Washington DC – In a US Congress that is largely unconditional in its support of Israel, many lawmakers condemned the murder of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by Israeli forces on Wednesday.
Still, few members of Congress have mentioned Israel by name as the perpetrator of the deadly incident, while some lawmakers who play leading roles on foreign policy and press freedom panels have completely ignored the shooting.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, was the most candid.
The progressive lawmaker, who is of Palestinian descent, called for a minute’s silence for the journalist killed on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday and condemned the murder in several statements and media appearances.
“An American journalist clearly marked with press credentials was murdered. Doing and saying nothing just allows for more killings,” she wrote in a tweet addressed to President Joe Biden, invoking US military aid to Israel, which totals $3.8 billion annually.
“Whether you are Palestinian, American or not, being killed with US funding must stop,” Tlaib said.
In a TV interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, she also called for a US-led investigation into the incident.
“We need to investigate the murder of an American citizen ourselves. Someone who was out there being a keeper of the truth and doing his job was murdered by an apartheid government that we continue to fund with unconditional help,” she said.
Abu Akleh was a US citizen – a fact emphasized by several US officials.
Congressman Mark Pocan, a leading House progressive, also suggested restricting US aid to Israel.
“Aid restrictions may be necessary if human rights and universally acceptable norms cannot be followed,” he wrote on Twitter.
The US government’s condemnation of the murder of an American journalist is a welcome reaction to an unsustainable situation in Israel and Palestine. Restrictions on aid may be necessary if human rights and universally acceptable norms cannot be followed. https://t.co/I5yiv1FONk
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) May 12, 2022
Congressional statements about Abu Akleh’s assassination came from lawmakers in the Democratic Party, most of whom are part of the party’s progressive wing.
Al Jazeera could not find any statements from Republican lawmakers denouncing the murder.
Ilhan Omar, a left-wing Muslim-American member of the House, was unequivocal in blaming Israel for the Palestinian journalist’s murder.
“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 without restrictions. What will it take to account for these human rights violations?”
Omar’s fellow Muslim lawmaker Andre Carson also called on the US government to “hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits”.
I join countless others in mourning the death of @Al Jazeera journalist, #ShireenAbuAkleh, who was killed by the Israeli military during the mission. The US must hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits.
— André Carson (@RepAndreCarson) May 11, 2022
Several high-ranking Democrats joined progressive party members in honoring Abu Akleh and calling for an investigation, but did not point the finger at Israel.
“The murder of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is a horrible tragedy,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a staunch supporter of Israel, on Twitter.
“A thorough and objective investigation is needed now. Congress is committed to upholding press freedom around the world and protecting all journalists, particularly those in conflict zones.”
Senator Ben Cardin, a senior Democrat and outspoken supporter of strong US-Israel ties, said he was “disturbed” by Abu Akleh’s assassination.
“Abu Akleh’s death is an attack on a journalist who was wearing her press gear,” he said in a statement. “No journalist should be killed while simply doing their job. I strongly condemn his death and call for an independent and thorough investigation into the incident.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen also called for an independent investigation into the incident.
.@SpeakerPelosi that’s right. Anyone who believes in press freedom and justice should call for a full and independent investigation into the murder of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. https://t.co/eUqO133GwO
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) May 12, 2022
So is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “Veteran American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was simply doing her job when she was shot and killed this morning,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“His heartbreaking death must be considered an attack on freedom of the press everywhere. There must be a full investigation and full accountability of those responsible.”
Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, also called the Palestinian-American journalist’s fatal shooting a “terrible tragedy.”
“The Israeli military must conduct a thorough and objective investigation into Abu Akleh’s death and be transparent about its findings,” Schiff said in a statement. “My prayers are with his family, with his colleague Ali Al-Samudi, who was also injured, and with members of the press everywhere who risk their lives to bring us the truth.”
Palestinian rights advocates have rejected calls by US officials for Israel to conduct its own investigation, arguing that the Israeli government cannot be trusted to take responsibility for alleged war crimes.
Steve Chabot, the Republican co-chair of the Press Freedom Caucus, has not released any formal statements about the assassination on his Congressional page or on his social media accounts. His office did not return Al Jazeera’s request for comment as of press time.
Congressman Andy Levin, a Jewish-American representative from Michigan, who is facing in a primary against fellow Democrat Haley Stevens after redistricting, said he was “horrified” by Abu Akleh’s murder.
“Globally, in places as diverse as Palestine, Mexico and Russia, the international community must unite to defend the rights of the free press,” he wrote in a series of tweets.
Stevens, who is supported by several pro-Israel groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has not said anything about the incident on her social media accounts or on her Congressional website.
Debbie Dingell, another Michigan lawmaker who represents a large Arab-American community, said freedom of the press is “important in any democracy.”
The murder of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is horrific and heartbreaking. Freedom of the press is paramount in any democracy.
I join the admin in calling for a full investigation to hold those responsible to account.https://t.co/M1QWe1n0l0
— Rep. Debbie Dingell (@RepDebDingell) May 11, 2022
The chairs of the House and Senate foreign policy panels did not address the incident in formal statements. The House Foreign Affairs Committee shared Pelosi’s post about the murder via her Twitter account.
The fatal Abu Akleh shooting coincided with a busy week in Washington, which is preoccupied with domestic issues, including a lack of infant formula and a failed attempt to pass legislation protecting the right to abortion.
Ro Khanna, a House progressive representing a district in California, wrote in a social media post: “The murder of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is devastating and a blatant attack on press freedom.”
New York Representative Yvette Clarke said the assassination is “one more reason why we need a path to a two-state solution in the region.”
I want to express my sincere condolences to the family of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Some of them call it home to the 9th District of New York. This tragedy is yet another reason why we need a path to a two-state solution in the region. https://t.co/rBt2yM9bsK
— Yvette D. Clarke (@RepYvetteClarke) May 11, 2022
Congresswoman Marie Newman, who is often critical of Israeli abuses against Palestinians, said she was “extremely concerned by reports that Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces while wearing a press vest and reported in the West Bank”.
“We must protect the press and hold those responsible for this heinous crime accountable,” she wrote on Twitter.
Congresswoman Cori Bush, a progressive Palestinian rights advocate, condemned the “unacceptable attack.”
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who defended Palestinian human rights in Congress and introduced bills to restrict US aid to Israel, also said the murder must be “condemned and investigated.”
The Israeli military assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh is devastating and infuriating. I condemn this unacceptable attack on her, the Palestinians and the freedom and safety of journalists everywhere.
There must be accountability, and we must demand an end to Israeli apartheid. https://t.co/q3SfPFVQ6G
— Congressman Cori Bush (@RepCori) May 12, 2022