More free speech in Israeli and Palestinian than US media

It is a testament to the confidence of the Israeli media that it, more than anyone else, has written and followed the detainment and deportation of Palestinian news agency 'Maan' journalist Jared Malsin.

The United States may be the world's mostpowerful nation, but I think Americans might be afraid of Israel. Iknow many of the politicians are.

Takethe recent case of Jared Malsin, a Jew with US citizenship who coversthe Palestinian territories from Bethlehem at the Palestinian newsagency, Maan. Malsin took a trip to Prague last week and uponhis return, was arrested and taken into custody by Israeli authoritiesat Ben-Gurion Airport. He was deported to New York yesterday.

During his interrogation and week-long detention, Israelipolice took time to look him up on the Internet and read through hiswritings, which were largely critical of Israel. It's a fascinatingstory whenever a journalist is detained and jailed by any government.But did anyone in the US care or come to his defense?

Why would they, you might ask?

Well,last year, freelance American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested byIranian officials and charged with espionage. There wasn't onepolitician, candidate or elected official in the US who didn't come toher defense and demand her release.

Months later in March, two Asian-American journalists, LauraLing and Euna Lee, were arrested and charged with espionage by theNorth Korean government. The response from the US was powerful andloud. Everyone, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of StateHillary Clinton, issued statements denouncing the arrests and demandingthe release of the journalists.

In both cases, the mainstream American news media reported on their status almost daily, sometimes as their lead stories.

SO WHY the near-total silence from American leaders and mutedcoverage in the American press now over the arrest and detention ofMalsin?

It is a testament to the confidence of Israel's media thatthey, more than anyone else, have written and followed the Malsinstory. In fact, if it wasn't for the Israeli media and the Maan NewsAgency, few others would be covering the story.

The Palestinian press is much like any media, includingIsrael's. Some, like the Maan News Agency, are professionaljournalists. Others, who I will leave unnamed, are not. The issue isn'tMalsin's arrest as a journalist by a government, but rather that issueslike these are frequently turned into political tools to bash Israel.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli government waswrong in detaining Malsin, keeping him in custody for a week and thendeporting him. His rights were seriously restricted.

Malsin is the victim of bad government policy. His arrestundermines principles of freedom and justice Israel claims itrepresents, though most Israeli media uphold journalistic principles byreporting on the incident.

It's the American mainstream media and its government officialswho disappoint me the most, however. While the Israeli media sees thisas a story about a government agency violating free speech, theAmerican media and the elected officials in the US view it as a reasonto bash Israel.

In a way, that puts the mainstream American press and Americanpoliticians in the same boat with those Palestinian and Arab mediawhich see the issue not as one of principle but as an opportunity toattack Israel.

Malsin's arrest and deportation is not about whether Israel isa good or bad country. It's not about whether or not the Israeligovernment is fair or unjust when it comes to Palestinian rights. Itis, though, about a government agency that has violated a journalist'srights and in so doing, compromised Israel's image as a free nation.

One of Malsin's colleagues told me that while there arerestrictions that keep most Israeli journalists from entering andcovering the West Bank, and most Palestinian journalists from enteringand covering Israel, for the most part, Malsin was allowed to travelalmost everywhere to get his story, until this incident.

You may not agree with his views, or maybe you do. That isn't nor should it be the issue.

But there is one thing for sure. Most of the Israeli andPalestinian media did a better job of covering his case than themainstream news media in America, the country that claims to set thebar for the rest of the world when it comes to free speech.

Have the mainstream American media and American officialsfailed in doing their jobs, or are they just afraid to get on Israel'sbad side?

Whatever the reason, many in the Israeli and Palestinian pressare keeping the story on the front burner in a way that helps guaranteethat Malsin's journalistic rights will eventually be protected, whileputting the "free media" in America to shame.

The writer is a Palestinian American columnist, Chicagoradio talk show host and coordinator of the National Arab AmericanJournalists Association.