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Bipartisan support for Israel wanes as US Democrats demand justice for Abu Akleh

September 28, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Family and friends of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh attend a candle vigil outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 16 May 2022 [HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images]

Bipartisan support for Israel in Washington has waned following the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May. Leading members of Congress have threatened to cut US military aid to the apartheid state in a letter challenging Israel and the US government over their position on the killing.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been desperate to move on from the issue. However, Abu Akleh was a US citizen, so Washington has been under pressure to investigate the killing and impose sanctions on Israel. There is now near universal consensus that Abu Akleh was killed deliberately by an Israeli sniper, a fact that the occupation state and its advocates refuse to accept.

Israel shoots dead Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, during invasion of Jenin - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel shoots dead Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, during invasion of Jenin – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

In a rare show of unity in Washington against the brutal shooting of the journalist, nearly half of the Senate’s Democrat members signed the letter calling into question Israel’s claim that Abu Akleh was shot accidentally by one of its soldiers. The letter, details of which were obtained by the Guardian, suggests that she may have been targeted because she was a journalist. The demand made by the signatories is said to be an indication that members of Congress are seeking to address broader concerns about Israel’s decades-long illegal military occupation and not just the killing of Abu Akleh.

“Members of Congress seem increasingly frustrated that these types of disturbing actions from Israeli forces continue to take place, without facing meaningful pushback or accountability from our government,” said Dylan Williams, senior vice-president of policy and strategy at the Washington-based campaign group J Street. “There’s growing momentum to make clear that Israel must be held to the same important standards as all close US allies, and that our steadfast support for Israel’s security does not and should not preclude our government from also standing up in defence of human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

The letter follows statements by the longest-serving member of the US Senate, Patrick Leahy about Israel’s killing of Abu Akleh. The 82-year old warned recently that Israel’s failure to explain Abu Akleh’s killing fully could jeopardise America’s huge military aid to the occupation state under a law that he sponsored 25 years ago covering the cutting of arms supplies to countries which abuse human rights.

READ: Calls to protect Palestinian journalists from Israeli violations

The persistence in Washington demanding justice for Abu Akleh demonstrates a shift in attitude according to Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Democracy for the Arab World Now. “There is an increasing view among the American public that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, that Palestinians are unjustly victimised by Israel,” she is reported as saying. “This has given legislators more space, particularly secure legislators like Patrick Leahy, to say what they actually think.”

Leah’s comments reflect a major shift in US politics over Israel as highlighted in a new report which found that support for Palestine amongst US Democrats has surged as Israel’s “self-defence” narrative continues to collapse.