In mid-July, 22 years after the deadly terrorist attack at a popular Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem, American Jewish Committee’s recently-appointed CEO Ted Deutch sent a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice to “intensify its pursuit” of the extradition from Jordan of Ahlam Tamimi.
The AJC finds that “quiet diplomacy is often more effective in sensitive matters, but when time passes and it fails to produce results, other avenues must be taken,” Jason Isaacson, the nonprofit’s chief policy and political affairs officer, told JNS.
In this case, the sensitivity of both US and Israeli regarding their relations with Jordan appears to have tampered the pursuit of Tamimi (for whom the State Department offers a reward of up to $5 million and whom the FBI names on its most wanted terrorist list).
“Israel is legitimately fearful of damaging its 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, even to the point of avoiding the subject of its ‘ally’ allowing her asylum, allowing her to celebrate the murder of innocent Jews and allowing her to propagandize for Hamas,” according to Charles Jacobs, co-founder and president of the Jewish Leadership Project.
Washington appears to share Jerusalem’s concerns about destabilizing Amman in any way after Tamimi, who was sentenced to 16 life sentences in Israel, was freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange. She has since lived a celebrity’s life in Jordan.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that King Abdullah II of Jordan is “extremely sensitive to the sentiment of the Jordanian street, and even more sensitive since the Arab Spring.”
“There’s never been a serious challenge to the king, but things haven’t been as stable as the monarch would like, and economically, things have gone very poorly,” Schanzer said. “The optics of caving, so to speak, to the demands of the US or Israel on Tamimi may not play well, may not play to the king’s favor.”
Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, told JNS that 17 lives were lost in the Sbarro suicide-bombing (one of the adult victims was pregnant). Another 130 were wounded, many maimed for life. Seven of those killed were children having a late lunch with their parents before the start of Shabbat.
“The fact that she is not being made to pay for her murderous crimes, and is allowed to live freely and hosted her own show on Hamas television, is a travesty that requires resolution and justice,” Rothstein said of Tamimi.
Arnold and Frimet Roth have pursued justice for their daughter, Malki, who was 15 and one of three American citizens murdered in the attack orchestrated by Tamimi.
Arnold Roth told JNS that Washington’s official position on the extradition has appeared to change. In October 2022, a senior State Department official wrote to him and his wife in the name of President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The official (whom Roth declined to name) told them that bringing Tamimi to US justice “is a foremost priority for the United States.”
“What does that mean? And why, despite it being ‘foremost,’ do US officials suppress all public mention of the case?” Roth asked.
“It’s one of those cases that underscores one of the unfortunate realities in DC — that folks are principled until they have to make compromises or trade-offs,” Schanzer, of FDD, told JNS.
The Israeli government is focused on other challenges in working with Jordan, including the latter’s absence from the Negev Summit; smuggling across the Israeli-Jordanian border; and cooperation when it comes to water and natural gas, according to Schanzer. “Governing is always about priorities,” he said. “The Israelis have put this permanently on the back burner. It’s deeply painful for the families.”
In accepting Tamimi upon release in 2011, Jordan never agreed to have her serve additional time, so she has been able to live freely, Schanzer said.
“From their perspective, they’re being asked to do something they don’t believe comports with their laws,” he said.
Still, many Americans believe that Jordan should act. House members have sought to block funding to Jordan until it extradites Tamimi. And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Yael Lempert about Tamimi during her confirmation hearing to be US ambassador to Jordan.
“If confirmed, I will do everything in my power to ensure that Ahlam Tamimi faces justice in the United States for her horrific crimes,” said Lempert, who was sworn in as ambassador to Jordan on Aug. 10.
Cruz asked Lempert if she would support all options, including withholding military and economic assistance from Jordan, until Tamimi is extradited. “I think our relationship with Jordan is multifaceted and extremely important. There are obviously some issues that we are not going to agree on,” she said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that Ahlam Tamimi faces justice in the United States.”
Stephen M. Flatow, president of the Religious Zionists of America (RZA), whose column appears regularly in The Jewish Star, fought the US government for accountability for a different terrorist attack, in 1995, that killed his daughter, Alisa. He believes US Jewish organizations must stand with the Roths and encourage the government to press Jordan on this matter, particularly given that Washington sends some $1.65 billion in aid to Jordan.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein is an independent writer in metro Washington.