Interior Ministry: Veteran Foreign Journalists Will Be Given Visas

Blanket statement issued after Haaretz revealed 60 correspondents have had trouble renewing work permits.

Every foreign journalist stationed in Israel for more than five years who asks for visas will receive them, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

This statement was issued in response to an article in Haaretz stating that 60 journalists from overseas have had trouble renewing the visas that allow them to work here, turning some into illegal residents.

It has also been decided that the function of the Government Press Office (GPO) will be limited to providing press credentials only.

Since the article, printed last month, a number of meetings have been held between the Prime Minister's Bureau, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the GPO.

Following these meetings, the Population Administration pledged to "be lenient where we are asked to be." The administration's spokeswoman, Sabin Hadad, will be appointed to serve as a liaison to the foreign press.

The Interior Ministry's media advisor, Lee Gat, promised that an organized and standardized process will be implemented, and that only in cases where a security problem exists will visas not be approved.

The secretary of the Foreign Press Association, Gila Sugarman, said: "Until we see it working, from our perspective it isn't working. Meanwhile, we are only hearing that it will be all right."

Sugarman demands that a solution be found for the special cases of Jewish foreign journalists who do not want Israeli citizenship. The Population Admistration has said these individuals can also obtain work visas.

The Knesset Interior Committee is to discuss the matter on Monday, at the initiative of MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al). Tibi argues that a situation has been created whereby "a journalist who does not file reports in accordance with the government's view is punished by not receiving a visa."

In 2003, the Knesset passed an amendment to the law on entry into Israel, which states that foreign workers can remain in the country continually for five years and three months. Apparently no one noticed that it also was applied to the foreign press.

Meanwhile, it has been particularly difficult for senior, veteran reporters to extend their visas beyond that specified period, and they have been required to undergo special procedures to do so. Some are residing in Israel illegally or are on tourist visas without work permits.

Haaretz reported on the matter after two senior German journalists encountered difficulty getting their visas renewed and the German ministry of foreign affairs asked Israel for clarification.

Jorg Bremer, a reporter for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who has been in the country for 15 years, accused the head of the GPO, Daniel Seaman, of making political use of his authority to recommend visa extensions to the Interior Ministry. In response, Seaman called Bremer an "idiot," and declared, "I want to screw him over," which raised a storm.

The Interior Ministry reported that a decision has been made that the two German journalists will receive visas, however they have not yet received them. "The computers in Israel work slowly," Bremer said.