Pro-Palestine journalist leaves job over Syria conference

Published October 31st, 2016 - 10:17 GMT
The conference, held in Damascus, was criticised for being pro-regime (AFP/File)
The conference, held in Damascus, was criticised for being pro-regime (AFP/File)

In the midst of war, it’s difficult to be neutral. Charities, conferences, publications – all can conceal an implicit bias that could jeopardise journalistic integrity or worse.

Reporter Rania Khalek found this out the hard way yesterday. After many weeks of controversy over accusations of support for the Assad regime, she left her job as an editor of The Electronic Intifada in the midst of scandal surrounding her scheduled appearance at a conference sympathetic to the Syrian regime.


Khalek was due to speak at a two-day workshop, which started yesterday, on the “ramifications of the war in Syria”, and was listed on the programme as discussing the consequences of western sanctions. In a statement published yesterday, she announced that she had dropped out of the conference.

The event is run by the British Syrian Society, a London based NGO founded by the father-in-law of Bashar al Assad. Previously involved in organising meetings between British and Syrian politicians, this is the its first major initiative since the beginning of the war. Chris Doyle, from the Council for British-Arab understanding, told the Guardian that the Damascus based conference was a PR exercise for the Syrian regime.

It's wrong to take part. If you are involved in track two diplomacy, fine. If you are going on some sort of propaganda conference, no way,” Doyle said. Khalek’s colleagues at Electronic Intifada agreed, with Charlotte Silver writing on Twitter that participation demonstrated an error of judgement.

Several other high-profile figures raised eyebrows over their attendance, including Lord Asquith, a British politician, who was also listed as a speaker at the event. When initially faced with criticism over her attendance at the conference, Khalek invoked that company in a statement.

Most of the other journalists cited by Khalek were not originally speaking at the conference, but attending as journalists. Christina Lamb, who was originally listed as a speaker at the event, said on Twitter that she was attending as a journalist and that her name had been included on the line-up without permission.

The incident followed weeks of scandal surrounding employees of The Electronic Intifada, a popular pro-Palestine website, and accusations of support for the Assad regime. Max Blumenthal, a pro-Palestine activist and journalist, had previously come under fire for accusing Syrian organisations like the White Helmets of running “shady” pro-American campaigns for intervention.

On Twitter, commentators responded with both criticism and support for Khalek.

Khaled has said she will continue her travel in Syria, for reporting purposes.


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