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Israel’s murder of Shireen Abu Akleh

Killing the messenger

Joel Reinstein assesses the fallout from the assassination of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military.

Tempest readers will have read by now about Israel’s assassination of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Her murder by Israeli forces has been followed by the usual lies not only from Israel, but its international enablers, with another round of hollow condemnation from the U.S.-led “international community.” For capitalists in the United States, Israel remains a valuable outpost of U.S. power. Building an independent movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel is the only way to cut off U.S. support for the apartheid regime, and make possible its final defeat.

An assassination

The renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a household name in Arabic-speaking countries, was with a group of reporters covering an Israeli raid in the occupied town of Jenin on Wednesday morning. Israeli soldiers had allowed them entry to a quiet area, where Palestinian fighters weren’t present, before Israeli snipers shot Abu Akleh in the head. Video shows her colleagues being shot at as they tried to retrieve her body; Abu Akleh’s producer Ali al-Samoudi was also wounded and survived a shot in the back.

Following its usual playbook, Israel’s regime lied and blamed Palestinians for the murder it committed. The head of the regime Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who famously boasted about having killed “lots of Arabs,” claimed that Palestinian fighters had accidentally killed Abu Akleh. That lie was exposed in short order, and Israel had to retreat to another lie, that it wasn’t sure whether its soldiers or Palestinians had accidentally killed her; an Israeli army mouthpiece described Abu Akleh and her colleagues as being “armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”

Capitalist news outlets in the U.S. and Europe dutifully reported on the “dispute,” careful not to say anything that might impugn Israel. The New York Times headline read that Abu Akleh “died at 51,” as if she had succumbed to an illness or been in an accident. That headline was so farcically cruel that the Times couldn’t pretend it was honest; it was promptly changed.

Most major western outlets deprived their readers of basic facts about the case, such as the testimony of eyewitnesses who said that Israeli snipers killed Abu Akleh. They instead gave prominent placing at the top of their articles to Israel’s professional liars in government, as if they were trustworthy authorities and not accomplices to the crime.

Left out of most of their reporting was the fact that Israel’s counter-claims were immediately disproven, or the fact that Israel has a well-established record of killing and beating Palestinian journalists: Reporters Without Borders describes 144 cases of Israeli soldiers shooting or beating Palestinian journalists in the last four years alone; Palestine’s information ministry maintains 45 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000.

In the case of Reuters videographer Fadel Shaana, the Israeli soldiers who murdered him in 2008 were exonerated by Israel’s sham investigation on the grounds that his camera could have been an anti-tank missile.

Israel has had difficulty controlling the narrative around its murder of Abu Akleh, as police in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem were filmed beating pallbearers at her funeral, causing the coffin to almost fall to the ground. They of course had a reason: Israel’s occupation forces forbade mourners to follow their tradition of carrying the coffin on foot to the cemetery, and Israel forbids any display of Palestinian nationalism, such as the Palestinian flags mourners carried and draped on Abu Akleh’s coffin. Israel attacked the funeral of a journalist it murdered because it prohibits Palestinian freedom of speech and assembly.

In a totally normal and not sociopathic statement, Israel accused mourners of “taking cynical advantage” of the funeral to “disrupt public order.” They later supplied doctored footage of the funeral falsely depicting a protester throwing a stone, and lied that rioters had disrupted the funeral “against the family’s wishes,” as directly contradicted by Abu Akleh’s brother Tony.

A ritual of empty condemnation

The funeral attack has been widely condemned around the world. But for Palestinians and anyone who has supported their cause for more than a few years, there will be a nauseating familiarity to this empty ritual of international finger-wagging. Israel was met with widespread condemnation last year when it killed hundreds of Palestinians in bombing the Gaza Strip, which it also holds under a crippling blockade, or shot worshippers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas; it was condemned in 2014 when it killed over 2000 people including over 500 children in Gaza; it was condemned when it murdered several international peace activists on the “Freedom Flotilla” in 2010; it was condemned when its “liberal” defense minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered soldiers to “break the bones” of Palestinian protesters in the Palestinian uprising of 1987, and on and on.

Israel keeps committing atrocities without facing consequences, even as the western world has pulled out all the stops to economically punish Russia for its crimes in Ukraine. Its worst enabler by far is the U.S., whose State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted, ”We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank,” condemning nothing and no one. When pressed by reporters, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki refused to condemn Israel, or even acknowledge the possibility of Israeli culpability.

Israeli forces bombed a house in Jenin, injuring 11, where Shireen Abu Akleh was covering a raid by Israel on a refugee camp when she was assassinated by the IDF. Photo by @Sarah_Hassan94.

Price has ludicrously insisted that Israel can investigate itself, while Psaki stated that the U.S. had offered to support Israel’s investigation. But Israel doesn’t need American help learning who killed Abu Akleh, because Israel did it. It already has the “support” of $3.8 billion annually in U.S. military funding, which it uses to kill and expel Palestinians.

Days ago, Israel announced plans for another 4,000 settler housing units in the occupied West Bank, continuing the forced removal of Palestinians and their replacement with Israeli Jewish settlers. It’s obvious that Israel is an apartheid state, as the tepid NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been recently forced to acknowledge.

U.S. imperialism and the Democratic Party

But Israel’s crimes have continued under the aegis of U.S. support, because Israel is a valued outpost of U.S. power in the middle east—arguably now more than ever, as the U.S. is seriously challenged by Russia and China. U.S. politicians and capitalist media will continue to lie and fund Israel’s crimes, because Israel is so valuable for U.S. capitalists in competition with their international rivals. We are not going to lobby or educate our way around that fact.

Many of course look to progressive Democrats and members of “The Squad” , some of whom have directly condemned Israel’s murder of Abu Akleh in Congress. Palestinian-American representative Rashida Tlaib demanded that the U.S. investigate Abu Akleh’s killing. Representative Ilhan Omar, who has supported billions in U.S. weapons funding to Israel, demanded that the U.S. “condition” said funding. (Under what conditions would U.S. money for Israeli weapons be acceptable?) Representatives Betty McCollum and Mark Pocan, longtime “defenders of Palestinian rights” who are endorsed by the liberal Zionist lobbying group J Street, echoed this contradictory demand.

These ostensibly left-Democrats can sometimes take symbolic stances against war-mongering and racist policing, but show their true colors when they actually have an opportunity to change policy, taking turns making votes that upset their socialist supporters. A recent bill to quadruple Washington D.C. police funding with a $1.2 billion increase is a prime example: the bill narrowly passed the U.S. house 213-212, with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and even Rashida Tlaib all voting “present.”

Most of the Left in the United States remains committed to supporting these “progressive” Democrats, while  succumbing to the myth of a “lesser evil” during presidential elections and giving away their support to snakes like Joe Biden. But the acrimonious fight within the Democratic Socialists of America over its member and Representative Jamaal Bowman, who has supported billions in funding for Israeli weapons, has demonstrated again the bitter truth that no shortcuts exist through the Democratic Party. Instead of “building power,” we give up our power to the Democrats. Electoralism and working-class power actually are contradictory, like trying to unionize a workplace by supporting a phony company union.

Palestinians have been clear in asking people around the world to boycott Israel. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has seen some promising growth in the last decade, but in the U.S. it is still far from a mass movement, lacking the strength in numbers and militancy necessary to end U.S. funding for Israel.

Inevitable repression against the movement has contributed to something of an impasse. But the orientation of the Left towards electoralism, actually an obstacle to building an independent movement, has also contributed to BDS’ inertia. The cycle of horror, outrage, small protests, and a smattering of victories on campuses and in small unions is not something we can be satisfied with. A feeling of momentum around student divestment waves in the early and mid-2010s has been followed by stagnation, with no universities being compelled to divest as student activists struggle to generate the mass campus-disrupting protests necessary to do so.

While Democrat-oriented NGOs push the rose-tinted boosterism needed to keep donations coming in, this is a moment that instead demands impatience. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing while we wait for another atrocity. Our efforts must go towards re-energizing the movement to boycott Israel until its apartheid regime finally falls.





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Joel Reinstein View All

Joel Reinstein is a labor organizer who has organized with the DSA BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group.