FPA complains about ban on work permits for spouses

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has promised the Foreign Press Association in Israel that he will look into the ban on work permits for the spouses of foreign correspondents in instances where the spouses are themselves journalists. Sheetrit met with FPA members on Monday at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and was asked why correspondents' spouses or partners were being denied the right to work as reporters in Israel. One such correspondent was told that it was against the law. He said that when he asked to see a copy of the law, no one had been able or willing to produce it. When he informed authorities that both he and his partner had received work permits everywhere else he had been assigned, he was simply told that it was against the law and given no further explanation. Another member of the FPA called the work permit policy in Israel "confusing, convoluted and disjointed," depending on the day, the mood and the person one had to deal with. There was a lack of consistency, she said, and no specific regulations seemed to be in force. Another journalist expressed concern about attitudes toward members of the Christian clergy and humanitarian aid workers, who were not allowed to remain in Israel permanently. Sheetrit said there was a law forbidding the spouses of non-Israelis working in Israel to obtain work permits for themselves, but he did not think this applied to journalists. He told the FPA members he would look into the matter. Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, said that the law barring spouses from obtaining a work permit was not specifically directed at journalists, but applied to all foreign couples. Seaman admitted that the GPO had frequently turned a blind eye to the law and obtained visas for spouses in instances where both were bona fide journalists. "It's a law that always existed, but sometimes we ignored it," he said. He added, however, that some journalists had abused the privilege, which was why the GPO was now acting in strict compliance with the law. Seaman is competing in the Likud primaries for a placea on the Knesset list and was asked whether he would cede his post, in keeping with regulations that call for senior civil service employees running for Knesset to resign. He said he had consulted with the legal department in the Prime Minister's Office and was told that he was not of sufficient rank for this to affect him.