“If the U.S. isn’t demanding this, and the Israelis aren’t, what is to say the Jordanians should do anything?” said Jonathan Schanzer of FDD, referring to the mastermind of the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria suicide-bombing.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein
The American Jewish Committee mentions Ahlam Tamimi twice on its website—in 2020 and in 2018. Neither the AJC’s nor its chief executive officer’s account on X (formerly Twitter) seems to have ever posted about the Jordanian national, who helped carry out the deadly terrorist attack in August 2001 at a popular Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem.
Yet 22 years after the attack one year into the Second Intifada that lasted until 2005, Ted Deutch, who became CEO of the nonprofit last October, sent a letter in mid-July to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the U.S. Department of Justice to “intensify its pursuit” of Tamimi’s extradition from Jordan, per Jewish Insider.
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.
The sensitivity appears to relate less to Tamimi—for whom the U.S. State Department offers a reward of up to $5 million and whom the FBI names on its most wanted terrorist list—than to diplomatic relations with her home country.
“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—resulting in a frozen status quo—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 U.S. or Israel on Tamimi may not play well—may not play to the king’s favor.”
‘A travesty that requires resolution and justice’
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.
After AJC’s reported letter to the Justice Department, JNS sought comment from 45 Jewish organizations about whether or not Tamimi should be extradited. Three offered no comment, and 23 stated that they supported extradition. (The other 19 didn’t respond.)
Agudath Israel of America, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, CAMERA, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Zionist Organization of America told JNS that they have worked for Tamimi’s extradition for years.
The American Zionist Movement issued a call in July 2020 for Tamimi’s extradition. The Coalition for Jewish Values and 17 other organizations joined a letter urging the same that year.
Americans Against Antisemitism, the American Sephardi Federation, B’nai B’rith International, CASEPAC, the Combat Antisemitism Movement, the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Defense Fund, the Jewish United Fund, Religious Zionists of America, the Republican Jewish Coalition and StopAntisemitism also told JNS that they support extradition.
“The extradition of Tamimi to the United States for her role in these killings is more than long overdue,” Daniel Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith, told JNS. “Justice must be served—not least because in doing so, a strong message will be sent that those who carry out these acts cannot do so without a price to be paid.”
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, told JNS that Tamimi is “an unrepentant butcher.”
“She expressed disappointment when early reports suggested three had been killed and ‘couldn’t help’ smiling as the number rose,” he said. “Far from regretting her actions, she has declared openly that she would do it again if given the chance.”
Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president of government affairs and Washington director and counsel at Agudath Israel, pointed out that nearly half of Tamimi’s victims were children.
“The only regret she has, she has said, is that she hadn’t been able to kill more Jews,” he told JNS. “Such a criminal is richly deserving of standing trial and being punished for her horrific crime—for the sake of the many injured survivors of her heinous attack, of their families and of civilized society.”
One of the three Americans who was injured in the terrorist attacks “was left in a vegetative state for more than two decades before succumbing to her injuries,” Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, told JNS. “Where is the justice?”
“There simply can be no peace without justice,” added Sarah Stern, founder and president of EMET.
‘A foremost priority’
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 no one will ever get the State Department’s $5 million reward for helping to capture the mastermind of his daughter’s murder. Tamimi’s whereabouts have been widely known in Jordan, though no one has turned her in.
JNS sought comment on the extradition from the State Department, which referred questions to the Justice Department.
“This is a matter of particular importance to the Justice Department,” according to an official from the department who did not offer a name. “However, the department does not discuss specifics on extradition matters.”
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 U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The official (whom Roth declined to name) told them that bringing Tamimi to U.S. justice “is a foremost priority for the United States.”
“What does that mean? And why, despite it being ‘foremost,’ do U.S. officials suppress all public mention of the case?” Roth asked.
‘Governing is always about priorities’
Extraditing Tamimi is much lower on the U.S. government’s priority list “than one would imagine or than it should be,” Schanzer, of FDD, told JNS. “It’s one of those cases that underscores one of the unfortunate realities in D.C.—that folks are principled until they have to make compromises or trade-offs.”
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 her release in 2011, Jordan never agreed to have her serve additional time, so she has been able to live freely, according to Schanzer.
“From their perspective, they’re being asked to do something they don’t believe comports with their laws,” he said. “That’s deeply frustrating to anyone with a sense of justice,” but “if the U.S. isn’t demanding this and the Israelis aren’t, what is to say the Jordanians should do anything?”
Still, many Americans believe that Jordan should act. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sought to block funding to Jordan until it extradites Tamimi. In fact, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Yael Lempert about Tamimi during her confirmation hearing to be U.S. 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.”
Lempert is likely to be reminded of that promise.
Stephen M. Flatow, president of the Religious Zionists of America (RZA), fought the U.S. government for accountability for the 1995 terrorist attack that killed his daughter, Alisa. He believes that U.S. Jewish organizations must stand with the Roths and encourage the U.S. government to press Jordan on this matter, particularly given that Washington sends some $1.65 billion in aid to Jordan.
“We will be mobilizing RZA members nationwide to urge their members of Congress to take action on U.S. aid to Jordan, which, so far, has been hiding behind the United States’ refusal to demand Tamimi’s extradition,” Flatow said.
“Realizing that the threat to its American aid is real will cause Jordan to act,” he added. “We hope the American Jewish Committee will mobilize its members and supporters, too.”
Featured Image: The aftermath of the Sbarro pizzaria bombing at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Aug. 9, 2001. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO.