In Washington, terror attack focuses lens on PA incitement

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle blame Fatah leadership for creating fertile ground for Jerusalem attack

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

The Capitol in Washington as it undergoes repair work, November 13, 2014 (Photo credit:J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Capitol in Washington as it undergoes repair work, November 13, 2014 (Photo credit:J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON — In a town rife with partisanship, Republicans and Democrats alike flocked to condemn Tuesday’s terror attack in a Jerusalem synagogue. Several prominent members of both the House and Senate called out the Palestinian Authority leadership — and specifically Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — for creating a fertile environment for the deadly assault which left four worshipers and one police officer dead.

The Republican Jewish Coalition offered its condolences to the victims and prayers for peace “to all Israelis confronting the scourge of vicious terrorism.” RJC National Chairman David Flaum called in a statement for “American policy-makers to offer appropriate support and solidarity at this solemn moment.”

The group complimented Secretary of State John Kerry, who quickly issued an unequivocal condemnation of the attack. They raised an eyebrow at incitement in recent weeks by Palestinian leaders and placed “a heavy measure of responsibility for this horror on a Palestinian leadership that has tacitly and explicitly encouraged terrorist violence.”

“We urge members of the Obama administration to adhere to this standard of moral clarity in all their statements and actions during the difficult days ahead,” Flaum concluded.

The National Jewish Democratic Council also issued a statement condemning the attack, and noting that “the attack, taking place as it did so far from the neighborhood in which the terrorists lived, represents a premeditation that was encouraged by incitement from within their community.”

Without specifically mentioning any actors, the NJDC called on “all people and nations to repudiate these actions and to isolate anyone responsible for encouraging violence against innocent civilians.”

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle echoed and reinforced Kerry’s critique of the Palestinian Authority leadership for failing to stem the increasing tide of violence, and some members of both parties explicitly put blame for inflammatory statements on the shoulders of Abbas.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) complained via Twitter that “the murder of four rabbis in Israel was caused by Hamas, Mr [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, & the Palestinian Authority’s reckless incitement of Palestinians.”

In a message personally signed for additional impact, Schumer called on Abbas to “take immediate action to de-escalate the dangerous polarization.”

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the attack, describing it as “yet another example of the Palestinian Authority’s campaign of incitement to violence against Israelis and Jews.” Royce called on the Palestinian authority to “officially and publicly — in English, Hebrew, and Arabic — condemn this attack, and reject its perpetrators. Every PA-condoned attack leads Palestinians further down the path of despair.”

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) echoed similar sentiments, describing the attack as “heinous” and asserting that “Palestinian leadership can and must do more to end terrorist attacks perpetrated against innocent Israelis.”

Boozeman emphasized that he will “continue to support Israel’s right to defend its citizens.”

Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives hours after the attack, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) placed blame for the attack on “the supreme leader of Iran” who she accused of encouraging Palestinians to launch attacks against Israelis.

“This is another example of Iran’s dangerous meddling in order to attack our US interests and Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen complained. The Florida representative renewed calls first heard after the formation of a Palestinian unity government this spring to cut off all US funding for the Palestinian Authority.

The unity government was formed together with Hamas, although there are no Hamas representatives who hold ministerial positions in the current administration.

Likely Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) issued a lengthy statement following the attack, in which he wrote that the four worshippers killed were “not victims of a senseless tragedy, they were deliberately targeted in a carefully-planned attack.”

“The Palestinian terrorists, incubated in a culture of violence and hate, were intent on killing Jews and they singled out men of deep religious faith who would not be armed to ensure maximum casualties. Their despicable actions have been hailed as ‘heroic’ by Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Fatah that are actively inciting these attacks,” he complained.

Cruz called on the US to issue an “unequivocal statement of solidarity, a recognition that America is not a disinterested bystander in this battle.” Like Ros-Lehtinen, Cruz framed the Tuesday attack as part of a common struggle “against the terrorists who have declared war on both our nations.”

For a number of members of Congress, the attack landed closer to home when the three US-born victims had ties to their districts. Kansan Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-KS) noted that Rabbi Kalman Levine was a graduate of the Kansas City-area Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, and that Rabbi Moshe Twersky was the uncle of a faculty member at the same Jewish school.

Twersky’s son, Rafael, is a rabbi in Lakewood, NJ – a fact noted by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“To have disorder and terror interrupt the calm of morning prayers is deplorable and sickening to the core. No words of comfort can provide solace to the four bereaved families who have lost loved ones, all of whom were rabbis,” wrote Menendez Tuesday. “I stand alongside the Twersky family and Lakewood community during this period of mourning.”

Menendez, like many others, called for a “forceful response from President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.” The senior senator from New Jersey said that Abbas’s “words of condemnation are welcome, but must be followed up by a sincere demonstration of leadership” and advised him to “use every tool at his disposal to deescalate this worsening situation in Jerusalem and guide the Palestinian people to reject violence and promote peace.”

“Tensions are understandably running very high today in Jerusalem and I urge all parties to refrain from further acts of violence,” Menendez concluded. “Too many innocent lives have been lost and too much blood has been spilled during these recent months and it must end.”

Congressional calls against alleged Palestinian incitement were echoed by an AIPAC policy memo released Tuesday, in which the pro-Israel organization noted that terror attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank were “on the rise” and noting that Tuesday’s attack “followed months in which Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders used vitriolic language to inflame tensions, especially over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

AIPAC noted the ambivalent PA response, pointing out that “while Abbas issued a statement condemning the attack, he also demanded an “end to invasions of al-Aqsa Mosque” and that fellow Fatah leader Tawfiq Tirawi, a Fatah Central Committee member, justified the attack as “a reaction to the recent crimes of the occupation.”

The AIPAC memo documented a serious of speeches by Abbas denying Jewish legitimacy in Jerusalem, while also listing a series of steps that it says Israel took to try to de-escalate rising tensions.

Along with calling for strong PA statements against terror and incitement, the AIPAC memo pointedly noted that US law predicates funding for the PA on evidence that it is “acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence, and security cooperation with Israel.”

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