The ‘Democratic State of Israel’ has decided to go ‘full North Korea’ and threaten to not renew an Australian Jewish journalist’s press visa for… wait for it… asking a question at a media event. Chris Graham explains.
Living in a free and democratic society is a glorious thing. And then there’s living in Israel… which is neither free (particularly if you’re Palestinian) nor democratic (particularly if you’re Palestinian).
And it turns out, it’s sometimes not so free or democratic for journalists either… even Jewish ones.
Antony Loewenstein is a respected Australian journalist, and an occasional contributor to New Matilda. He’s currently living in East Jerusalem, the Israeli-occupied part of the Holy City, having just finished a stint in Sudan where he’s been reporting on the civil war.
The news overnight is that the Israeli Government Press Office is “leaning toward recommending that his work permit not be renewed due to suspected BDS activity”. Which is not the real reason at all.
Loewenstein is a public supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, but hasn’t actually said anything publicly on the issue since 2014. So what’s all the fuss about now?
Loewenstein’s actual ‘offense’ – committed last week – was to have had the temerity to turn up to a Foreign Press Association event (he’s a member), and behave like a journalist. And by journalist, I obviously don’t mean a ‘mainstream’ one.
Guest speaker at the event was Yair Lapid, leader of the second most powerful political party in the country, Yesh Atid, who is himself a former journalist.
Loewenstein asked: “You talked before about the idea that since Oslo, Israel has done little or nothing wrong but the truth is that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the occupation, there are now 600,00 to 800,000 settlers, all of whom are regarded by international law as illegal. Is there not a deluded idea here that many Israeli politicians, including yourself, continue to believe that one can talk to the world about democracy, freedom and human rights while denying those things to millions of Palestinians and will there not come a time soon where you and other politicians will be treated like South African politicians during Apartheid?”
Lapid’s response was instructive.
“Well, it’s a good thing that in my opening comments I talked about the fact that we live in a post-truth-post-facts era because you gave us a perfect example. These are presumptions, these are not facts.”
Stop you right there Yair….
You did suggest in your speech that Israel had done little or nothing wrong since the Oslo Accord in 1993. Which is of course complete rubbish – it’s a matter of well-known public record that your country has been accused of numerous war crimes since then.
And as Loewenstein noted, 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
And there are now at least 600,000 settlers living on occupied Palestinian land, and all of them are regarded as ‘illegal’ under international law.
Talk of Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is very much common place these days… indeed BDS – a growing international movement and what Israeli media and the government are pretending the fuss is really all about – is based on the sanctions imposed against South Africa in the mid 1980s.
So Lowenstein’s question was rich with facts. And how did Yair Lapid’s response fare?
“It’s a declared policy of Israel, that we need to go to the two state solution,” Lapid replied.
Here’s the newly re-minted Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, telling voters in the shadow of an election in March this year that if elected there will be no Palestinian state.
Lapid also responded: “The one who called Jews pigs and monkeys in school books are the Palestinians.” Here’s a study dispelling that old chestnut.
And Lapid also said this: “Israel is not an Apartheid country. Israel is a democracy.”
In fact no, the question of ‘Apartheid’ aside, Israel claims to be a ‘Jewish Democratic State’, which means it can’t be a democracy, because it advantages the rights of Jews over all others.
In any event, the morning after his question, Loewenstein was being hunted not by the Israeli Government, but by Israel’s Fourth Estate… ostensibly employed to ‘keep the bastards honest’. Because, you know, it’s Israel.
The day after the event, The Jerusalem Post led the charge, reporting about Loewenstein’s ‘hostile’ question.
It sparked this rant from a website called ‘Honest Reporting’, which attacks ‘journalist activists’… while pretending to be a news outlet when it’s really just a pro-Israel activist site.
Eventually, the Israeli Government responded… ‘exclusively’, of course, to the Jerusalem Post, a publication you might most accurately describe as ‘The Australian of the Middle East’.
You can read an honest summary of events from Ali Abunimah at the Electronic Intifada here.
And for one that’s likely to make you throw up your breakfast, here’s how Tim Blair from ever-sycophantic Daily Telegraph weighed in on the issue.
And here’s Australia’s J-Wire, pretending that Loewenstein is a BDS activist.
It takes considerable chutzpah to stand at an Israeli Government press conference and ask difficult questions, knowing full well it might attract the sort of attention usually reserved for Palestinians.
Loewenstein has that chutzpah in spades. Thus, the final word belongs to him, and his unintentionally ironic summing up of the problem with media not just in Israel, but around the world.
“Like in so many countries, most reporters rarely challenge establishment power; they’re afraid of losing access.”
Which is precisely what Loewenstein is now facing. And not just access to the Knesset and Israeli press conferences, but to an entire country which pretends to be a free and democratic society.
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