Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate protest to Newseum invitation of Israeli war crimes suspect
President and CEO of Newseum
May 31, 2016
Re: Newseum event with former Israeli army spokesperson Avital Leibovich
Dear Dr. Herbst,
The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate is writing to you to express our shock that you are hosting Avital Leibovich, a former spokesperson of the Israeli occupation forces for an event at Newseum on June 7 . We urge you not to provide a platform to someone who has justified, on record and to a world audience, Israel’s grave violations of international law and war crimes, and in particular attacks against journalists and press freedoms.
We are concerned that by enabling Leibovich’s impunity, when serious charges of war crimes are hanging over her, Newseum will directly undermine our ability as journalists to conduct our professional duties without fear from fatal attacks. We call on you to cancel Leibovich’s invitation as it starkly contradicts your organization’s mission to uphold free expression and a free press.
Leibovich has defended during Israel’s 2012 brutal assault on Gaza the Israeli army’s intentional  targeting and murder of journalists, among them Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, both on Newseum’s online memorial. Leibovich wrote at the time in the New York Times:
“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.” 
Her conclusion, in direct conflict with international law, was that Palestinian journalists in Gaza “cannot enjoy the rights and protection afforded to legitimate journalists.” Human Rights Watch said that Leibovich’s statements “are evidence of war crimes because they show intent”. 
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Leibovich’s statements:
“Alarmingly, [Israeli army] spokeswoman Leibovich seeks to erase the crucial legal distinction between armed combatants and journalists covering the perspective of an adversary. … All journalists, whether local or foreign, regardless of the perspective from which they report, are afforded the same civilian protections under international law. The Israeli government does not have the right to selectively define who is and who is not a journalist based on national identity or media affiliation.” 
As Palestinian journalists, we are on the frontlines of Israel’s attacks on a daily basis. Israel is currently holding ten Palestinian journalists in jail, six of them without charge.  Omar Nazzal, a member of the board of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, was arrested without charge on April 23 on his way to a gathering of the European Federation of Journalists in Bosnia.  Earlier this year journalist Muhammed Al-Qiq was on a brink of death having been on a hunger strike for 94 days fighting his illegal detention without charge. Rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders  and the International Federation of Journalists  have consistently denounced the Israeli attacks that Leibovich has enthusiastically and unashamedly defended.
The announcement for this event states that Leibovich “has served as the face of the IDF to the international community during critical events”.  Among the “critical events” you refer to is Israel’s 2008/9 assault on the besieged Gaza strip when Israel banned international journalists from entering the territory, preventing them from witnessing first-hand the atrocities it was committing against Palestinian civilians, as confirmed by a subsequent UN commission of investigation.  The Foreign Press Association in Israel denounced the ban as a “severe violation of press freedom”. 
We urge you to withdraw your invitation to Avital Leibovich. Inviting a suspected war criminal like her shows contempt for Palestinian human rights and indeed Palestinian lives, including those of journalists.
Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate
 See for example https://rsf.org/en/news/rwb-condemns-air-strikes-news-media-gaza-city
 See for example http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/1/article/west-bank-israe...