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Israel expels Dutch journalist after he tweets +972 articles

The Israeli government office responsible for accrediting journalists takes issue with a foreign correspondent sharing +972 Magazine articles on social media, publishing critical stories, refuses to renew his visa.

Illustrative photo of journalists at a demonstration at Qalandia. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of journalists at a demonstration at Qalandia. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israel’s Government Press Office has refused to renew the media accreditation for Derk Walters, a Dutch journalist who has been reporting from Israel-Palestine since 2014. Walters is the correspondent for NRC Handelsblad, a leading Dutch newspaper. Without accreditation he cannot renew his work visa, which means he must leave the country by July. The GPO has been critical of Walters’ reporting, but not because it was inaccurate; instead, they seemed disturbed by the incidents he chose to report and how he framed his reporting.

In one example, Walters described the situation in Hebron as one where 600 Israeli settlers keep 175,000 Palestinians hostage. Ron Paz, the head of the GPO’s communications program wrote in an email to Walters that this characterization was anti-Semitic. Paz contacted Walters on several other occasions, each time to criticize the tone rather than the accuracy of his reporting, or to berate him for tweeting links to articles the GPO did not like. It is worth pointing out that Israeli media outlets have published reports that are far more critical of the situation in Hebron, than the one by Walters that attracted Paz’s attention.

As reported by both Haaretz and NRC, the GPO accidentally attached a revealing internal email in its correspondence with Walters. In it, Paz writes to GPO director Nitzan Chen that he will make Walters “sweat” by threatening him with repercussions for having moved from Tel Aviv, which he specified as his residence on his visa application, to East Jerusalem — which is probably the most popular choice of residence for foreign correspondents covering Israel-Palestine, because of its convenient location between the West Bank and Israel.

This is certainly not the first time the GPO has targeted or bullied a reporter. The question is: why Walters? He is not unusually critical of Israel in his reporting, and he has not been accused of breaking laws or reporting inaccurately. The answer seems to lie in his tweets. He retweeted a link to an article that was published in +972 Magazine, which refers to BDS and which uses the term “Palestinian citizens of Israel” rather than “Israeli Arabs.” Walters did not append any commentary to the retweet.

As per Haaretz, Paz contacted Walters about the tweet:

Paz also wrote that retweeting an article from the left-wing website +972 Magazine raised “several questions, if I may point them out in the frame of our open and frank dialogue.” Paz wrote to Walters that “we do not think it is legitimate for journalists to take a stance in this highly controversial issue.” He wrote that such a tweet “gives the feeling of supporting the ideas in the articles.”

Paz also asked, “If you merely quoted an opinion (although highly controversial) which is not your own, would you consider quoting/tweeting an intelligent well-put article which explains why singling out Israel for political boycott is the new form of anti-Semitism?” He added: “’Palestinian Israelis’ is a problematic phrase in many people’s opinion.”

So this is really about Israel’s growing intolerance of BDS, and about the Prime Minister’s Office (under whose authority the GPO falls) wanting to control the discourse. The GPO’s tactics are another iteration of the 21st century “soft,” quasi-democratic, authoritarian state policy. Erdogan deports journalists out of Turkey for writing about Kurds. Trump refuses to answer questions posed by journalists he dislikes. And Netanyahu denies accreditation to journalists who mention BDS or write about Israel’s Arab Palestinian minority using terms that conflict with the government’s political agenda — i.e., no recognition of Palestinian identity.

Imagine the chilling effect this will have on the press, if foreign correspondents are afraid they will be deported merely for retweeting an article that conflicts with the Netanyahu government’s worldview. What if that journalist is a foreign resident with an Israeli spouse and Israeli children, for example? If the choice is between losing one’s livelihood and having to be separated from or uproot one’s family, the choice will obviously be to self censor.

As NRC Editor-in-Chief Peter Vandermeersch wrote, “There is no other way but to see the decision as an attempt by Israel to obstruct free and critical news gathering about the country.”

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      Police state! Threatening journalists! A state afraid of information! A state afraid of the truth! A state afraid to let people think for themselves! In a real democracy there is a marketplace of information but every individual provider of information does not have to stock a government-prescribed set of wares!

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Absolutely not. We are tired to be offended by foreign guests (journalists or diplomats)

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Yeah, well, your criterion, Halevy, that you are “offended,” testifies to how much you don’t understand.

          Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          The question is not whether Israel has the “right” to kick people out; of course it has that right. The better question is what the American taxpayer thinks about all this, and why they should continue to send 3-4 billion a year to Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            3-4 billions a year? It is a very small investment. Israel is the only real ally of the USA and of the free world in this area. The price for the USA is very low.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Egypt is an ally. Classic Israeli entitlement. And Halevy, it’s up to the American taxpayer to decide how much they think 4 billion dollars is. Not you. You’re not their investment advisor. Thank god.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            It is the American government which take the decision, not you, not me. Egypt will probably soon sink. Israel is the only ally of the free world. Do you think that Jordan or the “Palestinian” authority will be better?

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Your forgot to mention that these amounts are mostly used to purchase American weapons which Israel does not produce yet. So it does not cost a lot to the American taxpayer…

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Israel is the only serious ally of the USA and the free world in the area. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi kingdom will probably sink in chaos in the next few years (mostly due to Obama’s stupidity) So the amount is not so important and it is used as you know to purchase American weapons.. So please do not worry the American taxpayer has made a good investment.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The topic is Israeli government threats against journalists, Halevy. The justice for American taxpayer thread is elsewhere.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            WRONG: The State of Israel is the country which welcomes most journalists in the world if we take into account its population. Please check before writing. Please do not write untruth. Thank you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Thanks for checking in, but I went back and checked: the topic of this article is indeed Israeli government threats against journalists. As for “if we take into account its population” I have no idea what you mean.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Israel is a small country, with the same population as a country like Switzerland. You will find in Israel much much more foreign journalists than in Switzerland or any other country with the same population.. The country is open and free. The journalists are welcome. However we require honesty. We do not want to be offended.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            The Israeli government is authorized to accredit foreign journalists or not. If you do not agree, I suggest you to write a letter to our authorities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I suggest you write a letter to me comparing and contrasting the differences between “popular democracy” and “liberal democracy,” as explained by Tomer Persico in the essay I just linked to, and explain to me the relation of those two political forms to the priority given the will of the majority versus human rights and the rights of the individual. And the ethical implications thereof. And explain to me the links Persico makes to fascism in its National Socialist form. So that I can understand whether you understand what you are doing, Halevy, and whether you take ownership of what you are doing once you understand what you are doing.

            Reply to Comment
    2. paul

      only in the democratic country of Israel can free speech be stifled –

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bernie X

      “Walters described the situation in Hebron as one where 600 Israeli settlers keep 175,000 Palestinians hostage.”

      This characterization is totally inaccurate, and borderline libelous. If Mr. Walters chooses to publish ‘fake news’, than why should Israel approve his accreditation?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Your interpretation of “hostage” here is overly literal and concrete. The settlers hold the fate of the city of Hebron hostage to their demands for annexing the West Bank and refusing a two state solution. Your use of “fake news” is not truthful–your use of these words is a fake usage, a fabrication. (Kind of like Trump uses it.)

        Reply to Comment