WASHINGTON – Major US Jewish groups reacted with disgust to revelations Sunday that Jewish suspects had been apprehended in the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, while the State Department reiterated that it would continue to closely follow the condition of Abu Khdeir’s cousin, a 15-year-old Floridian arrested and allegedly beaten during protests Saturday.
A number of leading American Jewish groups reacted with condemnation to the news that six Jewish extremists were being held as suspects in the brutal murder; Abu Khdeir was grabbed from near his home in Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood, allegedly burned alive, and his body was found early last Wednesday in the Jerusalem Forest.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) commended Israeli authorities for apprehending the suspects but expressed “shock and dismay about those who perpetrated such a heinous crime against a Palestinian youth.”
“That several Israelis are believed to be involved in this murder is despicable and shameful,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “By taking the life of a young Palestinian as an apparent act of revenge, they have desecrated God’s name and, at the same time, done nothing to ease the immense suffering of all those who mourn the tragic murder of the three Israeli teenagers. By seeking to take the law into their own hands, they have undermined the authority of the state. And by the very nature of their crime, if convicted, they deserve the harshest possible prison sentence. No citizen in a democratic country, and Israel laudably is just such a country, is above the law.”
It is believed that the 16-year-old Jerusalemite was kidnapped in revenge for the murders of three Jewish teenagers – Naftali Fraenkal, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach – who were laid to rest hours before Abu Khdeir’s murder.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman also said that he was “outraged and horrified that this heinous attack is believed to have been carried out by Israeli Jewish extremists.”
“Unbridled extremist hatred was behind the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, who are mourned around the world. We cannot shirk from the recognition that unbridled, extremist hatred may have led to the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir as well,” Foxman continued, reiterating calls for Israeli authorities to fully investigate the crime and prosecute the responsible parties.
Sending condolences to Abu Khdeir’s family, the ADL leader admonished that “only a full investigation and vigorous criminal prosecution will ensure justice for Mohammed Abu Khdeir, while sending a message to anyone else who might consider such an act that extremism, vigilantism and revenge killings will not be tolerated in Israeli society and are anathema to Jewish values.”
Robert G. Sugarman, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, also released a joint statement in which they said that the revelation that the suspects in the killing were Israeli citizens caused “anguish and sorrow.”
“There is no justification for such an heinous attack by self-styled vigilantes. We condemn this attack, as we did the murder of the three Israeli youths by Arab terrorists last week and we extend our sincere condolences to the Khdeir family.”
At the same time, the two called for “measures be implemented to stop all incitement to violence whatever and whoever the source.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper described the murder as “nothing less than an abomination and a terror act that is a desecration of Jewish values,” in a statement released from the international headquarters of the Jewish human rights group in Los Angeles.
“There is no justification for this horrific crime. We commend Israeli authorities for finding the perpetrators,” they added.
The rabbis, however, said that there were “fundamental differences” between the case of the three Jewish teens kidnapped and murdered by terrorists associated with Hamas, and Abu Khdeir’s abduction and murder.
“The abduction of the Arab teenager was carried out by extremists, acting on their own, who stand condemned by every sector of Israel’s democratic society. The kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens, who have not been yet captured, was carried out by members of a terrorist group (Hamas) that is part of a Palestinian government,” Hier and Cooper said, reiterating the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s call to US President Barack Obama “to make clear to PA President Mahmoud Abbas that he either drops Hamas from the unity government or loses American financial support.”
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Sunday afternoon that a US consular official was present at the Sunday morning hearing in Jerusalem in which Tariq Abu Khdeir, cousin of the slain teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was released to house arrest while a criminal investigation was conducted into his participation in demonstrations in east Jerusalem.
The State Department said that Khdeir’s family was asked to post bail and Tariq was restricted to his uncle’s home in the Beit Hanina area of east Jerusalem. As terms of his release, the teenager, who was allegedly beaten by Border Police, was also permitted to make arrangements to visit medical facilities if needed.
“If the investigation is concluded promptly, Mr. Khdeir should be able to return to Florida as planned with his family later this month,” Psaki said.
A 15-year-old Tampa, Florida resident, Tariq was visiting his family in east Jerusalem. Family members said that Tariq Abu Khdeir did not join in the demonstrations that have swept Shuafat since his cousin Muhammed Abu Khdeir’s murder, but police said that he was one of six demonstrators arrested while participating in violent confrontations with police.
A video later released purported to show a masked Abu Khdeir being beaten by Border Police, but Border Police officials rejected the video as tendentiously edited, and said that the masked teens had resisted arrest, attacked police officers, and that three of them were armed with knives.
Psaki reiterated Sunday that the US government was continuing “to monitor the situation closely,” was “profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody, and strongly condemn any excessive use of force.”
Since word of the circumstances surrounding Tariq Abu Khdeir’s arrest began to spread on Saturday, Washington has called repeatedly for “a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for the apparent excessive use of force.”
The Israel Police’s Internal Affairs Department has opened an investigation into the incident, which threatens to increase tension between Jerusalem and Washington.
Tariq Abu Khdeir’s house arrest came on the same morning that security officials revealed that they had arrested six Jewish extremists suspected of involvement in his cousin’s murder.