Nima Shirazi | 17 May 2013
Earlier this week, Washington D.C.’s Newseum buckled to pressure applied by Israel lobby groups and omitted the names of two Palestinian news cameramen, Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were targeted last November in an Israeli air strike on Gaza the Strip, from its memorial for journalists killed in the line of duty. I wrote extensively on the hypocrisy of this decision here at Muftah.
In his keynote address at the Newseum’s annual rededication ceremony on Monday, NBC reporter Richard Engel supported the Newseum’s decision, claiming that Salama and al-Kumi were not “strictly journalists, but political activists who worked in the media,” adding, “Just because you carry a camera and a notebook doesn’t make you a journalist.”
Such a comment is essentially the defensive photo-negative of what Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a December 2102 report on “Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media.”
“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” she warned.
During his remarks, Engel also said, “Journalists shouldn’t have causes. They should have principles and beliefs.” He went on to praise Syrian reporters “who worked for media outlets that were actively trying to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime” and who were included, without controversy, in the museum’s tribute. For Engel, the Syrian journalists (in contrast to their Palestinians counterparts who lived under Israeli occupation and were murdered by U.S.-subsidized missiles) “certainly died trying to do something noble. They were speaking out against oppression. They died trying to quench a thirst for freedom.” Engel hardly seemed aware of the hypocrisy of his statements.
The Newseum has yet to answer a number of salient questions posed by The Electronic Intifada‘s Ali Abunimah about its last minute decision to excise Salama and al-Kumi from its memorial. Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) has issued the following statement about the Newseum’s actions.
Statement of the Arab and Middle East Journalists Association in Reference to Newseum Scandal
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) condemns in the strongest possible terms, the decision of the Newseum to exclude Palestinian journalists Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama from its memorial of journalists killed in the line of duty.
Israeli missiles fired at a car clearly marked “TV” during Israel’s attack on Gaza in November, 2012, killing Messieurs Al-Kumi and Salama as they returned from covering a story for TV station Al-Aqsa at Al-Shifaa Hospital. The Newseum justifies its exclusion of the two journalists because of claims that they worked for news network run by Hamas, the governing party in Gaza. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all recognize that both Mr. Al-Kumi and Mr. Salama were legitimate journalists, and therefore entitled to all protections afforded non-combatants in times of armed conflict. Human Rights Watch, which investigated the affiliations of the two men, has determined that neither was a member of any political party, nor was either a combatant.
AMEJA wholeheartedly supports the statements of peer groups The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and is appreciative of the investigations of Human Rights Watch. However, AMEJA firmly holds that a journalist’s political affiliations, whatever they might be, are irrelevant to the question of whether he or she is a journalist. Applying a political litmus test to determine whether one is a journalist is a slippery slope that serves no useful purpose in the service of an informed public.
If the Newseum truly wishes to honor the principle of press freedom, it must reverse its decision of exclusion and restore Messrs. al-Kumi and Salama from its memorial of journalists who perished while working to inform the public of vital matters of the day.
Amanda Barnes | 17 May 2013
This week Al Jazeera interviewed former President of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Moaz al Khatib, about the current climate in Syria, the SNC, and his decision to resign from the presidency in April 2013.
Since its founding in August 2011 as a coalition of expatriate forces opposing Bashar al Assad’s regime, the SNC has been plagued by internal dissention. The organization has been criticized by opposition groups inside Syria as being out of touch with Syrians in the country. Because of its work with the international community to end the bloodshed in Syria, the SNC has also been under pressure from international actors, who have their own ideas of what peace in Syria should look like. In November 2012, the SNC joined forces with the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella organization bringing together various Syrian opposition groups.
Moaz al Khatib has been and remains a controversial figure in the SNC. A former imam of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Khatib has been described as a ‘moderate Islamist.’ Soon after his appointment, Khatib sprang to the defense of Syria’s domestic opposition groups. He was quoted by The Guardian as saying “It is paramount to appreciate the characteristics of the Syrian people: Syrians are tolerant, devout and open to everyone. By nature, they reject extremism and injustice.”
By attempting to connect the domestic and expatriate Syrian opposition, Khatib became a relatively popular leader, and appeared to be someone Syria’s opposition groups could unite around.
In one of his more controversial moves, early on in his presidency, Khatib said he was not averse to direct talks with the Assad regime. While he explained his position as pragmatic, many inside and outside Syria were outraged by the idea.
Khatib resigned from the SNC on April 22nd, stating on the group’s Facebook page that:
“”Everything that has happened to the Syrian people, from the destruction of their infrastructure, the arrest of tens of thousands of Syrians, the displacement of hundreds of thousands people, and other tragedies, were not enough to take an international decision to allow the Syrian people to defend themselves.””
In his interview with Al Jazeera, Khatib discusses some of the issues he sees as detrimental to the success of the SNC. He references regional and international pressure, as well as rifts within the SNC, as some of the major reasons for his decision to resign. During the interview, Khatib emphasizes that he is not leaving the opposition struggle, but feels he can be more useful working independently from the formal SNC.
Watch the full interview with Al Jazeera below: