The Government Press Office issued an official apology on Thursday, a day after the Israeli and international media was flooded with reports that a pregnant journalist from Al-Jazeera left a reception with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, when the Premier’s Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) security detail insisted she remove her bra.
Al-Jazeera filed a complaint with the GPO and the Foreign Press Association (FPA) following the incident, which took place before an annual banquet the GPO holds for the foreign press in Israel. For their part, the FPA issued a statement expressing their “outrage” at what happened Tuesday night, and vowed not to take part in future Prime Minister’s Office events without assurances that such incidents don’t happen in the future.
'Shin Bet asks pregnant Al-Jazeera reporter to remove bra'
Opnion: Whither Israel’s al-Jazeera
GPO director Oren Helman, in a letter sent to “respected members of the foreign press,” said, “First of all, I would like to express my regret that journalists left the GPO Annual Cocktail Reception feeling that they were treated in an unbecoming manner by security. Obviously, we do not invite journalists to an event in order to offend them.”
“You are not only our clients, but you are our preferred clients. We will be receptive to your professional needs, and we will try to assist you as much as possible. My door is always open to you,” Helman told foreign journalists in Israel.
The new GPO head also vowed to file an inquiry with the Shin Bet, who was responsible for the security screenings at Tuesday’s event.
Helman, who has been in the position for two months following the departure of former GPO director Danny Seaman, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that maintaining and strengthening relations with the foreign press in Israel is a priority of his office.
“I am very interested in cooperating with the foreign press to forge strong, positive relations,” Helman said. He also added that he sees foreign journalists in Israel as “an asset to Israel’s system of hasbara.”
When asked about his predecessor’s reputedly combative relationship with much of the foreign press, Helman said, “I very much respect Danny’s work; there were objections against him during his time just like there is against everyone and like there probably will be against me, too.”
Al-Jazeera news producer Najwan Simri Diab told the Post on Wednesday that she was taken aside for a private security exam where a female security guard asked her to remove her bra or she would not be able to enter the event.
“I was left in only a tank top and pants, and they told me that if I didn’t remove my bra, I wouldn’t be able to enter. So I left,” Simri Diab said Wednesday.
The 31-year-old news producer is a native of the Arab village of Judeida in the Western Galilee, a few kilometers outside of Acre. She has worked for Al-Jazeera for eight years, mainly as a producer, though she has also written some articles.
As the holder of a GPO press card, Simri Diab has already undergone extensive background checks, and was attending the event for the sixth year in a row.
Simri Diab said that she and her colleagues from the Qatari news channel “have no problem with security checks; we always go through them. But when it crosses the line and it becomes based on the fact that you’re an Arab and not a journalist like everyone else, we refuse.”
The Shin Bet issued a statement on Wednesday, saying “all those invited to the event were checked in keeping with the accepted security procedures for such an event. Three journalists refused to be checked under those procedures and chose not to take part in the event.”