The Washington Post’s Short-Sighted Editorial on the FBI’s Abu Akleh Investigation
“The editorial page of the Washington Post,” Charles Krauthammer once wrote, “is the best in the country.” The Post writer, who died in 2018 after penning some 1,600 columns, believed that the newspaper had the “best editorial page around.” It was, he thought, “quite balanced.”
But that was then, this is now.
Krauthammer championed thoughtful debates, underpinned by a careful consideration of the facts. But facts, and careful consideration, were absent in the Post’s Nov. 15, 2022 editorial, “Accountability is justified — and needed — in a U.S. reporter’s death.” The newspaper’s editorial board championed the decision by the US Department of Justice to investigate the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al-Jazeera reporter who was fatally shot on May 11, 2022, while covering Israeli counter-terror raids in the town of Jenin.
From the very beginning Abu Akleh’s death was shrouded in confusion — which is not unusual given that she was killed in what was effectively a combat zone. For nearly a year, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that controls the majority of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) has failed, or, more accurately, declined, to go after the growing number of terrorists operating and plotting in their midst. This has forced Israel to carry out a high operational tempo of counter-terror raids, several of which have ended in shootings.
Before Abu Akleh’s body was even cold, the usual suspects immediately blamed Israel. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) noted in the Algemeiner, within hours of her death, several Washington Post reporters suggested that she had been intentionally targeted by the Jewish state, with one correspondent claiming that an Israel Defense Forces “sniper” was responsible. One reporter, Rana Ayyub, tweeted that Abu Akleh was “murdered in cold blood,” and suggested that this was the plight of “ordinary Palestinians.”
These “journalists” didn’t need to wait for evidence to reach their conclusion. This led professionally-minded journalists, such as Armin Rosen, to note that “two Washington Post staffers [were] spreading what amounts to a conspiracy theory before any of the most relevant facts are in.” Senior staff at the Post were non-responsive when CAMERA pointed out that this behavior blatantly violated the newspaper’s stated standards and ethics.
Adding to the confusion: the PA not only refused to cooperate with Israel’s investigation, but also tainted the chain of evidence. PA officials initially refused to turn over both Abu Akleh’s body, as well as the bullet that the Authority claimed killed her. Indeed, the PA’s Attorney General claimed that they had managed to identify the weapon used: a Ruger Mini-14. Yet, as CAMERA has highlighted, matching a bullet to a weapon is quite difficult without access to the weapon and, importantly, the IDF doesn’t use Ruger Mini-14s. Rather, the claim seems to have been a way to coordinate with a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) effort, targeting an American company which supplies other weapons to the IDF.
By contrast, Israel took the time to conduct a thorough investigation, eventually concluding that an IDF soldier had likely shot Abu Akleh, albeit by accident. Importantly, the investigation also noted that ballistic evidence had been “inconclusive.” Both the US Department of State and the Department of Defense publicly accepted these findings. However, that was months ago — long before recent elections in both Israel and the United States.
Now, with a curious sense of timing, Israel has announced that the US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Akleh’s death. And, in an equally unusual move, the Post’s editorial board — the official view of the newspaper — has heralded the decision. Unsurprisingly, the Post’s editorial fails to mention that the newspaper itself had de facto convicted the Jewish state before all the facts were known.
Similarly, the Post also failed to mention the circumstances surrounding the raid, including the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank. The PA’s own farce of an investigation is also unmentioned. Instead of noting that the PA, which is entirely dependent on aid from the US and others, corrupted the chain of evidence, the Post has gall to suggest that Israel is “obstructing” the investigation.
But the numerous omitted facts and circumstances are not the most damning thing about the Post’s editorial. Rather, what is most inexcusable is the newspaper’s failure to ask obvious questions — questions that involve the sanctity of US institutions, law and order, and the future of American foreign policy in a key, albeit volatile, region. These are the big questions that a newspaper that prides itself on “saving democracy from darkness” should ask.
The FBI’s investigation is, by all accounts, odd. By opening what is a second investigation, the DOJ is impugning the judgment of the Department of State, among others, which accepted the results of the first investigation.
As Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, noted: “It should be an expectation of every American that our government will press democratic allies for expedited and transparent investigations when U.S. citizens die in any circumstance — and that’s what already happened in this case.” Goldberg pointed out that “the top U.S. security official in the area oversaw an independent forensic analysis and concluded that Abu Akleh’s tragic death was not intentional.”
The White House has claimed that it wasn’t aware of the DOJ investigation — a claim that is questionable. But if this were true it raises questions of its own — questions that the Washington Post isn’t asking.
For example: Why now? Why only after the Israeli and US elections? And why a second investigation; does the DOJ think that State’s conclusions were wrong — and if so, why? The timing could suggest a politically motivated investigation, one being conducted to appease certain members of Congress, some with a history of antisemitic remarks and questioning Israel’s existence, who have been petitioning the Biden administration to investigate the Jewish state and put it on the defensive.
The DOJ’s decision is far from standard practice. Indeed, numerous Americans have been attacked and killed by Palestinian terrorists, only for the perpetrators to receive tax-deductible salaries from the Palestinian Authority in return. The US did not conduct two separate investigations in those instances, whether it was Ari Fuld, Taylor Force, or any of the dozens of other victims. (The journalist killed in the counter-terror operation was a dual American citizen). Indeed, the current administration has restored aid to the PA, which pays those very terrorist salaries. Such incongruities don’t merit a mention from the Post.
What really seems to be happening is an attempt to use Abu Akleh’s tragic death to cast Israel as a pariah state. And the Washington Post is a willing participant in this chicanery.
As the Jerusalem Post, among others, has reported, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has a long history of anti-Israel activism and bias, has been seeking to use Abu Akleh’s death to persecute the Jewish state. The efforts of the ICC, however, had previously stalled. This second investigation will boost the ICC, which has also targeted US troops in politically motivated investigations. This aspect — that a second politically motivated investigation could set a dangerous precedent, resulting in blowback for the United States itself — isn’t even contemplated by the newspaper.
The Post first gained fame for its investigations into power and corruption a la Watergate. Now, when there’s the possibility that institutions are behaving badly, using their power for partisan purposes, the Post is worse than disinterested, it’s choosing to be part of an influence operation instead of engaging in real journalism. As Krauthammer once said: “Loyalty to the President is great, but loyalty to truth, integrity and country is even better.”
The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis