Senate Democrats propose bill text linking US assistance to Israel to journalist’s death

A group of Senate Democrats are pressing for language in legislation funding the State Department that would require the administration to determine if U.S. assistance to Israel should be blocked if the administration finds Israeli forces committed human rights violations or war crimes related to the killing of an Al Jazeera journalist.

The language would require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress detailing administration efforts to support an independent investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, the veteran Al Jazeera journalist and U.S. citizen shot and killed in May while reporting on a security raid by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

The language backed by the Democrats says any report should include a determination on “whether section 620M of the [Foreign Assistance Act] applies to such case.”

Section 620M says that U.S. assistance should be blocked for foreign security forces if there is “credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights or war crime.”  

The legislative text was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chair of the Appropriations Committee, as well as Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

“The United States must ensure an independent, credible, and transparent investigation into the shooting death of American citizen and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” the group said in a statement. 

“Our report language requires the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on steps taken to support such an investigation and provide further details on the findings. We will continue working to get the full truth about this tragedy, ensure accountability, and make clear our unwavering support for freedom of the press and the safety of journalists around the world.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently met with the family of Abu Akleh in Washington, but the family and their supporters have been extremely critical of President Biden and his administration. They say it has not done enough to push for an independent investigation and accountability for the journalist’s death.

“For far too long, the United States has enabled Israel to kill with impunity by providing weapons, immunity, and diplomatic cover,” members of Abu Akleh’s family said in a recent statement, according to the Times of Israel.  

“If we allow Shireen’s killing to be swept under the rug, we send a message that the lives of U.S. citizens abroad don’t matter, that the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation don’t matter, and that the most courageous journalists in the world, those who cover the human impact of armed conflict and violence, are expendable.”

An analysis by the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) in the region of Israeli and the Palestinian Authority investigations concluded “that gunfire from [Israel Defence Forces] positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh,” but said that the recovered bullet was too badly damaged to reach a definitive conclusion. 

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on July 4 that USSC found no reason that Abu Akleh’s death was intentional but “rather the result of tragic circumstances” during an Israeli military operation. 

Several investigations by media outlets said Abu Akleh was likely shot by Israeli forces, and witnesses at the scene said there was no active conflict with Palestinian militants.