Saudi denial of visa for Israeli journalist not the real issue

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Saudi denial of visa for Israeli journalist not the real issue

By Ray Hanania

(Creators Syndicate, March 28, 2014. Click here to read the Arabic version of this column)

This week, the mainstream American news media went berserk when it was disclosed that the Washington Bureau chief of the Israeli Jerusalem Post was denied an entry visa by Saudi Arabia to join President Barack Obama during a state visit there this week.

The mainstream American news media has gone berserk over the controversy, denouncing Saudi Arabia, denouncing President Obama and denouncing alleged racism against “Jews” by the Arab World.

I am opposed to journalism censorship. But, I am more opposed to journalistic hypocrisy, especially when it comes from people who cry discrimination only when it suits their political agendas.

Michael Wilner, the Washington D.C. Bureau Chief for the Israeli Jerusalem Post Newspaper, was told he would not receive a visa to enter Saudi Arabia to cover Obama’s state visit.

The Saudis didn’t arrest him. They didn’t beat him. They didn’t jail him. They just denied him a visa.

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Ironically, arrest, beatings and jail are the fate of Christian and Muslims who happen to be Palestinian or Arab when trying to cover Israel.

Oh yes. The same media that is screaming about discrimination against Wilner, are silent about the routine and consistent discrimination against Arab journalists covering Israel.

Israel routinely censors, bans, imprisons and even kills Palestinian and Arab journalists who have sought to cover Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank of Palestine. And Israel also routinely denies entry visas to Christian and Muslim Arab journalists who try to enter Israel for reporting duties.

You have to be an especially lazy kind of journalist to close your eyes to the historic and consistent and endless brutality that Israel heaps upon Christian and Muslim Arab and Palestinian journalists who experience a fate far worse than poor Mr. Wilner.

2010_7_17 Beit Ommar Demonstration

2010_7_17 Beit Ommar Demonstration (Photo credit: Kara Newhouse)

In May 20, 2013, my Palestinian journalism colleague Daoud Kuttab completed an extensive report for the International Press Institute (IPI) that detailed how Israel refuses to recognize the rights of journalists who are Palestinian, Christian and Muslim.

The report concludes with this outrageous fact: “Most Palestinian journalists are unable to enter Israel, and are subject to restrictions even within the West Bank, while Gaza residents have problems leaving the Strip. Israeli journalists, for their part, are unable to visit Gaza and may face new accreditation requirements in the West Bank.”

It is a fact that the mainstream American news media refuses to cover Israel’s censorship, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment and even killing of Palestinian and Arab journalists.

It happens all the time. These examples only scratch the surface of the reality that the media ignores.

On February 18th of this year, Israel kidnapped, detained and interrogated Palestinian photojournalist Mohammad Abed-Rabbo at the notorious Israeli Gulag, the al-Maskobiyya prison. What was his crime? In a post on his Facebook Page, Abed-Rabbo described Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, as “the mayor of occupied Jerusalem.”

On March 5, 2014, the Freedoms Committee in the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (FCPJS) issued a report at a press conference, that the mainstream American news media didn’t bother to cover, which criticized both Israel and the Palestine National Authority for repeated violations of Palestinian journalist rights. But the FCPJS concluded the main aggressor in brutalizing Palestinian journalists was Israel.

The FCPJS said there were more than 237 incidents in 2013 by Israel in which the military fired live ammunition against working journalists, injuring 26. The report said 38 reporters suffered from tear gas wounds, and 22 were injured from “sound bombs.” Additionally, 45 Palestinian cameramen and reporters had been physically beaten by Israeli soldiers and threatened with death.

Just this past week on March 26, a Palestinian journalist charged that he was detained and used by Israeli soldiers as a “Human shield” against protesters during a demonstration in the Israeli occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity.

Palestinian journalist Moussa al-Shaer said Israeli soldiers held him and another journalist for hours and were used b the Israeli soldiers as “human shields” to protect themselves during clashes following Israel’s military assault on the Palestinian refugee camp, Aida on Saturday.

On Feb. 15, 2014, a Palestinian photojournalist was assaulted and beaten by Israeli soldiers at the village of Wadi Fukin, southwest of Bethlehem. Yousef Shakarnah was filming a documentary about the plight of locals who work inside Israel when Israeli soldiers attacked him, causing him bruises and injuries all over his body. Shakarna had to be hospitalized for his injuries at the al-Yamamah Hospital.

And, on July 4, 2013, Israeli soldiers arrested and beat several Palestinian journalists during the weekly protest at the village of Kufr Qaddum near the West Bank city of Nablus. The protestors were demonstrating against violence committed against them by armed Israeli settler fanatics from the Jewish settlement of Kadumim.

These are just a sampling of the violence and censorship by Israel against Christian and Muslim Palestinian and Arab journalists that occurred in recent months. The examples go back six decades to Israel’s creation in 1948.

You rarely read about any of these incidents in the Jerusalem Post or in the biased, pro-Israel mainstream American news media. You never hear so-called professional journalists at the Washington House Correspondent’s Association or the Society of Professional Journalists condemn the censorship of Arab journalists by Israel.

But nearly every American newspaper, and the hypocritical Israeli press, has criticized Saudi Arabia for denying Wilner a visa during the Obama trip.

Sounds to me like the issue really isn’t about Saudi Arabia or bias against an Israeli journalist. The real issue is the hypocrisy and lack of ethics by the mainstream American journalists themselves who pick and chose when ethics, professionalism and morality when it benefits their political agendas.

While Obama is in Saudi Arabia, maybe the Jerusalem Post might assign Wilner to report on the brutal censorship being heaped on Christian and Muslim Arab and Palestinian journalists in Israel.

That might be asking too much.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning for Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of the Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)

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