After a day in which every single news media outlet in the world seemed to weigh in, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday rescinded a Government Press Office decision to sanction any foreign journalist who participates in the Gaza Strip flotilla.
GPO director Oren Helman had announced on Sunday that any foreign journalist on the flotilla would be treated as an illegal infiltrator, meaning they would be deported and then barred from entering Israel for 10 years. But yesterday Netanyahu's bureau issued a press release rescinding that decision.
"When the matter was brought to his attention, the prime minister directed that the regular policy against infiltrators and those who enter Israel illegally not be implemented," the terse statement said. "It has also been agreed that members of the Israeli and international media will be attached to Israel Navy vessels in order to create transparency and credible coverage of the events."
The Foreign Press Association, which had condemned Sunday's decision for sending "a chilling message to the international media" that "raises serious questions about Israel's commitment to freedom of the press," welcomed yesterday's reversal.
"We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understands that journalists should be treated differently from political activists," it said in a statement.
Sebastian Engelbrecht, a senior journalist from the German television network ARD, said that last year's flotilla, in which nine people were killed, was the most widely covered news event in Germany; hence the media interest in this year's sailing. Netanyahu, he added, did well to reverse course, as the attempt to bar journalists from covering the flotilla was "a provocation" unbefitting a democracy.
Last year's flotilla, Engelbrecht continued, was "a terrible anti-Israel provocation," and Israel should give thought to the mistakes it made in dealing with it. "A free press is a sign that Israel isn't afraid and isn't hiding anything," he said.
Helman declined to comment yesterday.