By Ray Hanania
Israeli sources, rather than American, announced this week that the FBI was launching an investigation into the May 11 killing of American Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Abu Akleh was shot in the head by a sniper while covering an Israeli military assault against targets in the West Bank city of Jenin. She was wearing clothing that clearly identified her as a journalist. There is no doubt Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli soldier, but because this involves Israel, facts are often thrown out the window, scrambled and reorganized in the hope that there will be no consequences.
US President Joe Biden insisted in July that there would be a “full and transparent accounting” of Abu Akleh’s killing. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the administration’s concerns over the killing of the US citizen when he met with the Abu Akleh family in Washington the same month. However, that was all more than three months ago and it is now six months since she was killed.
Why has it taken so long? Well, the US has a history of sweeping things under the rug when it comes to Israel, such as vetoing resolutions critical of Tel Aviv in the UN Security Council or burying resolutions introduced to the US Congress by the handful of pro-Palestinian members of the House of Representatives.
All the delays and the absence of justice has to do with American politics. That is why the FBI did not approach Israeli leaders to inform them that it was launching a probe into Abu Akleh’s killing, something that many Americans have been demanding for half a year. Had Abu Akleh been killed in any other country, the investigations would have been front page news, with headlines screaming about how American officials were outraged and were demanding an immediate account of the death.
But Biden was heading into what many expected to be a difficult election, with last week’s midterms deciding whether his Democratic Party would retain control of Congress. Usually, the party in opposition makes sweeping gains during midterm elections, but that did not happen this time. Because of the increasing unpopularity of former President Donald Trump, the Republican Party suffered a catastrophic defeat.
The Democrats retained control of the 100-member Senate, which controls the president’s appointments, and only lost the 435-member House by a handful of seats, far from the mandate the Republicans needed to control spending and initiate policy changes. The Republicans are now deciding whether they should dump Trump and find a new leader to contest the 2024 presidential election.
Amid this political tsunami, Biden is able to push a little harder against Israel — the country that has more influence on American politics than any other. Had Biden directed the FBI to probe the Abu Akleh murder before the elections, the Republicans, who are far less critical of Israel’s abusive policies and violations of international law, would have turned it into an election issue and the results might have been very different. The issue of Israel plays a key role in American elections.
Biden will still face pushback from legislators of both parties and in both the House and the Senate, but this will not impact the election. The fact is that less than half of Senate Democrats have called for “direct involvement” in the Abu Akleh probe, along with an even smaller percentage in the House.
If Biden had ordered the FBI to investigate Abu Akleh’s killing before the election, angry Israeli leaders would have pushed Republicans to oppose the probe in a public way. But even though the election is over, you can still see the political weight of Israel on Biden and American politics.
Normally, the FBI would put out a press release or hold a press conference to announce that it was investigating the killing of an American citizen in a foreign country, but not this time. Instead, it meekly informed the Israeli Ministry of Justice of its intent.
Outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the FBI decision was a “grave mistake” and insisted Israel’s government “won’t cooperate.” Meanwhile, when asked about the FBI probe, the White House only responded that its “thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family,” with no mention of the investigation at all.
With the US’ political focus almost entirely on the surprising failure of the Republicans in the recent election, justice for Abu Akleh will remain in an intentional political blur that will have minimal consequences for a government that has, as a bottom line, failed to stand up for the rights of an American whose life was taken by a foreign military.
Do not expect anything consequential to come from the FBI probe. All it will do is allow Biden to tell Abu Akleh’s family that he is looking into her case. He will also hope it silences the handful of political allies who have tried to hold Israel accountable.
Ultimately, America will never harshly criticize Israel, even when it murders one of its own citizens.