The Washington Post was criticized over the weekend for running an oped by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. The slogan of the Houthi rebels is “death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam.”
Summer Nasser, a New York-based Yemeni activist, expressed shock in a series of tweets. “How can The Washington Post allow a Houthi that kills thousands of Yemenites and silences journalists by killing them, to write an Oped-Ed?”
Peter Salisbury, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, wrote that he never thought he’d see the day that Houthi would have an op-ed at the major US newspaper.
The Houthi leader has been leading a rebellion against the Yemeni government. In 2015 when the Houthis were within distance of capturing Aden and the strategic straits of Hormuz, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened. Since then, millions have been displaced by fighting, thousands have died of famine, and Yemen, a country already rife by rivalries and terror, has been a center of regional conflicts between Riyadh and Tehran. Iran has transferred missile technology to the Houthis and they have fired ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia, threatening Riyadh. The US and some other western governments have supported the Saudis. However, the war has become controversial as images of starving Yemenis circulate in media.
Yemen has been in focus recently after Saudi dissident journalist and former insider Jamal Khashoggi
was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Khashoggi opposed the war in Yemen, but he was also a passionate critic of Iran’s threat to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Nevertheless, The Washington Post published the op-ed by the Houthi leader in which he claimed, “We want peace for Yemen but Saudi air strikes must stop.”
Many commentators, particularly those who support Saudi Arabia or oppose Iran’s involvement in Yemen, have been critical of the op-ed.
“Freedom of speech is one thing, but with The Washington Post
giving a platform to Houthis, a deeply anti-Western and antisemitic terrorist group supported by Iran, this is incitement,” wrote Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates. The National in the United Arab Emirates, which is an ally of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, also criticized the oped.
Yemenis who support the government also were surprised to see the rebel leader in print in the US, a country which the Houthi rebels wish death upon. This is especially true since pro-government views in Yemen have not been heard in the US and critics wonder why the Houthis, which silence dissent in their own areas, receive access to a platform in the US.
But others found the op-ed interesting and important. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, which was sympathetic to the Iran Deal, wrote that the oped appeared linked to the murder of Khashoggi, who was a Post
columnist. Sigurd Neubauer, an analyst who focuses on the Middle East, said that “it is important to remember this: peace is not made with friends but rather with enemies.”
NADWA DAWSARI, a non-resident fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said that it was surprising to see the Houthi leader at an American newspaper given the fact that the Houthis have “forcibly disappeared and tortured dozens of journalists.”
The Washington Post’s slogan is “democracy dies in darkness,” which appeared ironic given the op-ed. “There are countless voices that would be better suited to honor the legacy of Khashoggi than variations of those who killed him,” wrote Hassan Hassan, a senior research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
More troubling is the Houthi slogan, which is openly antisemitic. “Death to Israel, Curse the Jews” make up the slogan chanted at Houthi rallies, printed on official flags and even on student cards at the university. This makes the Houthis more openly antisemitic than Hezbollah or the Iranian regime.
Most Western newspapers do not publish op-eds by Hezbollah, which is viewed as a terrorist group in the US. However, some have published op-eds by Iran’s foreign minister. In 2007, Columbia University hosted a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier. Like the op-ed, the speech by Ahmadinejad was controversial and he was condemned at the time by university officials.
The op-ed appears to come at a time when some in the US see the conflict in Yemen through a more partisan lens, accusing the Trump administration of not putting enough pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the conflict. As such, publishing the Houthis is seen as challenging Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. Whether US newspapers should give a platform to antisemitic groups after the Pittsburgh massacre and amid rising antisemitism in Europe, is a point of contention. The op-ed was also run on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom, although few, including the Houthis themselves, seem to have realized the coincidence.
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