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(photo credit: AP)
A pregnant Al-Jazeera news producer was asked to leave an annual event held between foreign reporters and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening, after she refused to remove her bra during a security check.
Najwan Simri Diab said that she was taking aside for a security exam and was asked by a female security guard to remove her bra or she would not be able to enter the event.
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“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 Akko. She has worked for Al-Jazeera for the past 8 years, mainly as a producer, but has also written some articles.
Simri Diab said that he 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.”
Simri Diab says she has attended the annual event each of the past 6
years and that Tuesday night was the first time she was asked to go
through such a rigorous screening. She said she faced a similar
screening six months ago ahead of a meeting with Likud MK and Minister
of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor, where she refused to
remove her bra as well. That particular incident was only resolved when
Meridor personally became involved and told the guards not to force the
rigorous screening on her, Simri Diab added.
Simri Diab said that she doesn’t feel that her and her colleagues are
always treated differently because they work for Al-Jazeera, but that
“it happens rather often, especially with our male employees who are
usually asked to take off their pants. This is easier for men to go
through though. For a woman it’s very hurtful and you feel that they are
only doing it to degrade you, not because of security concerns,” she
Israel Government Press Office Director Oren Helman on Wednesday issued a
response to the incident saying "I completely reject the claims of
alleged harassment of Arab journalists in general and of Al-Jazeera
correspondents in particular! (his exclamation point)” All employees of
Al-Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau were invited to attend the event that we
held yesterday evening (Tuesday), 11.1.11, with Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu. Bureau Director Walid al-Omri also attended the event and the
briefing given by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Dozens of Arab journalists
from various media outlets (Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, MBC, BBC Arabic,
Alhurra and others) were invited. All of these journalists entered and
attended the event! Najwan Simri Diab was invited by the GPO; it is
clear that our intention and desire was for her to attend the event.”
The statement continued: “We regret the incident; however, security
checks are not the responsibility of the GPO but of the Israel Security
Agency. Walid al-Omri's complaint regarding the security check of Ms.
Simri reached the GPO some time after it had been distributed to the
media. In my opinion, this fact attests to the true intention behind the
complaint. In any case, as obligated by my office, I have passed Ms.
Simri's complaint on to the relevant elements in the ISA.”
The Shin Bet General Security Services 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 these procedures and chose not to take part
in the event.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents all foreign journalists in Israel, put out the following response on Wednesday:"
"The Foreign Press Association is outraged over the treatment members
received at the hands of Israeli security personnel during Tuesday
night’s invitation-only gathering with the prime minister. While we
appreciate the need for security, it is not remotely acceptable to
invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them
undress at the door."
The statement continued: “It is incomprehensible that anyone would think
such humiliating treatment is necessary at such an event. All GPO card
holders are known to authorities and have already undergone extensive
background checks. All participants emptied their pockets, submitted
their equipment to inspection and went through metal detectors to
“The Shin Bet has its responsibilities but it must also operate within
reasonable parameters. In a democratic country security services are not
permitted to do as they please. For a government trying to usher in a
new era of relations with the foreign media, it is a peculiar way to
start. We are confident the prime minister would not accept such abusive
security checks for his friends or family.
We ask for assurances that this will not happen again or we will respectfully decline further invitations.”