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Terrorists or journalists? Washington's Newseum to honor fallen Hamas operatives

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Washington's Newseum honors journalists, but is now being accused of recognizing two terrorists.AP

A Washington news museum plans to honor two accused terrorists among the journalists it recognizes at this year’s annual tribute to reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news.

Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama were killed by an Israeli air strike Nov. 20, 2012 while working for Al-Aqsa Television, a Hamas-funded media outlet designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department. While their supporters consider them to have been journalists, a 2010 report from Treasury said the TV station is “financed and controlled by Hamas,” and “airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.”

"Treasury will not distinguish between a business financed and controlled by a terrorist group, such as Al-Aqsa Television, and the terrorist group itself," Stuart Levey, then secretary for the Office Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, an agency overseen by Treasury.

“They are continually calling for the destruction of America."

- Steve Stalinsky, Middle East Media and Research Institute, speaking on Al Aqsa TV

Since its inception in 1997, The Newseum has recognized more than 2,000 journalists from around the world, including Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped by Pakistani militants and then murdered by Al Qaeda in 2002. The names of the journalists are engraved on glass panels as part of the facility’s Journalists Memorial.

The museum’s website describes Al-Kumi and Salama as “Al-Aqsa cameramen who were killed in an Israeli air strike. They were covering fighting between Israel and fighting between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, when a missile hit their vehicle. Al-Aqsa said the journalists’ car was clearly marked ‘TV.’”

An Israel Defense Force report about the incident in which the two were killed states: "Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama were Hamas operatives and cameramen for Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television network, which regularly features programming that encourages and praises attacks on Israeli civilians.”

Al Aqsa doesn’t only encourage attacks on Israelis, according to Steve Stalinsky at the Middle East Media and Research Institute, who called Al Aqsa TV “the microphone for Hamas” and a “vehicle for spreading their propaganda.”  

“They are continually calling for the destruction of America. They are very active on social media and there’s a lot of Anti- American and Anti-West content,” Stalinsky said.

Stalinsky points to a YouTube video of Al Aqsa TV reporting the deaths of the two journalists at the time the attack took place, stating that the two were driving in a “regular, civilian car.” The reporter makes no claim that they were in a car with media signs.

Palestinian media also reported that the two men were Hamas operatives, according to the Weekly Standard. 

Newseum maintains that the Journalists Memorial selection committee conducts “case-by-case reviews,” according to spokesman Jonathan Thompson, who defended Newseum’s decision to include the men in this year’s dedication.

“To be listed on the memorial, 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,” Thompson said. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.”

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said Americans should be outraged over the recognition of Al-Kumi and Salama as journalists. 

"Hamas is a designated terrorist organization responsible for the murders of at least 26 American citizens, including children,” Kirk said. “I would urge the Newseum to reconsider this decision.” 

Lisa Daftari is a Fox News contributor specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.