The International Federation of Journalists is defending incitement to murder Israelis – and not press freedom – by condemning Israel’s closure of an Islamic Jihad TV station, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said Saturday night.
Lapid called for IFJ president Jim Boumelha to apologize for his organization’s statement on the closure of Falastin al-Yom (Palestine Today).
“Yesterday, after the channel was closed down, members of the military wing of Islamic Jihad held a rally protesting the closure. Islamic Jihad used Palestine Today to incite against Israel and encourage people to carry out attacks. The manager of station has been convicted of being a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The connection is so patently obvious that it calls into question your motives in condemning Israel’s actions,” Lapid wrote.
On Friday, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF and Israel Police shut down Palestine Today in Ramallah, a day after the security cabinet decided to close Palestinian media outlets that incite terrorism against Israelis in light of the ongoing Palestinian terrorism. The IDF declared the channel an illegal organization, using a 1945 emergency law, and security forces arrested the channel’s manager, 34-yearold Faruk Aliat, an Islamic Jihad operative who has been imprisoned in Israel in the past.
Palestine Today “calls for carrying out terrorist attacks against the State of Israel and its citizens. Its messages of incitement are broadcast through the television channel and spread on the Internet,” the Shin Bet said.
IFJ released a statement Saturday in response that it stands with its affiliate, the Palestinian Journalists Union, “in condemning this brutal attack against free press and ask for UN immediate reaction [sic] to the escalation of attacks against the free press in the occupied territories.”
Boumelha added: “We cannot tolerate these continuous attacks from Israeli authorities to muzzle Palestinian press. Incitement of terrorism is a dangerous accusation to make against a media and a decision to close it down cannot occur without due process.”
The IFJ President called on “the UN high commissioner for human rights and the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to investigate violations of press freedom in Palestine without delay.”
Speaking to Army Radio Sunday, Boumelha emphasized the need for due process and disapproved of the IDF’s use of British Mandatory laws and shrugged off the military’s coordination with the judiciary.
(Many Israeli laws date from the British Mandate.) As for Palestine Today’s repeated incitement to violence, Boumelha said he’s responsible for journalists’ safety and freedom of expression, not for the content of their work.
Lapid pointed out in his letter to Boumelha that “Israel is a thriving democracy with a thriving press corps that has the absolute freedom to criticize and investigate.
Israel is also home to one of the largest international press corps in the world and they too operate here without hindrance.”
“However,” Lapid added, “freedom of the press does not extend to terrorist propaganda and to those who incite to murder. The content on Palestine Today would not pass the editorial guidelines of any of your members. I was a journalist for over three decades; this isn’t journalism. This isn’t free speech, this is hate speech...You are not defending press freedom; you are defending incitement to murder.”
Lapid urged the IFJ to retract its statement and apologize to families that have been harmed by Islamic Jihad.
Haim Shibi, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the National Federation of Israeli Journalists, accused Boumelha of “turning the IFJ into a clear anti-Israel propaganda tool, continually portraying the IDF as an army that hunts journalists, targets them and kills them.
“The man gave up on even appearing to understand Israel’s fight against terrorism,” Shibi said on Army Radio.
“He’s not a fair broker; we are always the bad ones... [Boumelha] hasn’t been a journalist for a long time now; he’s a propagandist.”
Shibi pointed to research done following the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s that showed that media was used to encourage violence and dehumanize the other side in the conflict.
“Sometimes the media is used to incite murder,” he stated. “[Palestine Today] isn’t journalism, it is a deadly tool.”
Last year, the IFJ suspended the National Federation of Israeli Journalists, claiming it did not pay its affiliation fee for three years.
Shibi called the claim an excuse: “Jim [Boumelha] kicked us out with different claims... He just doesn’t want us there. He pushed us into the corner, like lepers, apartheid- style.”
The Israeli journalist also said Boumelha blocked all efforts for Israeli and Palestinian journalists to work together. Shibi said he had suggested there be a hotline for Palestinian journalists to call if they have issues with Israeli forces, but Boumelha said he would never help it happen.
Boumelha wrote in a July 2015 letter to the Jerusalem Post that the NFIJ’s suspension was solely because of not paying dues, and that he did not oppose the hotline being set up, but that it did not get the necessary votes to make it an urgent motion at a European journalists’ meeting.
In response, Post columnist Liat Collins noted that Boumelha had politicized the IFJ and refused to meet with the Israeli affiliates to discuss the hotline or the fees – even when he visited Ramallah, which is a short drive away.
Collins quoted an email Boumelha wrote to Shibi from July 2014, in which the former said the hotline effort was not “credible,” because “most importantly, they [the Israeli Federation] have never expressed any solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues at their time of need.”
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.