It is a very strong statement – but apparently there is no agreement yet on a news boycott to stop the policy of strip-searching and “undressing” foreign and Arab journalists in Israel.
The Foreign Press Association [FPA] in Israel today called this policy an “abomination”, and demanded that “it simply must stop”.
It does not happen to Israeli journalists [unless they are Arab/Palestinian]…
“This outrageous policy is an affront to common sense, an assault on human dignity and a blight upon the state of Israel”.
The FPA said that latest example happened earlier today — just prior to a news event called by the office of the State President of Israel, Shimon Peres to criticize yesterday’s arson attack on a mosque in Israel’s northern Galilee region which has caused local outrage and protests.
The FPA informed its members that “an Al Jazeera cameraman was asked to remove his pants upon arrival for an interview with President Shimon Peres _ an interview that came at the invitation of the president himself to criticize anti-Muslim violence! The explanations we have received – that such inspections are necessary for Arab journalists – are deeply troubling in a country that bills itself as the Middle East’s only democracy. It is not the first time this has happened. This pattern has existed for years and has become more entrenched and aggressive over the past year. We respect Israel’s need to maintain tight security [sic]. But when there is so much technology available to scan both people and their belongings, such practices cannot be justified and have nothing to do with security. The truth is darker and sadder: This lamentable policy combines blatant racism with systematic and ham-handed media harassment”. This FPA statement is posted
Apparently, the Al Jazeera cameraman submitted to the security demand, in order to do his job.
On 19 September, the FPA previously reported, “a female photographer was asked to remove her bra during an intrusive search as she arrived to cover the prime minister’s news conference”.
She apparently refused. According to the FPA condemnation issued on 20 September, “The affected journalist was the pool photographer for the press conference. Since she did not enter, the international media did not receive photos from the event”.
The FPA called this “demeaning, humiliating and unnecessary”.
But, the FPA has so far left it up to the individual journalist on the spot to decide what to do — to submit and accept such treatment, or to refuse and walk away [if the security service on the spot allows such a refusal, which is not always the case]. Some journalists fear they might lose their jobs if they don’t come back with the stories. It also should be said that some journalists [a minority, mainly European] don’t mind taking off their clothes, even in these circumstances, while for others the prospect is extremely disturbing.
So, because a lack of support [particularly from major media organizations, it seems], there has been no decision yet to boycott such events until such “demeaning, humiliating and unnecessary” treatment stops.
And, there has apparently been no expression of support from the Israeli journalists associations — who enjoy their privileged access and their competitive advantage, despite a questionable track record on asking tough questions, and especially on taking an independent and critical view of their own government, particularly when it comes to military and “security” matters. The Israeli media shares, and plays a major role in shaping, a public attitude of disdain and contempt for the “foreign” or international press corps.
Both of the two recent FPA statements on strip searching of journalists have gone beyond the usual formulaic acknowledgement respecting Israel’s right and duty to act in accordance with its extensive and wide-ranging security needs: on 20 September the FPA statement about the bra-removal requirement referred to “legitimate security concerns”, while today’s FPA statement about a cameraman who was told to remove his trousers nonetheless said it respected Israel’s “need to maintain tight security”.
But, there is a clear element of theater and sadism in such exaggerated security impositions — particularly when it comes to journalists who are known to, and registered with, the governmental authorities, and who have already been vetted by Israeli security.
Could it also be that there is some element of internal Israeli rivalry — as it seems it is the Mossad which vets the “foreign” or international journalists, who are the majority of the membership in the case of the FPA, while it is the Shabak or Shin Bet which is carrying out these strip searches at the Prime Minister’s and President’s offices…?
In their condemnation on 20 September, the FPA said: “It must be stressed that the FPA has always recognized the legitimate [sic] security concerns at the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office]. But once again, the guards have gone overboard. We strongly urge the PMO to revisit its security practices to find the proper balance between protecting the prime minister and ensuring that journalists can do their work in a dignified and harassment-free environment”.
Today’s FPA statement concluded by saying that “Sadly, by now we expect nothing better from the Shin Bet. Frankly, we have ceased hoping that the Prime Minister’s Office – scene of some of the most persistent abuses – will intervene. But it is deeply disappointing that this policy is also accepted and enabled by the office of Shimon Peres – a Nobel Peace Laureate and outspoken advocate of human rights and progressive thinking. We respectfully call on the President to use the influence of his office to end this abomination”…