Foreign journalists allege harassment at airport and elsewhere

At FPA's Annual General Meeting, several journalists from different countries complained they had been harassed when they entered Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport or Eilat.

foreign press 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
foreign press 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel are complaining of harassment and discrimination. At the FPA's Annual General Meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, several journalists from different countries complained they had been harassed when they entered Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport or Eilat. Some said that they had been taken aside into a separate room for questioning and that the process sometimes took hours. They also cited difficulties in having work visas renewed, and one journalist, in Israel for several years, said she had almost been expelled but was fortunate enough to have the phone number of an interior ministry official who could help her. Another journalist who has lived in Israel for even longer said that every time he returned to Israel from abroad he was questioned as if he were an enemy alien. He also contended that the foreign press was treated as hostile. Regarding discrimination, foreign journalists said that when they had to go to places with tight security, such as the Prime Minister's Office or residence, they always had to stand in line for a long time and their credentials, though issued by the Government Press Office, were double- and triple-checked, whereas Israeli journalists just sailed through without any trouble. Some journalists were still fuming about having been denied access to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. When The Jerusalem Post put these matters to GPO director Daniel Seaman, he said the office was no longer responsible for work permits and that all complaints should be directed to the Interior Ministry. As for journalists being detained at the airport, Seaman regretted the inconvenience, but said that in today's security climate - not just in Israel, but all over the world - people had to understand that any security precautions were not of a personal nature and carried out on a whim, but were part of a general policy. Seaman, a US citizen, said that whenever he went back to the US and authorities saw that his passport had been issued in Jerusalem, they would spend a long time questioning him. He said he did not regard the Americans as being hostile when they did this; it was part of a security-related process, and he accepted it as such. He suggested that foreign journalists take a similar attitude. Seaman said security reasons for detaining journalists at the airport could not always be elaborated on. It is the duty of airport security to ensure that journalists are not intentionally or unintentionally being used for espionage or sabotage. Seaman challenged the FPA to prove to him that no journalist anywhere had ever been used for espionage. With regard to treating foreign correspondents as hostile, Seaman dismissed this as a rash generalization, but said that when foreign journalists made derogatory remarks about Israel, they couldn't expect not to be answered in kind. "My first duty is to the State of Israel," he said, explaining that he was not prepared to tolerate anyone besmirching the country's reputation. On the issue of discrimination, Seaman said that all over the world, local press had an advantage over foreign press, and Israel was no exception. While he understood the frustration of journalists who could not get into Gaza, he pointed out that in other parts of the world, the authorities also clamped down on allowing journalists into war zones, and there was no logic in singling out Israel for criticism when similar restrictions were being applied elsewhere.