On May 13th, the Newseum in Washington, DC will be holding an event to honor “newspeople who died or were killed in the pursuit of news” in the past year. Among the 84 journalists who died are Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama who were killed in Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip this past winter. Their inclusion in the ceremony has sent parts of the Israel lobby into overdrive as both worked for Al-Aqsa television which is affiliated with Hamas. The neocon think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is threatening pull an annual policy summit out of the venue in protest.
Rosie Gray reports for Buzzfeed (note Buzzfeed’s title “Think Tank Could Pull Event From Newseum Over Hamas Memorial” seems to take FDD criticism to heart):
A pro-Israel think tank in Washington is so concerned over the Newseum’s honoring of two slain Palestinian journalists with links to Hamas that they may consider pulling their annual policy summit from the venue, two top officials at the organization indicated on Thursday.
“I’ll be putting in a call to the CEO of the Newseum first thing tomorrow morning,” Cliff May, the president of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said in an email to BuzzFeed. “I’m hoping he’ll tell me there’s been a misunderstanding – or a re-thinking once it became clear that these ‘journalists’ were members of designated terrorist organizations.”
May said his position has less to do with his group’s support for Israel than its opposition to terrorist tactics.
“If the Newseum were commemorating members of designated terrorist organizations whose main targets were Americans or Christians or Kurds or Malian Sufi Muslims, our concern would not be lessened,” he said in a follow-up email.
The Washington Free Beacon quotes the The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper:
“Duct Tape on car with the letters TV does not a journalist make,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean. “A shameful decision based on a falsehood that besmirches the true heroes of journalism who died while pursuing their mission of seeking and reporting the Truth.”
“What would the legitimate martyred journalists like Daniel Pearl say as their heroism and humanity is debased and degraded?” Cooper asked.
The Beacon also talked to an anonymous “adviser to a large Washington, D.C., Jewish organization”:
“They couldn’t have been legitimate journalists killed in the line of duty because they weren’t working for a legitimate media outlet,” said one adviser to a large Washington, D.C., Jewish organization. “They were working for a designated terrorist organization that has a propaganda shop.”
“Of course they painted ‘TV’ on their car,” said the source.
The Israeli government has joined the chorus against the event. Here the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC tweets at the Newseum to reconsider:
Memorializing Al Aqsa TV terrorists hurts the integrity of reporters operating w/journalistic values. @newseum please take a 2nd look.
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUSA) May 10, 2013
It seems like a critical mistake mixing operatives of a recognized terrorist org, Al Aqsa TV, as journalists. We hope @newseum reconsiders.
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUSA) May 10, 2013
The Newseum has already responded and the event will go forward as planned. Here is part of a statement from Newseum spokesperson Jonathan Thompson:
The Newseum Journalists Memorial recognizes 2,246 journalists who died or were killed while reporting the news. To be listed on the memorial, an individual must have been a contributor of news, commentary or photography to a news outlet; an editor or news executive; a producer, camera operator, sound engineer or other member of a broadcast crew; or a documentary filmmaker.
Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked “TV.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.
The Journalists Memorial selection committee conducts case-by-case reviews using the above criteria.
This isn’t the first time Salama and Al-Kumi have been at the center of controversy. New York Times media writer David Carr came under criticism for a column last November about Israeli targeting of journalists where he focused on al-Kumi and Salama’s deaths. Similar to now, pro-Israel supporters echoed Israeli military claims that the cameramen were in fact terrorists and not journalists. At the time Carr responded:
“The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)”
“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.”
It should also be noted that Israel fell 20 spots (to 112) in Reporters Without Borders 2013 Press Freedom Index specifically “because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.”