On Newseum Scandal, Open Zion Destroys Months-Old Straw Man

In a rather bizarre article today, Open Zion’s Raphael Magarik ostensibly joins the fray over Newseum’s recent decision to honor two Hamas employees, but in fact does little more than resurrect and re-argue a months-old debate.

Newseum was to honor the two as “fallen journalists” killed while “working to expand the reach of a free press around the world.” But after much criticism, the museum today announced it is “re-evaluating” whether Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, both of whom work for Hamas’s Al Aqsa Television, should be included on its Journalists Memorial exhibit. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, European Union and others.

The idea that the two propagandists might not, in the end, be honored seems to anger Magarik, who explicitly argues that Newseum shouldn’t back down.

Why? It’s hard to say. While he does broad-brush critics of Newseum as right wingers — the controversy amounts, in Magarik’s telling, to angry “hollering” by the “usual suspects,” including a “right-winger” and a “neo-conservative” — and while he does go into great detail about why the Israeli army should not have killed the two in November 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense, he never actually makes a serious argument about whether the Hamas members do, or do not, deserve to be honored.

Let’s try to follow the article’s reasoning. According to the author, the Hamas employees are, at least in part, heroic journalists: “[A]re al-Kumi and Salama heroic journalists, or scurrilous terrorists? The truth is, they are sort of both.” Yes, Magarik acknowledges, “they were propaganda agents for Hamas, helping propping [sic] up a savage band of thugs.” And yes, “these two men were doubtless unsavory.” But, he continues, “you do not have to be a hero to have the right not to be targeted in war.”

If you are confused now, it is understandable. Are the Hamas members journalist-heroes or are they not? And is this is a story about whether they should be honored by Newseum as martyrs of a free press, or is it a one about whether they were legitimate targets during a war?

Ironically, although he charges in his article that “critics of the museum confuse two basic claims,” it is Magarik who seemingly cannot distinguish between two fundamental questions. The first is whether al-Kumi and Salama were legitimate targets during wartime. This is an old debate that occurred many months ago. The second is whether they are indeed journalists “working to expand the reach of a free press,” or are instead employees of a propaganda channel that, in the words of the US Treasury Department, “airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.” Among Al Aqsa’s offerings have been tirades by speakers such as one in November 2011 proclaiming to the audience that Allah’s teachings are the fire with which “we harvest the skulls of the Jews” and that “we move closer to Allah through blood, body parts, and martyrs.” (MEMRI, Middle East Media Research Institute)
By forcing the older debate and the newer debate into one, Magarik does some warping of the spacetime continuum, as in the following paragraph, in which he charges that

Newseum’s critics … resort to innuendos, as when the Weekly Standard suggested that al-Kumi and Salama’s “‘being part of the resistance’… could mean that those carrying a camera during the day could be carrying rockets at night.” Well, of course, it could mean that—but, in this specific case, did it? Similarly, when Israeli Army Spokesperson Avital Leibovich, in a letter to The New York Times defending the airstrikes, complains, “terrorist organizations exploit reporters, either by posing as them or by hiding behind them,” she is not talking about this specific case at all, just hand waving.

If Leibovich wasn’t referring to this specific case, it is because her letter was written in November 2012, long before the Newseum controversy erupted. And it is also because her letter was responding to a controversial article that criticized not only the killing of al-Kumi and Salama, but also the killing of “journalist” Mohamed Abu Aisha — the same Abu Aisha that even Magarik admitted was “a uniformed member of Islamic Jihad’s militia.” In other words, if there is innuendo and hand waving, it is in Magarik’s piece, not in Leibovitch’s letter.

Magarik’s bottom line is that al-Kumi and Salama should be honored because they shouldn’t have been killed. But the topic of the debate isn’t an exhibit honoring people who shouldn’t have been killed. If this were true, the list would include Israeli schoolboy Daniel Viflic, who was targeted and killed by a Hamas rocket. And it would include Omar Mishrawi, a Palestinian infant who was mistakenly killed by a Hamas rocket aimed at Israel. And it would include thousands and thousands of Syrian civilians killed this year.

“This isn’t about whether a Hamas affiliate ought to get a press pass, or a hero’s ribbon,” Magarik concludes. Actually, that’s exactly what it is about. But by pretending that all criticism of Newseum hinges on the idea that Hamas members were legitimate targets, Magarik could focus on the IDF’s tactical decision to bomb the two — a straw man made of months-old straw — while all but ignoring Newseum’s decision to anoint employees of a violent, hate-peddling terrorist organization as honorable “journalists.”

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