DC Museum Devoted to Press Freedom Hosts Israeli Official Involved In Killing of Journos -- And Gets Hit With Protests

Today the Washington, D.C. Newseum, a museum supposedly committed to free expression and an open press, hosted a former Israeli military official who justified the killing of two journalists— Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi—whose names are emblazoned on a slain journalists' memorial on the institution’s wall.

Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson for the Israeli army during Israel’s 2008-2009 and 2012 military onslaughts on Gaza, delivered a propaganda-laden presentation inside the museum, including the presentation of video justifying the killing of entire families in the Gaza Strip.

Leibovich, who now directs the American Jewish Committee’s Israel office, was interrupted by members of the anti-war organization CODEPINK, among them the prominent campaigner Medea Benjamin. See footage below:

Leibovich was invited to the museum despite widespread condemnation. She published a New York Times letter in November 2012 smearing Palestinian journalists slain at the hands of the Israeli military: "Such terrorists, who hold cameras and notebooks in their hands, are no different from their colleagues who fire rockets aimed at Israeli cities and cannot enjoy the rights and protection afforded to legitimate journalists,” the ex-military official wrote.

That letter was part of an intensive public relations campaign to justify Israel's targeting of journalists. As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted, on November 20, 2012, Leibovich sought to directly justify the killing of al-Kumi, Salama and a third journalist who was killed that same day--Mohamed Abu Aisha--in remarks to the Associated Press.

Max Blumenthal, senior editor for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project and a journalist who covered Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, also challenged Leibovich, citing statistics showing that Israeli forces killed most or all members of scores of innocent families in the Gaza strip in its military assault during the summer of 2014. Israel’s 51-day military assault on the Gaza strip killed at least 2,145 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians and at least 578 of them children.

Electronic Intifada journalist Rania Khalek grilled the museum CEO Jeffrey Herbst on the hosting of an ex-military official involved in the killing of journalist.

All protesters were escorted out by police, but no arrests were made.

The Newseum welcomed Leibovich despite the objection of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, which urged the institution in a May 31 letter “not to provide a platform to someone who has justified, on record and to a world audience, Israel’s grave violations of international law and war crimes, and in particular attacks against journalists and press freedoms.”

As Electronic Intifada journalist Ali Abunimah wrote last week:

The only other speaker on the panel is a former CIA agent. The advertising makes no mention of the grave concerns human rights organizations have raised about Leibovich’s conduct.

If the Newseum had wanted to foster “debate,” it would presumably have invited Palestinian journalists, human rights defenders or experts on the laws of war to take part.


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