(Note: The article below appeared in The Washington Examiner as “The Terrorist and the Museum” on Oct. 5, 2016)
On September 16, 2016, the U.S. State Department listed a man named Fathi Hammad as a “specially designated global terrorist.” At first glance the classification of Hammad, a senior leader of terror group Hamas, may seem to be unordinary. Yet, it should be newsworthy to one Washington D.C.-area museum, the Newseum, which has memorialized as “fallen journalists” those who worked for a propaganda arm which Hammad created for Hamas: Al-Aqsa TV.
The Newseum claims it “educates the public about the value of a free press in a free society” and “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” With this in mind, the Newseum created a memorial that recognizes “men and women who died or were killed while reporting the news.”
Yet, among the names on that memorial are staffers and representatives for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s state television, the Iranian mullahs’ Press TV and Hamas’ television station, Al-Aqsa TV. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), noted in a 2013 Washington Examiner Op-Ed, “There is nothing journalistic about them, their activities or their employers (“Newseum discredits itself by honoring terrorists,” May, 12, 2013).”
Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi of Hammad’s creation, al-Aqsa TV, are among those listed, since their induction in 2013, as having died “in pursuit of the news.” Yet, news is not what Hamas and its TV channel are seeking to obtain.
Although Hammad only recently received his U.S. State Department classification as a terrorist, the network he founded was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a terrorist entity in 2008 for airing “programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.”
Indeed, according to a November 2012 report by scholar David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, the channel and its website are “replete with violent images and exhortations to martyrdom, including explicit advocacy of terrorizing, killing, and dismembering ‘Zionists,’ whether soldiers or civilians.”
This hate speech and incitement to violence is regularly part of the “news network’s” programming. One can turn on the station and, as in one July 11, 2014 broadcast, listen to a Hamas field commander promise to give the skulls of Jews “for our children’s feet to play with at the Gaza World Cup,” as the non-profit organization Palestinian Media Watch noted.
Hammad has referred to the media as the “decisive weapon,” according to a February 2005 Op-Ed by terror analyst Matthew Levitt, the author of a book on Hamas. Levitt noted, “This is borne out in the Hamas charter, which highlights the importance of having ‘educators and teachers, information and media people’” to push the terror group’s agenda.
Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, has a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews. In this sense, Hamas’ objectives are little different from other Islamist terror organizations, some of whom, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are responsible for murdering journalists whose names are listed next to Salama and al-Kumi.
Al-Aqsa TV has proven extremely useful to Hamas. By attacking Hamas’ rivals and portraying the terror group in a positive manner, it serves as the propaganda wing of a brutal, authoritarian regime. As one of their employees, Ibrahim Daher, admitted to The Washington Post in 2014, “Our policy has always been to keep silent about certain news (“Hamas radio station in Gaza reports on the sunny side of Islamist movement’s rule,” Sept. 29, 2014).”
That “certain news,” presumably, would include Hamas’ routine crackdowns on independent journalists in the Gaza Strip. For example, Ahmed Said, a journalist who was arrested by Hamas in August 2016 after reporting on his radio show, Sawt Al Sha’ab (Voice of the People), about Gaza’s homicide rate.
In 2013, CAMERA, the Washington D.C.-think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, The Weekly Standard, and others pointed out that the inclusion of Salama, al-Kumi and other purveyors of propaganda—on a memorial for fallen journalists—discredited the monument’s stated objectives. Museum officials promised a review of the procedure by which the names, mostly provided by Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, were vetted. In the meantime, the names of the Hamas duo were to be removed.
Yet, if the names of the two Hamas operatives were ever stripped, they were subsequently reposted. Both Salama and al-Kumi continue to be memorialized alongside journalists like Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by al-Qaeda
and Steven Sotloff, murdered by ISIS in Syria, among others.
Fathi Hammad has said that he is “proud” to be labeled, like al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States. Is the Newseum proud to be memorializing Hammad’s employees?