What Led the Justice Department To Open Another Probe Into the Killing of an Al Jazeera Journalist?

America and Israel already concluded it was accidental.

Via Twitter
Lina Abu Akleh with the pope. Via Twitter

If House Republicans are looking for scandals on which to hold hearings, here’s one idea: Did a foreign country, or entity, conduct a high-level and expensive campaign of influence to undermine America’s relations with a top ally, Israel? 

The White House and the Department of State are swearing up and down that they were unaware of, and apparently didn’t approve, an unprecedented FBI investigation into the death of an Al Jazeera reporter, Sheerin Abu Akleh.

So why would Attorney General Garland — or someone else — launch a probe by the FBI, which is part of the justice department? The answer could be an intense influence campaign featuring the Abu Akleh family.

The idea would have been to push America to investigate the military of a democratic country, Israel, a long-time American ally, in the hope of finding criminal guilt where Washington has already acknowledged none exists. 

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has compiled a list of world dignitaries and media outlets that gave audiences to the family. The late reporter’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, was included in Time Magazine’s “100 Next” list for becoming “the face of an international campaign to demand accountability from Israel.”

In addition to interviews with top media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the Washington Post, and others, young Ms. Abu Akleh met with at least five members of Congress; the Irish, Norwegian, and French ambassadors to the United Nations; and several UN officials. 

On July 26, Abu Akleh’s family was hosted by Secretary Blinken at the state department. “I expressed my deepest condolences and commitment to pursue accountability for her tragic killing,” Mr. Blinken tweeted.

Last month the family was received by Pope Francis at the Vatican. The pontiff “gave us his blessings and showed sympathy & support towards our pursuit for #JusticeforShireeng,” Ms. Abu Akleh tweeted, posting a photo of the world’s highest-ranking Catholic prelate solemnly holding her hand. 

Organizing that kind of a high-profile campaign, including meetings with world leaders, takes a lot of money, influence, and contacts. “For people that have never before had a public profile, the sheer amount of access the Abu Akleh family had is shocking,” the FDD’s vice president, Jonathan Schanzer, tells the Sun. 

One outside party that would be capable of organizing such a campaign is the Palestinian Authority, which has used much of its resources, including some funding from America, to campaign against Israel in America, at the UN, and in such forums as the International Criminal Court. 

Last  month the Abu Akleh family filed an official complaint with the ICC demanding an investigation into the May 11 shooting death of the Al Jazeera reporter. An even more likely player than the Palestinian Authority, one that also has plenty of funds and influence, is Qatar, the home of the Al Jazeera network.

Its leadership is known to have pulled international strings for its causes, including to win the privilege of hosting the World Cup of soccer, which is scheduled to begin Sunday. 

Qatar used Al Jazeera to keep the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in headlines long after the details were widely known. The effort was made in order to weaken ties between America and Saudi Arabia, a country with which Doha has been at odds for more than  a decade. 

Al Jazeera has similarly strived to keep the Abu Akleh story alive even after Israel, and America, have acknowledged that she was likely hit by an Israeli Defense Force bullet but that the killing was accidental, in that she was not the intended target.

Through a New York-based public relation firm, RF/Binder, the Qatar Foundation sent invitations for an October 31 “conversation” titled “Protecting Truth, Seeking Justice.” The headliner was Lina Abu Akleh, who “is campaigning for justice for her aunt,” according to an RF/Binder Foreign Agents Registration Act filing.  

Whoever is behind the Abu Akleh family’s campaign has clearly been successful. In September, the state department “welcomed” the Israeli Defense Force release of a months-long investigation, much of it conducted in the presence of American officials.

In it, the IDF affirmed a state department conclusion that an Israeli bullet likely killed the reporter. The IDF also found that none of its soldiers intentionally shot at Abu Akleh. Yet the campaign for an independent American investigation intensified. 

Several high-profile members of Congress overseeing the justice department budgets, including Senators Van Hollen of Maryland and Murphy of Connecticut, have pressed the administration to revisit the case. 

The FBI’s decision was reportedly made before the November 1 Israeli election. Yet it informed the Israeli government of its new investigation only afterward. The American ambassador at Jerusalem, Tom Nides, says he learned of the decision from Israeli press reports.

Israeli officials beseeched the White House to lean on the Justice Department to close the case. Officials of the White House and the state department told Israeli counterparts that the justice department has made the decision independently, without their knowledge.

Yet, Israelis of all stripes are livid: Washington, which has fought against foreigners — including but not limited to the ICC — investigating American GIs, is now investigating Israeli soldiers. 

“Everyone involved with this debacle should be fired or impeached — all the way up to Attorney General Garland,” Senator Cruz of Texas wrote in a statement. Congress could also look beyond Washington: Did a foreign power finance, orchestrate, and propel a campaign to undermine American-Israeli relations?  

The New York Sun

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