on the case

Democratic senators speak out on Shireen Abu Akleh FBI investigation

Menendez, Van Hollen tread carefully in response to questions about the investigation’s implications for U.S.-Israel relations

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Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, makes his way to the Senate Chambers at the U.S. Capitol on August 03, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Two Senate Democrats responded to reports on Tuesday that the Department of Justice has opened an independent investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, treading carefully as they addressed questions about the investigation’s implications for U.S.-Israel relations.

The DoJ reportedly notified the Israeli government of the investigation on Monday. The U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority concluded in a July report that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh while she was reporting in the West Bank in May was likely fired unintentionally from an Israeli position, but did not reach a definitive conclusion. The Israeli government concluded that an Israeli soldier likely fired the shot by mistake.

“If [the administration] made that determination [to open an investigation], then obviously it’s a pursuit of whatever the information is to come to a conclusion,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told Jewish Insider yesterday.

Menendez criticized the administration’s handling of the case earlier this year, urging President Joe Biden to seek “accountability.” Speaking to JI on Tuesday, he praised Israel’s investigation.

“The Israelis have already done an investigation. I think it’s a rather transparent investigation,” Menendez said. “I think they have issued their findings with the Americans, but, of course, as a U.S. citizen, the FBI has every right to conduct its own.”

Menendez said it’s “for Israel to decide” whether to participate in the inquiry.

Israeli officials have said publicly that they will not cooperate with the new U.S. probe. The administration has not publicly confirmed the investigation and the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department referred an inquiry to the Justice Department.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who praised the news of the investigation on Monday, told JI that Israel’s refusal to cooperate is “a disappointment,” but expressed hope that the Justice Department would nonetheless continue its investigation. Van Hollen led the push among Senate Democrats earlier this year for an FBI investigation into the case — a proposal the administration declined at the time.

Asked whether he sees a path to resolve the situation and achieve accountability without damaging the U.S.-Israel relationship, Menendez responded that “Transparency is the most important thing. All the information, giving it light — that’s the best way to get [accountability].”

Van Hollen gave a similar answer.

“You would hope that everybody would like to get to the truth,” the Maryland senator said. “So that’s the bottom line.”

The report also sparked a response from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who issued a statement on Tuesday calling the alleged investigation an “outrage” and said that “everyone involved,” including Attorney General Merrick Garland, “should be fired or impeached.”