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Flotilla flap at the UN

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By Kristen Saloomey

Israel has engaged in a war of words with the United Nations Correspondents Association which hosted an event during which a passenger on board the Mavi Marmara was allowed to show a video that was shot as Israeli commandoes raided the aid ship.

The Israeli mission to the UN took aim at UNCA in a letter dated June 17. It says Israel was denied the opportunity to present its point of view to UN journalists and demands an apology.

"Offering UN media facilities to screen video produced by a one-sided activist while actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time is severely unethical," Israeli spokesperson Mirit Cohen wrote in her complaint.

Cohen had asked to show a five minute film put together by the IDF right after a screening of footage smuggled out of Israel by Brazilian-American activist Iara Lee.

She told the Israeli press that she was asked to reschedule at the last minute.

But UNCA president, Giampaolo Pioli, fired back.

… It was you who turned down our offer to screen your Israeli film and make your statement directly before or after Ms. Lee's presentation, you who refused to take the stage alongside Ms Lee to present your side of the story, you who declined to take questions from UNCA journalists - a requirement for all UNCA presentations.

    Pioli forwarded the following email exchange to UN correspondents.

    Email exchange between Pioli and Cohen from June 10:
    
From Mirit Cohen:

Please find bellow the link to the short film from the IDF spokesperson unit re the events on the Mavi Marmara, which we ask to screen today after the other film. We will make a short statment as well."

Thank you,
Mirit Cohen.

From Giampaolo Pioli:

Dear Mirit

We must show the IDF film after the Q and A with Iara Lee

UN correspondent will attend your event and you will have the same Q and A time.

Giampaolo

From Mirit Choen:

That won't going to happen, I'm sorry. It's only five minutes that I insist to screen right after her film as a comment. If you won't allow it the Israeli mission will consider to send a formal letter of complaint to the SG and you should know that the Israeli press going to write about this saga.

Please let me know what you decide.
 
From Giampaolo Pioli:

Dear Mirit,

Do you think it would work to show your film and make your statement at 10 minutes before 4pm (1550)? we can send out an email now to all UNCA members so that we get back-to-back film showings. The advantage is that you would get the first word.

We would like to repeat our request that you take questions. UNCA members agreed after a problematic climate change event last year that everyone using UNCA as a forum for presentations must take questions. If you do not, that's up to you, but you will get a few questions thrown at you and there's nothing we can do to stop that.

Please let me know asap if you can live with that.

bests,
Giampaolo

From Mirit Cohen:

Thanks Giampaolo,

But I have to admit that I am exhausted from all this process and we won't take part at this one sided event.

Thank you anyway and I do hope for a better co-operation in the future.

Mirit.

The complaint from the Israeli Spokesperson:

Dear Mr. Pioli, 

I write this letter of complaint to officially protest your mishandling of the events surrounding the screening of footage by Ms. Iara Lee on 9 June 2010 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. 

Offering UN media facilities to screen video produced by a one-sided activist while actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time is severely unethical. In the current circumstances, your decision to ban the Permanent Mission of Israel from offering any feedback or comment during the aforementioned screening ensured that the reporters invited to the event would be offered only part of the story rather than a more complete set of facts so that they themselves could have made an informed analysis of the events in question. Furthermore, the fact that you cancelled the participation of the Permanent Mission of Israel only two hours prior to the commencement of the screening raises grave doubts as to the reasons behind this decision.

I have shared these concerns with you directly, though I believe that the members of the UN Correspondents Association deserve a more comprehensive set of facts regarding the events that took place onboard the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010. As such, I have decided to share with the members of UNCA the footage prepared by Israel.

In conclusion, I certainly expect that you will look into the decision that led to Israel’s non-participation in the event on 9 June. Furthermore, I expect an official apology from you and your association regarding this mistake. I – along with fair-minded journalists – expect that you as the President of the United Nations Correspondents Association would exercise responsible journalistic practices and demonstrate a commitment to balanced and objective news. 

Thank you for attention to this unfortunate matter.

Sincerely,

Mirit Cohen
Spokesperson, Mission of Israel to the UN

UNCA's response:
 
Dear Ms Cohen,

Your letter of protest came as a surprise to members of the United Nations Correspondents Association.  It is factually incorrect and distorts the exchanges that took place on June 10 (not June 9) between UNCA and your mission.

Contrary to your claim, at no time were we "actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time" to the screening of footage by Ms. Iara Lee at United Nations Headquarters in New York. You know very well that that's not what happened. Even more preposterous is your insinuation that we have some kind of ulterior motive: “(T)he fact that you cancelled the participation of the Permanent Mission of Israel only two hours prior to the commencement of the screening raises grave doubts as to the reasons behind this decision."

Instead it was you who turned down our offer to screen your Israeli film and make your statement directly before or after Ms. Lee's presentation, you who refused to take the stage alongside Ms. Lee to present your side of the story, you who declined to take questions from UNCA journalists - a requirement for all UNCA presentations.

What was your reason for turning down our offers?  You were tired out by our discussions during which you raised your voice with me and rejected all of our proposals for how you could participate.  As you put it in your email: "I have to admit that I am exhausted from all this process and we won't take part at this one sided event." (see our email exchange below).

UNCA sees no reason to apologise.  UNCA Executive Committee members behaved fairly and professionally, offering both sides the chance to present their version of what happened on May 31.  We wanted a balanced event but you were not willing to take part in one. Your approach to our organisation was both undignified and unprofessional. If anyone is owed an apology it is the United Nations Correspondents Association.

We hope to have better co-operation in the future based on mutual respect.

Sincerely,

Giampaolo Pioli
UNCA President

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