Israel is persisting in its race to isolate itself from the properly-run world – this time by persecuting foreign journalists who criticize the government’s policy.
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Dutch journalist Derk Walters says he’s being deported for his critical coverage of Israel’s policy in the Netherlands’ fourth biggest newspaper, NRC Handelsblad. The NRC editor wrote there was no way to interpret this decision other than as an attempt to prevent the publication of articles critical of Israel.
The Government Press Office claimed “Walters broke the law by working, despite all our requests, without a work permit.” It also said Israel doesn’t condition permits on the content of media coverage.
However, the suspicions of the journalist and his newspaper are not unfounded, as indicated by correspondence obtained by Haaretz. It shows that the GPO accused Walters of “hostile and biased coverage” after he published a critical report of the government’s policy in Hebron.
In an email to Walters, Ron Paz, the GPO’s foreign press chief, expressed his resentment over Walters' failure to mention in his article that Hebron is “the most radical religious Islamic city in the West Bank.” He also claimed that a Walters headline – saying that 175,000 Palestinians in Hebron were captives of 600 Jewish settlers – was anti-Semitic.
Paz contacted Walters again, this time about a tweet in which Walters quoted a Palestinian blogger, who had tweeted that “Boycott is legitimate political expression. It’s not less so just because used against Israel.”
Walters added his own interpretation: “Israeli Arabs cannot talk about boycotting Israel because they could be persecuted for it.” Paz asked Walters if the tweet could be construed as supporting BDS. "I hope not," Paz wrote in an email.
The newspaper’s suspicions that its journalist is being harassed are corroborated by an email accidentally sent to Walters, in which a senior GPO officer wrote to a colleague in Hebrew about making Walters “sweat” to get a work visa.
Now the GPO is refusing to renew Walters’ work permit, claiming that he was working without a permit and had lied about his place of residence on his visa application. In a letter from March the GPO wrote that if the newspaper sends another journalist, it would grant him the permits.
The GPO, which operates out of the Prime Minister's Office, is responsible for coordinating communication between the government and the foreign press in Israel. It issues press cards and helps with work visas for the journalists and their families. It is not supposed to act as a national commissar. Its officials are not allowed to impose political censorship on journalists’ articles or to engage in arguments with reporters on their reports or tweets. And it’s most certainly not supposed to dictate to the foreign media who is worthy to serve as their reporter in Israel.
The GPO had better renew Walters’ work permit, in accordance with the wishes of the newspaper that sent him.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.