Audience members and journalists were removed from an event at the Newseum in Washington, DC, on Tuesday afternoon for protesting an Israeli military officer involved in the intentional killings of Palestinian journalists.
Leibovich delivered a slide presentation that whitewashed Israel’s killings of Palestinian civilians.
It was pure propaganda and the only other speaker on the panel was a former CIA agent who was unlikely to offer any challenge.
A few slides into her presentation, Leibovich was interrupted by activists from the anti-war group CODEPINK.
They went onto the stage with large signs bearing the names of journalists whose slayings Leibovich had excused, as they shouted, “Avital Leibovich is a propagandist for the Israeli war machine.”
As the protesters were escorted out by security, other voices in the audience shouted, “Free Palestine” and demanded Leibovich address her involvement in the extrajudicial execution of Palestinian media workers, but to no avail.
As Leibovich continued her presentation, she proceeded to excuse Israel’s deliberate killing of whole families in Gaza with a video showing grainy Israeli drone footage that she argued was proof of Palestinian fighters using civilians as human shields.
The Newseum hosted Leibovich for the live event on 7 June, to discuss “the social media branch of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and how the organization uses media and social media during its various campaigns.”
The Newseum pushed ahead with the event despite objections from the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate that providing a platform to Leibovich would “directly undermine our ability as journalists to conduct our professional duties without fear from fatal attacks.”
Moderated by Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst, the event included no discussion of Israel’s deliberate attacks on media or Leibovich’s role in them.
Palestinian journalists Mahmoud al-Kumi, 29, and Hussam Salama, 30, were targeted for assassination by Israel during its November 2012 bombing campaign in Gaza.
Following the killing of a third journalist, Muhammad Abu Eisha, it was Leibovich who publicly justified the attacks, telling the AP that the reporters were “Hamas operatives.”
Leibovich also admitted that Israel bombed an office building in Gaza knowing it housed journalists.
“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,” Leibovich wrote in The New York Times .
Human Rights Watch concluded that such justifications amounted to “evidence of war crimes because they show intent.”
Ironically, al-Kumi and Salama are included on the Newseum’s own Journalists Memorial, despite a temporarily successful pressure campaign in 2013 by the anti-Palestinian group Foundation for Defense of Democracies to have their names removed.
As The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani points out, the Newseum honored them again on Monday in a rededication ceremony for journalists slain in the line of duty.
One day later, the institution hosted an event starring the woman who justified killing them.
Pushed over the edge
Appalled by the content of Leibovich’s presentation, journalist and author Max Blumenthal spoke up, daring Leibovich to show the video of Israeli snipers killing unarmed 22-year-old Salem Shamaly as he called out desperately for his family in the rubble of Gaza’s Shujaiya neighborhood in 2014.
“This reflects terribly on you and your institution,” Blumenthal said to Newseum CEO Herbst. “You’re hosting someone involved in the killing of journalists.”
Blumenthal was eventually removed by security, garnering applause from Israel’s supporters, one of whom called him a Nazi.
I’m not typically one to participate in disruptions and hadn’t planned to engage in protest at this event. I much prefer to observe and report.
But after Blumenthal’s ejection, Leibovich began to laugh, as though the complaints about her conduct were a joke.
As a journalist, I could not in good conscience remain quiet as an institution that claims to be “dedicated to free expression” provided a friendly platform to a government official who justifies killing media workers.
The blatant hypocrisy and disregard for the lives of Palestinian journalists by the Newseum was especially disgraceful given that its own Journalists Memorial includes the names of media workers in whose killings Leibovich was involved as a part of the military apparatus that planned, executed and justified them.
So I spoke up and demanded that Leibovich and the Newseum address the concerns raised by those who interrupted her presentation.
Herbst urged me to wait until end, at which time he assured me there would be an opportunity for “civil discussion.”
I responded that the civilians snuffed out in Leibovich’s propaganda video weren’t given the luxury of a civil discussion. Soon enough, I was escorted out to the hateful jeers of Israel supporters, one of whom called me an anti-Semite.
After the event, I learned that Leibovitch refused to answer questions by people who waited patiently until the end to ask about her role in the killing of Palestinian journalists.
But the event did not go as Israel’s propaganda officials must have hoped.
The audience appeared to be composed mostly of Palestine solidarity activists, which was reinforced by a protest at the Newseum’s entrance.
And Leibovich, who bills herself as a “social media expert,” became the subject of criticism on social media by people angered by Israel’s slayings of journalists.
As for the Newseum, it made a mockery of everything it claims to stand for.
As Blumenthal and I made our way out of the building, we were struck by the quotes carved into the Newseum’s walls about the importance of journalistic freedom and free expression.
What a joke.