(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Though the National Federation of Israeli Journalists was expelled last month from an international union for not paying dues, the Israeli federation suspects it was due to more than just finances.
The 800-member National Federation of Israeli Journalists was dismissed by the International Federation of Journalists, in a unanimous vote conducted at an executive conference meeting in Oslo on June 7.
Based in Belgium, the International Federation represents 600,000 journalists in 123 countries.
According to a June 11 letter from International Federation General Secretary Aidan White, the union "plans to continue to support Israeli journalists despite its decision at the weekend to expel the National Federation of Israel Journalists (NFIJ) from membership of the International Federation of Journalists for nonpayment of fees. This difficult decision was taken after the NFIJ rejected an International Federation offer to waive three years of debt."
Haim Shibi, an active member of a journalists' union in Jerusalem who is involved with both the international and national journalists' unions, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday the tensions between the Israeli union and the international organization began to grow during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The National Federation of Israeli Journalists temporarily suspended the Israeli group's membership shortly after the war. The Jerusalem union soon began repaying its dues, while the Tel Aviv union did not, Shibi said.
"I thought at that time we should not quit or walk out," he said.
In January, the International Federation began issuing a series of letters condemning Israel for refusing to allow journalists to enter Gaza to cover Operation Cast Lead. The International Federation also published a report criticizing Israel's actions in Gaza and urging International Federation members and affiliated organizations to speak out against Israel's treatment of foreign journalists during the war.
According to Shibi, the International Federation report about Gaza was compiled without any Israeli input.
"No one called us to hear what we had to say," he said. Israeli journalists had things to say about the balance of rights of journalists to cover the war and the pressures coming from the army and the state, but the report was compiled without consulting a single Israeli source, he said.
"They are an organization fighting for ethics in journalism," he said. "Whoever may be the offended party, [everyone] has a right to say his piece; we were left out of the discussion completely."
"He [White] is kicking out the most free and fighting press corps in the region."
Shibi also mentioned that the International Federation had hosted a series of conferences in Europe about current media issues, but the Israeli unions were not invited.
The International Federation focused on the question of payments and how much the Israeli union should pay for membership. According to an International Federation document, the Israeli union was offered a special reduced fee extended to countries facing economic hardships.
Shibi said the Israeli union felt that it was not being accepted in the international framework. The National Federation of Israeli Journalists felt it should not pay "until we are full and equal members," he said. "No taxation without representation."
"The action against the NFIJ, which brings together autonomous groups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, was taken after numerous actions over the past three years to try to resolve disputes with some NFIJ leaders who have criticized the IFJ [International Federation] for its condemnation of actions by Israeli military and government over attacks on media in Lebanon and Gaza," White explained, in the letter announcing that the National Federation of Israeli Journalists would no longer be a part of the international union.
Though the NFIJ has been given the opportunity to appeal at the international organization's general assembly in Spain in May 2010, Shibi said he does not think the national Israeli union is in a rush to do so.
"We don't feel guilty,' he said. "We find them biased and one sided."
Shibi feels that the International Federation's recent actions represent "a popular mood of pushing Israel into the corner."
He said it reflects the European sentiment to portray Israel as an aggressor and support the Arab world. He recalled many efforts made by the NJIF that were not supported by the international union that is supposed to fostered unity between journalists from across the world, including NFIJ's proposal to build a media club for Israeli and Palestinian journalists to work together.
In response to the notice that Israel will no longer participate in International Federation programming, Shibi, along with four of his colleagues, issued a letter to the international union on June 8.
"We see this step as biased - unfair - and one sided. The opposite of what we expect from an organization dedicated to ethics in journalism... It became clear that the IFJ did not wish to lead the two sides, Arabs and Israelis, into a carefully planned and jointly made regional media club but rather opted to slowly push the Israeli members out. Yes this was not only about money. It was about full and equal membership which we were denied. And no - there was no lack of respect to the IFJ on our part," they wrote.