Sen. Van Hollen to keynote gathering panning Israel for journalist casualties of Gaza war

The Arab Center Washington DC is hosting a symposium on Thursday focused on accusing Israel of killing ‘an unprecedented number’ of Palestinian journalists

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) will be the featured speaker at an event this week focused on the “challenges of covering Palestine” that accuses Israel of killing “an unprecedented number” of Palestinian journalists “during its campaign in Gaza.”

Van Hollen will deliver the opening address at the Arab Center Washington DC’s gathering at the National Press Club on Thursday entitled, “Covering Palestine: A Shireen Abu Akleh Memorial Symposium.” Following Van Hollen’s remarks, which will be delivered virtually, the conference will hold panel discussions on “Western media coverage of … the war in Gaza” and the risks faced by Palestinian journalists covering the conflict. 

Van Hollen has advocated for accountability on behalf of Abu Akleh since her murder in May of 2022. An autopsy conducted by An-Najah National University found that Abu Akleh died from a bullet wound to the back of the head, though Israel has denied accusations from the Palestinian Authority, which turned down Israel’s offer to conduct a joint investigation, that she was killed intentionally by the Israel Defense Forces. 

The IDF said in September of 2022 that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh was “accidentally hit” by Israeli bullets but dismissed the notion that criminal charges could ever be brought because it remains a “possibility” that she “was hit by bullets fired by armed Palestinian gunmen.”

“Two years after the killing of acclaimed Palestinian-American Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank and as an unprecedented number of Palestinian journalists have been killed by the Israeli military during its campaign in Gaza, this symposium will focus on the challenges of covering Palestine,” the event description reads. 

“The panels in this conference will focus on both the journalists at risk on the ground as well as an assessment of Western media coverage of Palestine and, in particular, the war on Gaza.”

Among those appearing at the event are Al Jazeera’s Laila Al-Arian and MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin. 

Mohyeldin is an alumni of Al Jazeera, the Qatari state-run TV network, and frequently uses his weekend MSNBC show to criticize Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza. He claimed in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7 that the attack was “the deadly consequences of failed policies” by the U.S. and Israel and a “failure on the region’s part to not be able to say this is an issue that matters.”

“It would be very naive to just simply say every Palestinian agrees with what Hamas is doing,” Mohyeldin said on MSNBC hours after the attack. “But Hamas is saying: Well, if nobody is able to defend what is happening for Palestinians in the West Bank or East Jerusalem with the home demolitions, the arrests, the children being killed, the desecration of holy sites. If they’re unable to do that, then we only have the ability to do it with military might and crude weapons.”

“Here is ultimately the end result of that, which is, you have ignored the Palestinians,” he added. 

Al-Arian, meanwhile, frequently refers to Israel’s military operation in Gaza as a “genocide” and refutes claims that Hamas committed acts of rape and sexual violence on Oct. 7 as “unsubstantiated.” She has also repeatedly rejected the notion that recent campus protests became antisemitic or violent. 

Van Hollen’s participation in the event comes seven months after the Oct. 7 attack, during which time he has emerged as a leading critic of Israel’s war effort while representing a state with a sizable Jewish constituency. 

Maryland’s soon-to-be senior senator has vocally opposed continued offensive aid to Israel without conditions, though he ultimately voted for the supplemental including Israel and Ukraine aid despite his proposed amendment failing that would have conditioned assistance on the war in Gaza being conducted in accordance with international law. 

The Maryland senator accused Israel of deliberately causing mass starvation in Gaza back in February, describing the situation as a “textbook war crime.”

“Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food,” Van Hollen said from the Senate floor. “That is a war crime — it is a textbook war crime. That makes those who orchestrate it war criminals. So now the question is, what will the United States do?”

Van Hollen maintains that his positions are not anti-Israel. A group of over 70 Maryland rabbis wrote to him in March warning that his efforts to target Israel aid “in the Senate have only stoked deeper divisions and further isolated Israel and our Jewish community.”

Van Hollen said in response to that letter that, “I always welcome feedback from my constituents, and I appreciate these rabbis sharing the views they expressed in this letter,” adding, “I look forward to continuing these conversations.”

A spokesperson for the Maryland senator declined to provide comment for this story beyond confirming his participation in Thursday’s event, though he told JI in a statement last month that, “You can be a good friend and strong supporter of the people of Israel  — as I am — and not support giving a blank check to Netanyahu and his far-right, extremist coalition. It’s not what the American people want, and it’s not what Marylanders want.”

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