Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai kicked up a storm on Thursday when he commented on the Israeli investigation into the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Alkeh, saying the country’s “credibility” was lacking.
“With all due respect to us, let’s say that Israel’s credibility is not very high in such cases,” Shai said. “We know this. It is based on the past,” he told Radio 103FM, apparently referring to international opinion rather than doubting the findings of an Israeli investigation.
Abu Akleh, 51, was shot in the head during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli army operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday. The Palestinians blame Israel for her death, while Israeli officials have said it is likely that Palestinian gunmen fired the fatal shot.
“Those who have nothing to hide do not refuse to cooperate,” Army Radio quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying in response.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said claims the IDF was responsible were “not based on an investigation or facts, but on propaganda.”
Shai made the comments on Thursday when he was asked about the response from Washington to the death of Abu Akleh, who was born in Jerusalem, but spent time in the US as a child and held US citizenship along with her Jerusalem residency card and Jordanian passport.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday that the US demanded an “immediate and thorough” investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh.
Shai said he was not surprised by the US response, adding that the Americans “will not be willing to accept results that are not based on independent sources.”
Therefore, the minister suggested recruiting “a pathologist of American or another nationality who could give the international dimension and also add credibility to this investigation.”
“While [cabinet] ministers and the IDF chief of staff [Aviv Kohavi] have stated that they will open an investigation, [the US] wants to know the truth and they will pressure us, they will not let go until this affair is over. This is clear,” said Shai, who served as IDF spokesman for a number of years.
An initial autopsy of Abu Akleh’s body by Palestinian coroners found that it was “impossible” to tell whether she was killed by Israeli or Palestinian gunfire.
Meanwhile, an initial internal IDF probe reportedly found that though she was likely standing near armed terrorists, Israeli troops did not fire at her.
Channel 12 reported that the bullet in question is a 5.56×45mm NATO round, which is used by both Israeli troops and Palestinian terrorists for weapons, including M16 and M4 assault rifles.
Following his interview, Shai’s comments were slammed by right-wing politicians.
“I condemn the lies being uttered against our soldiers — not only those coming from the Palestinians, but also the shameful remarks made by members of Bennett’s coalition,” opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
“The false slanders against our soldiers that are heard from within the coalition prove once again that a government that depends on terror supporters cannot fight terrorism and is unable to protect our soldiers,” the statement read.
“As a former IDF spokesman, I assume (and hope) that you understand very well the importance of the State of Israel’s public relations in the world,” said Likud MK Ofir Sofer.
“Instead of helping to spread the anti-Israel lie, and getting up in the morning and declaring that the State of Israel is unreliable, I expect you, as Diaspora minister, to immediately repair the damage you have done,” Sofer said.