Foreign Press Association in Israel protests security abuse before Netanyahu press conference

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel issued a formal protest about security abuse and harassment of journalists trying to enter a press conference that was given on Tuesday evening by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyahim Netanyahu.

“All Government Press Office (GPO) cardholders are known to authorities + have already undergone extensive background checks”, the FPA protest noted.

Citing “despicable treatment” in security checks prior to the Netanyahu press conference, the FPA said in a statement that “it is not remotely acceptable to invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them undress at the door”.

The FPA said, in a decision approved by its board, that it is “outraged over the treatment members received at the hands of Israeli security personnel at Tuesday’s invitation-only event with the Prime Minister”, and added that it is “incomprehensible that anyone would think such humiliating treatment is necessary at such an event”.

The Israeli news website reported in some gruesome detail, here the experience of an Al-Jazeera team.

The Israeli General Security Service (GSS, or Shabak, or Shin Bet) commented cooly to YNet that “All guests were subjected to a security check in accordance with the customary security procedures in such events. Three female reporters refused to be examined under these procedures and chose not to attend the event.”

Al-Jazeera producer/reporter Najwan Simri Diab commented to YNet: “So what? Am I supposed to feel better because others are humiliated? I felt I was being humiliated for the sake of humiliation”.

She reported that “Before our arrival, I received an angry phone call from our photographer, who was asked to arrive two hours earlier. He said everyone was allowed in apart from him and that all of his equipment was taken apart, including the screws of his camera’s battery. He said he and his assistant were asked to undress” … [When she and another reporter and their bureau chief arrived, she said, she complained, after waiting for more than half an hour] “that she couldn’t stand up much longer because of her pregnancy. The security guards told her to sit down and wait. They later took me downstairs to the security check cell. They asked me to take off my coat and then my vest. I did. Then they asked me to take off my shirt. I took a deep breath and did it. I was left with just my undershirt and trousers, without my shoes and the rest of my equipment. The female officer felt me with her hands for 15 minutes in any place possible. I told her I was pregnant and asked her not to use the manual device, but compromised on that later too’ … she was later asked to remove her bra. ‘After she examined the bra under my undershirt, she asked me to take it off as well. I asked why, but she insisted. Her supervisor came over later and insisted as well. I refused, and she said, ‘Everyone removed it and so will you.’ I said, ‘I’m not taking it off even if I can’t go in.’ And she said, ‘So you won’t go in.’ According to Simri-Diab, men saw her too. ‘A spokesperson from the office saw me in my undershirt and asked what was going on. When I told him what happened, he said, ‘Don’t create a drama.’ The woman at the security check told him, ‘She refuses to be checked’. They sent me aside for 20 minutes and refused to return my belongings. They checked every single paper and document in my purse. They later returned all my items inside a box, and I had to arrange them for a long time’.”

Menahem Kahana, a press photographer for 23 years, told Haaretz that ” ‘We waited 20 minutes on the side after the security man stopped us … Afterward they took me down to a room for a security check’. Kahana said he was checked with a hand-held security wand, and then asked to remove his trousers. ‘I refused and told them I was going to leave, but the security man said I was in the middle of ‘a security process’ and could not leave. They simply went crazy’.” This Haaretz report is posted here

The Haaretz report added that “The secretary of the Foreign Press Association, Glenys Sugarman, told Haaretz: The Shin Bet [security service] responded by saying that the people who were asked to strip had not cooperated during the regular procedure. But that is a crude lie. In the United States they also do security checks, but the difference is that the security people are not allowed to act in a humiliating, insulting and hostile manner. To hold people for hours and threaten them with arrest is unacceptable to us. It’s terrible treatment’.”

The new Director of the Government Press office, Oren Helman, told Haaretz that many Arab journalists did attend, despite the security procedures. ” ‘I certainly intend to investigate the association’s complaint and ask for answers from those responsible for the check – the Shin Bet’, he continued. “I regret the mishap. We invited the journalists and clearly the intent was for them to get into the event … unfortunately the mishaps that occured are not our responsibility”…

As Dimi Reider reported for +972 Magazine, here the formal protest issued by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) suggested that the organization “will decline further invitations unless given assurances this will not recur”.

In a comment on Reider’s piece, Tahel Ilan wrote: “For the rest of the foreign journalists to attend the event after having experienced similar ‘security checks’ or after realizing this was happening to others, is in a sense, like crossing the picket line. If the FPA wants to get the message across they need to show the PM office that none of them will stand for it, not that some of them will stand for it. And in a case like this, where not only the FPA needs the PM office in order to make their living, the PM office needs the FPA just as much in order to get their ‘Hasbara’ out, it should be made very clear to the PM office that if the GSS doesn’t act according to appropriate and respectable standards, the FPA won’t be willing to play the ‘Hasbara’ game anymore”.

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