[see update below]
This story really speaks for itself. I’ll just say that the international community, and international law, generally frown on efforts to limit press freedoms. It’s also very unusual for a democratic country to threaten and harass the media in such a blatant way.
Naturally, this comes from Haaretz because the U.S. media must be busy covering something else:
Israel’s Government Press Office issued a letter Sunday to foreign journalists, warning them that participating in the upcoming flotilla sailing to Gaza is illegal under Israeli law, and could result in anyone who joins the convoy being barred from Israel for up to 10 years.
The letter, signed by GPO director Oren Helman, states that the flotilla “is a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas.”
Ok, that last bit is why I was so disappointed in the statements about the Flotilla by the State Department last week. It seems as though the U.S. government has appropriated, in toto, the propaganda talking points of the Israeli government. Totally inappropriate, particularly when press freedom and American citizens are involved.
Furthermore, the letter says, “participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions.”
Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass will be joining the flotilla, along with several dozen other journalists and several hundred activists from some 20 countries. Also joining the flotilla will be American writer Alice Walker, despite an American advisory that doing so could be a violation of U.S. law.
There’s a disturbing aspect to all of this. According to Joseph Dana who is a journalist on the American ship Audacity of Hope, there are very few foreign journalists (read, American or European) covering the Flotilla. He believes this is due to the extraordinary pressure exerted upon news organizations by the Israeli and U.S. governments. I would just add that it also may be because the US media is in the tank for Israel and has no interest in covering the Flotilla. Dana has also expressed some concern that the warnings issued by the State Dept. and Israeli government set up a situation where those journalists who opted to cover the Flotilla, will be fair game if an attack takes place or if they are imprisoned later.
Keep in mind that laws barring journalists from covering certain controversial events are usually frowned upon by democratic countries and international law. For example, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia make it illegal for foreign journalists to enter the country and cover events- they face imprisonment or worse. However, when journalists who enter those countries end up being arrested, the U.S. makes no bones about calling for their immediate release. In other words, we generally don’t give a damn that the particular country has accused said journalists of breaking the law. Given that, I find it strange that two democratic countries, the U.S. and Israel, seem to be threatening journalists.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: By involving itself in Israel’s propaganda efforts to malign and threaten not only the Flotilla participants but also the journalists covering it, the U.S. government has opened itself to charges of hypocrisy. Worse still, as I have said before, the State Dept. and Obama administration is widely perceived at this point of green-lighting an Israeli attack on the Flotilla. Lets hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, there will be a lot of unpleasant questions for the U.S. to answer.
For general information on press freedom throughout the world, see Reporters Without Borders.
UPDATE: The Foreign Press Association has condemned Israeli’s threats against journalists:
The Foreign Press Association on Sunday urged the government to reverse its threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla, saying that the move “sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press.”
The statement added, “Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation,” calling on the government to “reverse its decision immediately.”