Saturday, 24 December 2016

What kind of democratic state threatens to expel a journalist for asking the ‘wrong’ question of a politician? The Jewish Democratic State of Israel

As Israel Threatens to Withdraw Antony Loewenstein’s Press Credentials why does the Guardian abandon him to the wolves?

Can you imagine it?  Theresa May is asked an awkward question about her £1,000 leather trousers or about what  ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means.  Or maybe Boris Johnson is asked to give the name of a foreign leader who he hasn’t offended or insulted?  You get the message. 
Antony Loewenstein - Journalist Threatened by Israel with Expulsion for Asking Zionist Politician Lapid an Awkward Question!

Yair Lapid says Jews can live nowhere else but Israel - Lapid has previously gone on record as saying it would 'bother him greatly' if his son married Rona not Rina.
The next day the Prime Minister’s press spokesman announces that serious consideration is being given to withdrawing the journalist’s press credentials, meaning that will therefore have to leave the country.  This is what happened to BBC correspondents in the democratic state of Zimbabwe, when they started asking awkward questions about Robert Mugabe.  Of course Israel is not Zimbabwe and therefore the BBC will not cover this story.  

Even in the UK or Western Europe, i.e. in most bourgeois democratic countries, journalists don’t get threatened with expulsion for asking awkward questions.  However Israel is a bogus democracy.  Sure it has the trappings of a democracy but pierce beneath the surface and it is a police state in all but name.  Torture, censorship, violent state racism, inbuilt discrimination.  It has the lot.
Lapid is seen here at a press conference with Israeli officers attacking the Israeli human rights organisation Breaking the Silence for publishing the testimony of Israeli soldiers that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza
Yair Lapid, a former Israeli TV journalist, is the leader of the ‘centrist’ Yesh Atid party in Israel’s Knesset.  He was in the coalition government with Netanyahu until 2015 and politically he is on the far-Right.  The fact that he is called a centrist demonstrates the nature of Israeli politics.  Earlier this year when the soldiers’ group, Breaking the Silence, published testimony from soldiers who had served in Operation Protective Edge about the war crimes that had been committed, it was Lapid who went out of his way to take part in demonising BTS.

In The Times of Israel Lapid said he would be ‘bothered’ if his son married a non-Jew.  Speaking on Galei Israel radio, Lapid said, “It bothers me, I admit. I say that if tomorrow my son came to me and said, ‘Dad, I want you to meet Rona, not Rina, and she’s Russian Orthodox or Catholic and we’re getting married and the kids won’t be Jewish’ — would that bother me? It would bother me greatly.'

This is not a matter of religious preference but out and out racism, because in Israel being Jewish is a question of race and national identification and that is the primary objection. 

Loewenstein asked a very reasonable question about Apartheid and Israel.  Understandably Zionists and Israeli politicians are sensitive about being compared to the Apartheid regime.  Having had the best of relations with the Apartheid regime when it was in existence, including supplying it with weapons, including nuclear technology, Israel doesn’t like being compared to Apartheid.  It is understandable.

The fact that Israel rules over 3-4 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories without according them any civil or political rights, including the vote, and that it has done so for nearly 50 years is not apartheid according to Zionist apologists.  The fact that a Palestinian state is out of the question, because ‘there is no partner for peace’ doesn’t mean that the Palestinians can be allowed to destroy the ‘Jewish’ state through being granted the right to vote, thus making a fetish of democracy.

Israel within the 1948 borders is an ethnocracy, a Jewish state, despite 20% of the population being non-Jewish.  In practice that means that Israel within the 1967 borders is also an apartheid state.  But these are questions reasonable people can debate and discuss.

The real question however is, what kind of state is it that expels a journalist for asking the ‘wrong’ kind of question?

Tony Greenstein

Antony Loewenstein
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli government is thinking of ending Antony Loewenstein’s press credentials, forcing him to leave Jerusalem, because he asked a tough question of a government official.

Loewenstein, the Jerusalem-based author most recently of the book Disaster Capitalism, has gotten wide support from journalists in the hours since the story broke, including Max Blumenthal and Mairav Zonszein and others on Loewenstein’s twitter feed.
Here’s the story.

On December 12, Loewenstein attended an appearance of Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party and a former finance minister, at the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

Loewenstein asked him: 

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 gave an answer, video of which he posted on his Facebook page.

“We live in a post-truth postfacts era… You just gave us a perfect example. These are presumptions, not facts. It’s a declared policy of Israel that we need to go to a two-state solution and the ones who refused it were the Palestinians. The ones who call Jews pigs and monkeys in their school books are the Palestinians. And the problem is that the Palestinians are encouraged by the Guardian and others saying we don’t need to do anything in order to work for our future because the international community will call Israel an apartheid country. Israel is not an apartheid country, Israel is a law-abiding democracy. Unlike by the way the Palestinians, Israel is make sure that human rights are protected in this area. Why don’t you go to the Palestinian Authority or to Gaza and ask them about women rights and gay rights and Christian rights and why is it that you can’t be safe there if you don’t follow the Islamic sharia?

Loewenstein posted an account on his site, “Senior politician doesn’t like question about occupation, spits dummy.” Loewenstein commented: 

It was a depressing and dishonest answer. Furthermore, with a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of journalists in attendance were deferential to Lapid and asked him bland questions. Lapid is a man who proudly talks about building a wall around all Palestinians. Like in so many countries, most reporters rarely challenge establishment power; they’re afraid of losing access…

I’ve been writing about Israel and Palestine since 2003, and visiting since 2005 (I now live in Jerusalem), and all that’s worsened is the extremism and vitriol of Israel supporters.
That day the Jerusalem Post then covered the question and answer. “Lapid: ‘Guardian’ delays Mideast conflict solution.”

Then a pro-Israel site began publicizing the fact that Loewenstein has supported Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, or BDS, and spoke in favor of it at a rally in Sydney in 2014: “BDS is growing and I’m proud to be part of a global movement that’s led by the Palestinians most directly affected.”

Today the Jerusalem Post has followed up with a story saying that the Israeli government is considering not renewing Loewenstein’s press card, so that he would have to leave the country in the spring.

A journalist who has allegedly engaged in activity supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement may not be able to remain in Israel, the Government Press Office told The Jerusalem Post exclusively on Sunday.

GPO director Nitzan Chen said he was leaning against renewing the press card of Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem- based freelance reporter who writes for The Guardian and other publications. If the card is not renewed when it expires in March, the Interior Ministry will not allow him to remain in Israel.

“We are leaning toward recommending that his work permit not be renewed due to suspected BDS activity,” Chen said. “We are checking the incident because unfortunately, the journalist did not give enough information to our staff. We will learn to check better so there won’t be such incidents in the future.”

The Post did say eight paragraphs down:

Loewenstein noticeably directed what was seen as a hostile question toward Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at an FPA event last Monday.

In his post today, titled Free Speech in the Jewish State, Loewenstein offers some corrections and comments:
  • For over a decade, I’ve been an independent journalist and best-selling author who has written for major media outlets from across the world, including the Guardian and New York Times, and I’ve worked and lived as an investigative reporter in some of the toughest places in the world including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Honduras. I’m currently based in Jerusalem as an accredited, freelance journalist – my freelance credentials were accepted by the Israeli Press Office this year as I’m not formally associated with any media group – and have published my work this year in many publications including Newsweek Middle East, the Guardian, The Nation and The National.
  • Truly free nations respect and encourage free speech. They welcome it;
  • Real democracies value diversity of opinion.
Loewenstein is a dear friend, so we can’t even pretend to be objective, but this is disheartening, and we’ll keep you posted.
Australia's biggest media union opposes expulsion of Loewenstein

Australia’s biggest media union supports free speech in Israel

In the last 24 hours the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union, Australia’s leading media union representing the country’s best journalists, (I’ve been a member since 2003/2004), has sent the following letter to the Israeli Ambassador in Australia, the Australian Ambassador in Israel, Dave Sharma, and the Israeli Government Press Office:
His Excellency Shmuel BenShmuel

Embassy of Israel in Australia
6 Turrana Street
Yarralumla ACT 2600

20 December 2016

Your Excellency

Antony Loewenstein is a member of our union and a well known freelance journalist in Australia.

We write to seek your assistance in ensuring he continues to receive appropriate support and accreditation to continue his journalism while in Israel.

We have been concerned by recent reports suggesting the Government Press Office in Israel may be considering either withdrawing or not renewing his accreditation. As an issue of free speech, any assistance you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Paul Murphy
Chief Executive Officer

Israel threatens to expel reporter who asked apartheid question

Israel jails Palestinian journalists and threatens to revoke permits of international journalists, including Australia’s Antony Loewenstein, pictured in 2014, over unfavorable coverage. (Claudio Accheri)

Israel is threatening to expel an Australian journalist in Jerusalem, accusing him of being a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The threat against Antony Loewenstein comes after the freelance journalist asked a question about Israeli apartheid at a press conference given by former government minister Yair Lapid, and after a campaign against him by the anti-Palestinian group HonestReporting.

“We are leaning toward recommending that his work permit not be renewed due to suspected BDS activity,” Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office, told The Jerusalem Post. “We are checking the incident because unfortunately, the journalist did not give enough information to our staff. We will learn to check better so there won’t be such incidents in the future.”

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Loewenstein, who has won recognition for his reporting from South Sudan and Afghanistan, dismissed any suggestion he had misrepresented himself.

“I am an accredited freelance journalist which is how I presented my work to the Israeli government in March, which they accepted,” Loewenstein said. “I’m not here associated with any organization. I’m here as a freelancer, officially, so there’s been no misrepresentation by me, ever.”

Loewenstein has written about the region for more than a decade, including the bestselling book My Israel Question.

Growing crackdown

The effective threat to expel Loewenstein comes a week after the Committee to Protect Journalists revealed that this year Israel remained among the world’s worst jailers of reporters – all of those in its cells are Palestinians.

And earlier this month, Israel detained and expelled Isabel Phiri, associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches, claiming she too supports BDS.

Last week, Israel’s Shin Bet secret police barred entry to two leaders of a British Muslim humanitarian aid group, citing “security reasons.” The two officials from Muslim Hands were invited to the country by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz describes as “a nonprofit group that promote coexistence, cooperation and equality between Jews and Muslims.”

In August, Israel’s public security and interior ministries set up a joint task force to deny entry to or expel foreign activists allegedly affiliated with organizations that support BDS.

This is part of a broader crackdown, whose primary targets are Palestinians.

On Friday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it has been receiving a “worryingly high number of complaints” about Israel violating basic rights of Palestinian human rights activists.

It said that human rights defenders living under Israeli occupation “face daily violations of some of the most fundamental protections afforded by international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

The UN said peaceful protest and opposition to the occupation is effectively outlawed.

Anatomy of a smear

Loewenstein became a target after he asked a challenging question at a press conference last week to Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party that was formerly part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

“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,” Loewenstein began, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Pointing to the large number of Israeli settlers now in the occupied West Bank, Loewenstein continued: “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 that to millions of Palestinians, and will there not come a time soon, in a year, five years, 10 years, where you and other politicians will be treated like South African politicians during apartheid?”

In response, Lapid attacked The Guardian, claiming that it and other publications are encouraging Palestinians to be intransigent.

From there, HonestReporting, a pro-Israel group whose managing editor once worked in the Israeli army spokesperson’s unit, launched a campaign against Loewenstein.

It called him “an anti-Israel activist” and implied he had obtained his official Israeli press card and membership in the Foreign Press Association under false pretenses.

“Loewenstein is clearly incapable of reporting on Israel in a fair and objective manner,” HonestReporting asserted.

Did Loewenstein gain his official press card by claiming to be a Guardian writer?” the group asked, effectively making an allegation without any basis.

HonestReporting took its campaign to The Guardian directly, complaining to the newspaper that 

hiring Loewenstein was the equivalent of hiring a corporate lobbyist to be the newspaper’s business correspondent.”

This apparently elicited the desired response: The Guardian threw Loewenstein under the bus – presumably without speaking to him first.

According to The Jerusalem Post, The Guardian’s head of international news, Jamie Wilson, said that Loewenstein was contracted to write comment pieces for Guardian Australia and remains an occasional comment contributor but he “is not a news correspondent for The Guardian in Israel.”
And The Guardian’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Peter Beaumont, emailed HonestReporting that he had never heard of Loewenstein.

The Guardian’s distancing itself from Loewenstein is a welcome development,” HonestReporting’s managing editor Simon Plosker said, adding that the Foreign Press Association should revoke Loewenstein’s membership and the Israeli Government Press Office should cancel his accreditation.
Loewenstein told The Electronic Intifada that he identifies himself accurately as a freelancer and author of several books, who contributes to many publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times and Newsweek Middle East.

Loewenstein noted that in the tight-knit world of foreign correspondents in Israel, it would be impossible to get away with misrepresentation: “It’s a pretty small place.”
But the smear did its job and now Loewenstein is a target for government expulsion for asking a challenging question of an Israeli leader.

In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Israel’s intimidation of the international media, including threats to revoke the credentials of reporters who published headlines it didn’t like.

“It is virtually impossible to work as a reporter in Israel and the occupied territories without a press card,” the group’s executive director Robert Mahoney said. “The threat of withdrawing accreditation is a heavy handed approach at stifling unwelcome coverage.”

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