A routine UN press briefing this week was marred by an awkward exchange between New York Post correspondent Benny Avni and the UN Secretary-General’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, over calls by an official of UNRWA, the UN agency catering to the descendants of Palestinian refugees, for a boycott of Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness went into a rage on Twitter last week after the JPost published an oped on December 4 by Bassam Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist who was raised in an UNRWA refugee camp, in which he slammed the agency for perpetuating the refugee status of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as neighboring countries. Eid made similar points in an interview with The Algemeiner‘s Senior Editor, Ben Cohen, that was published on the same day.
“Ultra-right @Jerusalem_Post carries anti-UNRWA garbage boycotting me ie no quote. Ask @stevelinde Boycott the JPost! Don’t read their lies,” Gunness tweeted, apparently unaware that the article in question was an opinion piece, rather a news item, and therefore did not require a balancing quote.
At Tuesday’s press briefing, Avni asked Dujarric whether there would be any disciplinary action taken against Gunness as a result of his boycott call. Dujarric responded that Gunness “was not calling for a boycott of this specific media outlet, but instead was making his objections quite clear on a single article that was found to be problematic.”
Dujarric went on to implicitly disavow Gunness’ boycott call, reminding the reporters present that the UN’s “principles are for freedom of the press, and we would never call for a boycott of a newspaper.”
Avni countered that Gunness had been explicit in his call for a boycott of the Jerusalem Post, even citing the date and time that the offending tweet was posted. Dujarric responded, “we don’t need to read the whole Twitter timeline here because it would take us quite some time. Chris was very clear in his support for freedom of the press.”
“Are you saying Twitter is too long to read? Twitter specifically is trying to be short” Avni shot back, before Dujarric moved on to the next item on his agenda.
Watch a video of the Avni/Dujarric exchange HERE.