DC’s Newseum inclusion of Hamas media sparks debate

Decision to include Hussam Salama, Mahmoud al- Kumi has sparked outrage from conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Newseum 370 (photo credit: David Monack)
Newseum 370
(photo credit: David Monack)
WASHINGTON – Two cameramen from Hamas’s television network, Al-Aksa TV, are included in an exhibit at the Newseum in Washington – a media museum and major event space – that this month is honoring fallen journalists from 2012.
The decision to include Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al- Kumi, who worked for the network for several years, has sparked outrage from the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, which might cancel a planned event at the impressive $450 million facility just off the National Mall.
But the Newseum decision has also raised reflective questions in the media world over whether two cameramen from this network could truly be labeled journalists.
Al-Aksa, which was founded by Hamas just after the organization took over the Gaza Strip in 2005, has aired segments that have been so inflammatory that both the United States and the European Union have deemed it a public arm of the terrorist organization.
The US Treasury Department has said it “will not distinguish between a business financed and controlled by a terrorist group, such as Al- Aksa Television, and the terrorist group itself,” and the EU’s Executive Commission has concluded that its material violates prohibitions against incitement to hatred and violence.
Some of that material includes advertisements and programs that target audiences under 10 years old, featuring mothers strapping bombs to their chests in front of their kids before going out to blow up Israeli soldiers.
When pressed, the Newseum stuck by its decision, citing research by the Committee to Protect Journalists as support for its action.
“An individual must have been a contributor of news, commentary or photography to a news outlet – an editor or news executive – a producer, camera operator, sound engineer or other member of a broadcast crew, or a documentary filmmaker,” the Newseum said, adding that it chooses each honoree on a case-bycase basis.
“Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked ‘TV.’” Yet, in a letter to CPJ from Israel’s embassy in Washington, spokesman Aaron Sagui cited a Human Rights Watch report that said this tactic is an effective and unfortunately common terrorist practice. In 2007, IDF soldiers were kidnapped by terrorists driving a similar vehicle, with “TV” marked clearly in red.
Sagui challenged CPJ to tackle this phenomenon, which he charged is inadequately addressed by the watchdog organization.
“My understanding is that the [support of the] Committee to Protect Journalists... was based on a Hamas statement asserting that these individuals were journalists,” Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post.
“I would hope that’s incorrect – that the CPJ had a sounder basis for their judgment than that.
“Perhaps they’ll tell you or other reporters to what extent they did the due diligence one should expect of professional journalists,” May added.
In a statement to the Post, Gypsy Guillen Kaiser, communications director for the CPJ, said, “We stand by our research and believe it is up to the Newseum to determine which journalists they wish to include in their memorial.”
The FDD will determine whether to pull its event from the Newseum in the coming days. May said he is hopeful, though not confident, that the Newseum will reconsider its decision and “come to understand what damage they would be doing to their institution and to the press should they proceed.”
He said his calls to the Newseum have not been returned. “Rather ironic to be getting ‘no comment’ from the Newseum,” May quipped.