Shani Louk’s father defends award for photo of daughter’s abduction as ‘good thing’

Nissim Louk equates image with past historical images ‘that symbolize an era,’ but activists and friend of Nova massacre victim decry move as antisemitic, unethical

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Palestinian terrorists drive to the Gaza Strip with what is believed to be the body of Shani Louk, on October 7, 2023. (AP/Ali Mahmud)
Palestinian terrorists drive to the Gaza Strip with what is believed to be the body of Shani Louk, on October 7, 2023. (AP/Ali Mahmud)

The father of Shani Louk, who was abducted and killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7, said Saturday it was a “good thing” that a photo of his daughter being kidnapped was among a collection of photos that won a prestigious journalism award, though her friends and pro-Israel activists decried the move.

The Associated Press on Thursday won a Pictures of the Year International award in the Team Picture Story of the Year category for its photo essay “Israel and Hamas War,” which includes an image showing a half-naked woman, identified as Shani Louk, lying seemingly unconscious face-down in the back of a pickup truck filled with armed men.

The photo was taken by freelance photographer Ali Mahmud, who worked for AP and accompanied Hamas terrorists during their rampage on October 7, when they killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and took 253 hostages to Gaza. AP denied accusations by pro-Israel media watchdog HonestReporting that the photojournalist may have known in advance of the plans for the onslaught.

An Instagram post announcing the award has since been removed after criticism.

“It’s good that the photo won the prize. This is one of the most important photos in the last 50 years,” Nissim Louk told the Ynet news site. “These are some of the photos that shape human memory — the Jew raising his hands, the paratroopers at the Western Wall — photos that symbolize an era.

“This documentation of Shani, and of Noa Argamani on the motorcycle, they symbolize this era. I think it’s a good thing to use it to inform the future. If I start crying, what will come of it? This is history. In 100 years they will look and know what happened here. I travel the world and everyone knows who Shani is,” he added.

Louk, 22, was at the Supernova music festival on October 7, when terrorists mowed down attendees with gunfire and grenades, killing some 360 people and abducting dozens more, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault.

She was officially declared dead on October 30 after a piece of her skull was identified. Her body is still being held in Gaza.

The Pictures of the Year International is the oldest photojournalism competition in the world and is hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism.

After the announcement, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism Michal Cotler-Wunsh said the awarding of the prize symbolized the “normalization of antisemitic hate.”

In a jab at AP and the award hosts, HonestReporting asked the news agency how it felt to win an award “on the back of Palestinian photojournalists who infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7 and took photos like the one below of Shani Louk’s dead body in a Hamas pickup? Was RJI bothered about that before bestowing the award?”

Shani Cohen, one of Louk’s friends, told The Daily Mail that granting the award was “completely unethical” and “completely ridiculous,” and caused pain among Louk’s loved ones.

“We took it very personally. Some cried. We shared it immediately as we saw it,” Cohen said. “To see something like this is beyond ridiculous and beyond antisemitic.”

Shani Louk (Courtesy)

“A picture like this should be only for army needs and should be locked in some kind of private gallery,” she added.

Questioning Mahmud’s legitimacy, Cohen said, “I’m not sure this photographer is even a legit photographer or someone professional. All the friends and family don’t think it’s ethical or legit for this to be happening.”

Yuli Tsinker, another friend of Louk’s, expressed mixed feelings on the matter.

“On the one hand, it’s a really difficult picture and to win the picture of the year with the body of a young girl next to five men, murderers with weapons, is audacity!” she told The Mail.

“But on the other hand, this is also an explanation, that the world will see what they did to such a beautiful, young big-hearted girl who only helped everyone and claimed that there is no such thing as bad people.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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