Welcome to the Tuesday News Bulletin! Jewish Currents is constantly getting quotes and scooplets from our network of sources, and every Tuesday, we release small stories exclusive to our newsletter subscribers in emails like this one. In addition to original reporting, the Tuesday News Bulletin serves as a forum for aggregating stories Jewish Currents staffers are tracking, with plenty of links to other publications so you can keep up with everything happening on our beats.
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A man walks near a mural depicting slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 6th, 2022.
July 12th, 2022
On July 4th, the State Department released a statement concluding that Israeli soldiers were “likely” to blame for the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot to death on May 11th while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. But the statement also described the killing as “unintentional” and the result of “tragic circumstances.”
The pronouncement satisfied nobody. Israeli officials were upset that the United States blamed them for the shooting. (Investigations by CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post also concluded that Israeli troops killed Abu Akleh.) Palestinian officials and human rights advocates were angry that the State Department cast the killing as unintentional. The State Department’s conclusion seemed intended, as Palestinian American analyst Yousef Munayyer told Jewish Currents last week, as an attempt to “move on” from an issue that had the potential to dog President Joe Biden as he travels to Israel/Palestine later this week.
But the family of Abu Akleh, who was an Al Jazeera reporter and one of the most famous journalists in the Arab world, is doing its best to keep the killing in the spotlight. The family was enraged at the Biden administration’s statement, and has vowed to press their demand for the US to hold Israel accountable for the killing. In a July 8th letter to Biden, Anton Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, wrote on behalf of the family to express its “grief, outrage and sense of betrayal” at the administration’s reaction to her death. He demanded a personal meeting with Biden during the president’s visit to the region, asked for the State Department to retract its July 4th statement, and requested the administration conduct its own investigation.
“Your administration has thoroughly failed to meet the bare minimum expectation held by a grieving family,” the letter reads in part. “Instead, the United States has been skulking toward the erasure of any wrongdoing by Israeli forces.” (Read the letter in full here.)
The Abu Akleh family letter has added to the growing calls for a US-led investigation from members of Congress, human rights groups, and others—increasing the pressure on the Biden administration to go beyond its July 4th statement.
“The Biden administration needs to listen to the family’s ask for a full, transparent investigation,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative director for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker peace group.
In an interview with Jewish Currents, Lina Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece, said the family wanted to meet with Biden so he could “hear from us directly as the family of Shireen.” “We want clarity. We want accountability. And we also want to be provided with all the information and the details that they used in order to come up with that statement,” she added. The State Department’s July 4th statement based its conclusions on unnamed experts. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that two of the experts were from NATO member countries that help train Palestinian security forces, but exactly who the experts were, and what they told the US, remains unclear.
Even though members of the Abu Akleh family are angry at the State Department, they still want the US to investigate the killing because they have no trust in Israel’s ability to hold its own soldiers accountable. “You cannot be the suspect and investigator at the same time,” Lina said. “We don’t expect anything from their side in terms of transparent investigation.”
The Abu Akleh family’s call for a US investigation has not gone unheard in Washington. As Jewish Currents first reported last week, 11 Democrats led by Indiana Rep. Andre Carson introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would force the FBI and the State Department to investigate the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and to determine whether US arms were used to kill her. On July 8th, Rep. Rashida Tlaib released her own response to the State Department’s pronouncement, criticizing the agency for failing “to carry out its mission as it relates to the murders of an American citizen” and calling on Biden to “obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for killing Shireen, along with that of their commanding officer, so that these individuals can be fully prosecuted for their crimes by the Department of Justice.”
“We’re very, very happy to see that kind of effort being made on the congressional level,” Lina said. “This reflects the values of the US—protecting human rights, democracy, and freedom of press.”
Chances are slim that the congressional efforts will succeed in forcing the US to undertake an unprecedented investigation into the killing of a US citizen at the hands of an army that receives billions in annual US aid. But Lina says that she will not stop seeking justice for her aunt.
“We will pressure the US as long as it takes for them to act and to hold Israel accountable,” she said. “We will knock on every door, and we will exhaust all our options, for as long as it takes to get justice for Shireen.”
Palestinians enjoyed the beach in Jaffa during the July Eid al-Adha holiday. Thousands of Palestinians entered Jaffa and other cities in Israel, with special permits issued by the Israeli army for the holiday.
As part of the Tuesday News Bulletin, Jewish Currents is publishing a photograph taken by members of Activestills every week, archiving ongoing dispossession and resistance from the river to the sea. You can find more information on this collaboration here.
- A spate of new polls on US-Israel relations were published ahead of President Biden’s July 13th-15th trip to Israel. A Pew Research Center poll found that Israelis are less confident in Biden’s leadership than in former President Donald Trump’s. The poll also found a partisan and generational divide on views of Israel among Americans: About 70% of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP have positive views of Israel, while only 44% of Democrats and Democratic-leanining independents feel positively. 56% of Americans under 30 have unfavorable attitudes towards Israel, compared to the 69% of those over 65 who have a positive view. A University of Maryland poll found a similar partisan divide over Israel. The poll divided respondents into three groups that received different levels of information about Biden’s trip. When the pollsters mentioned Saudi Arabia and Israel, American disapproval went up. For the question emphasizing Israel, 25% of Americans responded with approval of the trip, as compared to 31% expressing disapproval. A third poll, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, featured questions focused on Israeli views of Biden. 54% of Israelis don’t trust Biden to take Israel’s interests into account, and an even larger majority of 75% doesn’t trust that Biden will heed Israeli interests when negotiating the Iran deal.
- 15 liberal Jewish groups that make up the Progressive Israel Network sent a letter to President Biden ahead of his trip to Israel/Palestine, asking that the president intervene to stop Israel’s plan to forcibly displace some 1,200 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, a collection of Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills that Israel has long coveted for a military firing zone. In May, the Israeli Supreme Court ended a 22-year legal battle over the villages’ fate by rejecting petitions against the planned evictions, clearing the way for Israel to displace Palestinians living there. The letter from Jewish groups asks the president to “to raise this issue and make clear the United States’ firm opposition to such displacement in your upcoming trip to Israel.”
- Israel and the US signed a bilateral agreement that would facilitate the sharing of biometric and biographic data on travelers to each country. The agreement was signed to pave the way for Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program, which would allow Israelis and Americans to travel without visas. Israel’s Knesset still needs to pass additional legislation that would allow for more information sharing with the US in order to join the program. Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, said Israel could be in the program by 2023, provided it passes all the necessary legislation. The Biden administration’s steps to include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program have been opposed by Palestinian rights advocates and some progressive Democrats, who want Israel to stop discriminating against Palestinian American travelers to the occupied territories.
- The Presbyterian Church USA voted to label Israel’s rule over Palestinians as “apartheid” at its general assembly. The Church also voted to mark May 15th as a day of mourning for the Nakba, the Arabic term for “catastrophe” that refers to the forced displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians that accompanied the founding of the State of Israel. The Church’s decisions were harshly criticized by mainstream American Jewish groups. The Jewish Federations of North America called the vote to denounce Israeli “apartheid” the Church’s “latest antisemitic action.”
- The US defense contractor L3Harris ended its bid to buy the notorious Israeli spy company NSO Group, whose spyware has been used to hack into the phones of journalists, activists, and politicians around the world. L3Harris notified the White House of its decision not to buy NSO after the Biden administration expressed anger that the firm was in talks to buy a company that was placed on a US blacklist in November. In its talks with NSO, L3Harris claimed that US intelligence officials supported the company’s plan to buy the spyware company, according to a New York Times report, raising the prospect of a split between US intelligence and the White House over the NSO Group. The NSO Group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists in order to convince the Biden administration to take it off the blacklist, which prevents it from purchasing US technology. NSO is hoping that Israel’s prime minister raises the issue with Biden when he visits the country this week, according to a ProPublica report.
- The foreign ministers of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden released a joint statement today rejecting Israel’s “terrorist” designation against six Palestinian civil society groups that are funded by European governments. The statement is a rebuke to Israeli efforts to convince European governments to defund the groups. “No substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs,” the foreign ministers wrote. Meanwhile, Rep. Ayanna Pressley is collecting congressional signatures for a letter she plans to send to the US Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence calling for the US to demand that Israel reverse the designations and for the Biden administration to publicly reject Israel’s decision.