”

The liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now was just as vague:

APN calls for a swift and independent investigation of the incident.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the Michigan rep who is a stalwart supporter of Israel, tweeted that Israel can do just that:

Shireen Abu Akleh was an American citizen performing important work of transparency in a conflict. The Israeli government is responsible for ensuring there is real accountability for her death.

Rep. Ted Deutch, the Florida hack for Israel who is soon to head the American Jewish Committee, called for an investigation by Israel. “I join the US and Israel in calling for a full investigation into her tragic death.”

The Biden administration also trusts Israel to investigate its own crimes, as Michael Arria reported here last week: During the May 11 State Department briefing Ned Price said, “[T]he Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.”

This is an absurd policy, which only guarantees Israeli impunity, Hagai El-Ad, director of B’Tselem, wrote in AlJazeera. Israel is an apartheid regime that will never hold itself to account, and such calls for an investigation just serve as “a cog in Israel’s whitewashing machine.”

Don’t fall for Israel’s propaganda, its promises to “investigate”. Israel will not hold itself to account, just like its apartheid regime won’t dismantle itself. International stakeholders who do not call this out simply cast themselves as a cog in Israel’s whitewashing machine. The grotesque US pressure on Palestinians to accept a “joint” investigation and the statement by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides vaguely “encouraging” an investigation, only demonstrates the extent to which the Biden administration continues to serve as such a cog.

Though El-Ad says the fact that Israeli PM Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had to issue statements about the killing shows that this is a matter of great urgency for the country’s image.

Israel only engages in such high-level whitewash if it believes the killing of a Palestinian can damage the country’s image. Otherwise, it doesn’t even bother with such empty gestures….

Liberal Zionists have not been gone so far as El-Ad, of course. Though J Street called on the U.S. to conduct an independent investigation of the killing of an American citizen:

While the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] has stated that it will investigate, we urge the Biden Administration to launch its own thorough, independent investigation into the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s death, and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that those responsible for it are held fully accountable.

J Street’s statement is careful to honor Zionism. J Street opposes the “apartheid” discourse of Israel, so it notes that the killing took place in “occupied” territory, and expresses its faith in Israel’s “future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.” (Contrast this to the anti-Zionist belief that the ideology of Zionism is a cause of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing.)

An Americans for Peace Now article about the political dimensions of the killing also seeks to distance the Good Israel from the Bad Israel. The exchange is titled, “It’s the occupation.” Yossi Alpher says:

The occupation is effectively expanding into the heart of the country. And whether the incident transpires in Jenin in the West Bank or at a funeral in East Jerusalem, the mainstream media and the right-religious political mainstream persist in denying that this is militarization or that it has anything to do with the occupation.

Yes, the occupation is Israel. Last week Americans for Peace Now noted that Israel had moved ahead with new settlement construction and the White House offered mere lip service. “The White House expressed its displeasure with the settlement announcement, but the Government of Israel went ahead with the plan.” Cog in the machine.

Finally, here is Lara Friedman of the Foundation for Middle East Peace responding to the killing by stating that it demonstrates Israeli apartheid.

Speaking as someone who’s followed Israel/Palestine issues for years, speaking as the foundation, we are familiar with the pattern of the Israeli Government and Israeli military, engaging in denial, deflection, gaslighting, blaming Palestinians for their own deaths, like the Israeli government official who yesterday described Palestinian journalists as being “armed with cameras,”  implying, it sounded like. the Palestinian journalism is a form of terrorism, and Palestinian journalists are by extension legitimate targets. We remember, we are watching, we are documenting, and we will continue to use our platform to elevate and center Palestinian voices speaking about the myriad forms of violence that Palestinian suffer under Israeli apartheid. 

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