An Arab man with deep ties to America dissented against an authoritarian Middle Eastern regime. As a consequence, he was held captive, reportedly beaten, and his life may be over.
No, his name is not Jamal Khashoggi. Unlike Khashoggi, this man is a U.S. citizen. And he was not consorting with or propagandizing on behalf of Islamists, but enraging them by consorting with America’s closest ally in the region.
While Issam Akel has not been made a cause celebre, perhaps he should be. An American resident of East Jerusalem, Akel was arrested by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in October 2018 and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor for allegedly committing the mortal sin of “selling a house to the enemy in Jerusalem.”
You see, according to the PA’s kangaroo court, Akel had the temerity to broker the sale of a house in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem to Ateret Cohanim. That organization seeks to acquire land to settle Jews in non-Jewish areas of the Old City, and in small pockets within heavily Arab neighborhoods.
Under “Palestinian” law, selling property to Israelis—namely, Jews—is punishable by death. There’s a long history of legal codification of such barbaric Jew-hatred, as catalogued by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach:
The concept of killing a man for doing business with a Jew was put into force by the Jordanians in 1948 during the kingdom’s occupation of Judea and Samaria. From there, it would be incorporated into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s legal code in 1979, which enforced the penalty of execution on any of those ‘traitors’ caught ‘transferring positions to the enemy.’ Since then, the law has been further clarified. The term ‘positions,’ as it turns out, refer to any sort of land or real estate. ‘Transferring’ has been elucidated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to include any act of ‘diverting,’ ‘selling,’ or even just ‘renting’ a property. As for the ‘enemies,’ this refers to ‘an enemy state or one of its subjects,’ which, coming from the PLO, refers explicitly to Jews. The law has been reaffirmed by Palestinian officials on several occasions — in 1973, 1979, 1997, 2010, 2014, and 2018.
The details of Akel’s plight are characteristically sketchy, but reports indicate he was either lured to Ramallah, or picked up off the street in Jerusalem by PA police, incarcerated, and potentially tortured. This was a particularly brazen act, given that Akel is a U.S. citizen, who carries an Israeli ID card that should provide him immunity from PA arrest.
In spite of all the significant threads coming together in the imprisonment and potential beating of an American by an autocratic regime for allegedly flouting an anti-Semitic law, the Western media and political class have been largely mum. There is no echo chamber lauding Akel’s putative bravery, nor haranguing Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for their brutality. There is no chorus lobbying for sanctioning the PA with the full force of the U.S. government. Rest assured, Akel’s face will not grace the cover of Time as “Person of the Year” anytime soon.
One must ask the simple question: Why? To be sure, there are differences between Akel and Khashoggi. But practically all of them cast Akel in a more sympathetic light. To our knowledge, Akel was not an outspoken Islamist, a Muslim Brotherhood exponent, or aligned with a rival faction to Abbas.
Nor was he a mouthpiece for anyone like the pre-9/11 head of Saudi intelligence-turned-ambassador, or a leading media figure in a state-controlled press corps, or by the best looks of things a useful idiot agent of influence for a foreign power.
Unlike journalists, whose job it is to challenge those in power, Akel allegedly acted as a private citizen. He was also not writing something controversial, he was allegedly abrogating an unjust law. He was doing so surely knowing full well the ruinous repercussions not only in the face of the PA, but also at the hands of murderous Jew-haters in society—and from Israel, not from the cozy environs of America.
Unlike Khashoggi, Akhel did not loathe our closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel. Quite the contrary, he lived there.
Lastly, from the perspective of the U.S. national interest, Akel is an American. Khashoggi was not. Originally, media reports indicated Khashoggi was a green card holder—a permanent resident. That turned out to be false.
It appears Khashoggi entered America via an O Visa, granting temporary worker status for those who possess “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.”
We still do not know the circumstances whereby someone with Khashoggi’s background—both in terms of his regressive worldview and ties to foreign intelligence—was allowed into the United States. There is no such ambiguity over Akel’s citizenship status.
Here’s the reality about why the media and political establishment appear to be applying a double standard: Akel cannot be used as a cudgel against Trump, either geopolitically, or from the perspective of the phony “threat to freedom of the press” narrative. Trump has been as pro-Israel as any president since Harry Truman, and more hostile towards the “Palestinians” and Israel’s other adversaries in the Islamic world than perhaps any U.S. president, period.
Akel did not engage in an allegedly rebellious act against a regime aligned with the Trump administration. And Akel’s incarceration cannot be leveraged in a virtue-signaling campaign to undermine the Trump administration’s counterjihadist or Iranian pushback prerogatives. Meanwhile, Akel, unlike Khashoggi, was not a faux member of the media, and thus deemed worthy of heightened concern.
The sad reality more evident by the day is that for the media and political establishment, the narrative trumps all else. Stories are rarely selected let alone judged on the merits, or put into their proper context, unless it aligns with the political end of serving the power and privilege of the bipartisan progressive elite.
Word is that presumably due to efforts of both the Israelis and Americans behind the scenes, the PA may extradite Akel to the United States. Let us hope he meets a better fate than Khashoggi did. But let us also hope that his experience shines a light on the disingenuousness of our betters.