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Shireen Abu Akleh: US lawmakers divided over journalist's killing

Reaction to the killing has been split between progressive Democrats, who are calling for a US probe and cutting aid to Israel, and moderates who urge Israel to investigate
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been two of the most outspoken on the killing.
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (L) and Ilhan Omar have been two of the most outspoken on the killing (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Several US Democratic lawmakers have condemned the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but politicians in the country are divided on how an investigation should proceed.

A small group of politicians have called on the US government to investigate Abu Akleh's killing at the hands of Israeli soldiers, urging the Biden administration to restrict military aid to Israel over the tragedy.

Many others, however, have fallen short of naming or even criticising Israel, with prominent Democrats, several in key seats in foreign policy committees, refraining from commenting on the slain journalist's death altogether.

The issue has also been met with silence from the Republican Party.

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been two of the most outspoken politicians on the killing, calling for US aid to Israel to be restricted. Other members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party have also issued similar statements.

Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, held a moment of silence on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and called for a US probe into the killing, rather than relying on Israel to investigate its own actions.

"We need to investigate, ourselves, the killing of an American citizen. Somebody that was out there being a guardian of truth and doing her job was murdered by an apartheid government that we continue to fund with unconditional aid," she said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

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Legal and rights experts told MEE on Thursday that, given Abu Akleh's US citizenship, Washington had a mandate to launch its own probe into the killing.

Omar, a progressive Muslim-American member of the House who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pinned the killing on Israel and further questioned Washington's unconditional aid to the country.

"She was killed by the Israeli military, after making her presence as a journalist clearly known," she wrote on Twitter. "We provide Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually with no restrictions. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?"

Congressman Mark Pocan also suggested restricting US aid to Israel.

"Restrictions on aid may be necessary if human rights and universally acceptable norms can't be followed," he wrote on Twitter.

Andre Carson, a fellow Muslim member of Congress alongside Omar and Tlaib, also called on the US government to "hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits".

Other progressive lawmakers, including Marie Newman, Ro Khanna, Cori Bush, Betty McCollum, and Jamaal Bowman, condemned the killing and called for a full investigation.

McCollum has been a champion of Palestinian human rights in Congress and has introduced bills to restrict US aid to Israel.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading progressive voice in US politics and 2020 presidential candidate, called for an independent probe into the killing. He further said that the Israeli forces' attack on Abu Akleh's funeral was an "outrage" and called on Washington to condemn it.

Moderate Democrats stop short of blaming Israel

Aside from the Democratic Party's progressive wing, some centrist Democrats paid tribute to Abu Akleh and called for an investigation - without placing blame on Israel.

"The killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is an horrific tragedy," House Speaker and staunch Israel supporter Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Wednesday.

"A thorough, objective investigation is needed now. Congress is committed to the defense of press freedoms worldwide and protection of every journalist, particularly those in conflict zones."

Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, called for a "thorough and objective investigation" and said the Israeli military must be "transparent about its findings".

'How can you rely on the perpetrator to carry out the investigation?'

- Adam Shapiro, Democracy for the Arab World Now

The chairs of the House and Senate foreign policy committees did not address the incident in formal statements, but the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Twitter account shared Pelosi's post on the killing.

Senator Chris Murphy, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also called for a probe into the killing, saying "Shireen Abu Akleh was simply doing her job when she was shot and killed early this morning".

"Her heartbreaking death should be considered an attack on freedom of the press everywhere. There must be a thorough investigation and full accountability for those responsible."

Israel is currently in the initial stages of its investigation but said on Friday that it was "not possible" to determine who shot Abu Akleh.

Human rights advocates have been concerned over an Israeli investigation, saying that previous examples show Israeli authorities are not always interested in thoroughly probing incidents such as this.

Rights experts have rejected calls made by US lawmakers for Israel to investigate, saying it could not be trusted to hold itself accountable for alleged war crimes and extrajudicial killings.

"There's just a more fundamental, almost philosophical question, which is: How can you rely on the perpetrator to carry out the investigation?" Adam Shapiro, Israel-Palestine director for Democracy for the Arab World Now, told MEE.