So is Israel the exclusive hub for free press in the Middle East? Depends on what you want to say

Just this past Monday, a colorful flyer caught my attention and intercepted me from my morning ritual of walking to class. Pinned to a bulletin board was this:

It reads:

Freedom of the Press in the Middle East? Only in Israel. Of the 19 Middle Eastern and North African countries rated by Freedom House’s recent press freedom survey, only one, Israel, is rated Free. Israeli media, in both Hebrew and Arabic, can freely criticize the head of government without fear. In many surrounding Arab and Muslim states, journalists can be arrested and imprisoned, and media can be shut down for voicing opposition to government leaders and their policies.

This flyer does not an advertise for an event nor does it contain a school-related announcement. Rather, it’s an attempt to bolster Israel’s supposed image as the sole beacon of hope in the Middle East. If you look closely enough, however, you will find hidden between the provocative lines and debatable claims the classic propaganda employed by Israel and its benefactors since 1948.

Even though Israel boasts of its complete and unwavering support for the freedom of press, the country does have a history of detaining journalists or silencing media outlets that do not necessarily agree with the politics of the government.

On January 12, 2010, American journalist Jared Malsin was arrested and detained at Ben-Gurion Airport while attempting to enter Israel during a Birthright Israel tour. Although the government denied having any knowledge of Malsin’s background as the English editor for Ma’an News Agency, his immigration file “reference[d] news articles authored by Malsin ‘criticizing the State of Israel.’” [1] After an entire week of constant interrogation regarding his regular objection against Israeli policy, he was deported to New York. Clearly Israel could not tolerate the presence of critical international journalism within its borders.

Israeli repression of press freedom also came in the form of Mohammad Omer, a Palestinian journalist awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2007. While traveling to the West Bank in 2008, Omer was detained by Shin Bet authorities, strip-searched and then beaten. During his recovery in a Palestinian hospital, the government of the Netherlands denounced Israel’s treatment of the unarmed and internationally recognized journalist for simply reporting on the reality of Palestinian conditions under Israeli occupation.

Ewa Jasiewicz is yet another example of Israel’s repression of free press. Her arrival at Ben Gurion Airport during August 2004 resulted in her immediate incarceration in an airport holding cell. Israel’s basis for her detainment? Her political activism rendered her journalism naïve and biased. Hilary Wainwright, editor of Jasiewicz’s UK-based magazine Red Pepper, commented that “Ewa has been detained as an act of censorship because the authorities do not want the world to hear what she has to say.” [2]

Indeed.

Moreover, let us not forget the restriction of foreign media coverage before, during, and after Operation Cast Lead. According to the Human Rights Watch website:

On November 21, 22 executives from the world’s major news organizations, including the Associated Press, BBC, CNN, and Reuters, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, complaining about the “prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media.” [3]

And during Israel’s 22-day air and land assault of the Gaza Strip, all journalists were barred from entering. This tactic was viewed by many as an Israeli attempt to hide international law violations and human rights abuses perpetuated by the military. To this day, international journalists representing even the most prestigious news agencies continue to have difficulty entering and reporting on the Gaza Strip.

The claims made by this poster are simply ludicrous, and although they cannot be taken seriously, they do merit clarification. It is true that Freedom House recognizes Israel as a country practicing free press. But what does free mean? Current events such as the recently-exposed gag order authorized by the Israeli High Court as well as Israel’s refusal to allow prominent scholar Noam Chomsky through the borders indicate that free press applies only to those in agreement with the state’s actions. Those who disagree with Israel’s apartheid policies are subject to detainment, deportation, or court-mandated silence. Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), the international version of Freedom House, recognizes this hypocrisy. According to its most recent study of press freedom for the year 2009, Israel is ranked 93rd of 175 while the “Arab and Muslim states” of Kuwait (60th), Lebanon (61st), and the United Arab Emirates (86th) all rank higher. [4]

So is Israel the exclusive hub for free press in the Middle East? Depends on what you want to say.

Moral of the story: Nice try, but this flyer doesn’t fly.

Sami Kishawi

References
[1] Ma’an on Jared Malsin: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=254598
[2] BBC on Ewa Jasiewicz: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/3583534.stm
[3] Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/05/israel-allow-media-and-rights-monitors-access-gaza
[4] Reporters Sans Frontières 2009 Report: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2009,1001.html

Advertisements

There are 2 comments

  1. zatarandspinach

    I believe that If Americans Knew has an article where the a major wire service with a bureau in Jerusalem admits that it submits to IDF censorship before its articles and broadcasts are released. You may want to look into it.

  2. Sam Holloway

    Israel also truncates public speech by barring dissenting or otherwise politically troublesome voices from entering Israel. (You can’t publish an interview with someone who you can’t interview, and you can’t write of an event that isn’t allowed to happen.)

    Also, other troublesome voices are locked up and held incommunicado under the auspices of national security; countless peaceful Palestinian activists come to mind, as does would-be nuclear whistle blower Mordecai Vanunu.

    Excellent blog, Sami.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s