The Only Democracy in the Middle East™ has struck again: the English editor for the independent Palestinian news agency Maan, American Jared Malsin, was detained along with his girlfriend at Ben Gurion airport on his return to Israel from a European vacation. During the detention it became clear that the Shin Bet intended to expel him from Israel as a security risk. It provided no justification whatsoever. And when Malsin notified the U.S. embassy of his predicament and they called to inquire, security officials lied by claiming neither individual was in custody and that they were probably “enjoying a night on the town in Tel Aviv” and had simply forgotten to notify them.
Look, I understand this is garden variety harassment when it comes to Israel. Palestinians are treated far worse. Indeed, three Gaza journalists were killed during Cast Lead, one by an Israeli tank shell fired despite the victim being clearly marked as a journalist. But what stands out here is the sheer effrontery of Israel’s Interior Ministry expelling a U.S. citizen and journalist from its shores merely for reporting inconvenient facts about Israel’s maintenance of the Occupation. The security establishment doesn’t shrink from tangling with Israel’s most important ally nor from violating one of the most treasured traditions of western democracies: freedom of the press.
Maan quickly filed an injunction staying the expulsion order and the Israeli attorney general filed for the court to remove the stay. Luckily, the Israeli district judge refused to lift the stay and Malsin will live to fight another day, but barely. Unless there is a furious outcry both from inside and outside Israel chances are a judicial system inherently biased in favor of state power when it comes to security issues will likely acquiesce with the decision to expel the journalist.
Since he was arrested Tuesday, Malsin has been allowed only one 20 minute meeting with his lawyer and permitted contact with a single U.S. consular official. His personal belongings have been put in herem and he is not allowed access to them (when Malsin first boarded the flight back to Israel in Prague, security agents confiscated his cell phone so he could not inform his employer or U.S. diplomats of his situation).
Lying scumbag PR flack Mark Regev labelled as “absurd” claims that the action comes in retaliation for Maan’s coverage of rather unpleasant events like the weekly Bilin anti-Wall protests at which several Palestinians and an American have been murdered or maimed with severe brain injuries. But Israeli immigration officials seem not to have been on the same page:
…The official explanation offered by the country’s own immigration department cited news stories Malsin had authored “inside the Territories,” among them some which “criticized the State of Israel.”
The Interior Ministry makes the vague claim he was detained because he was ‘uncooperative’ during questioning:
An official report on the questioning, which Maan said it had received from the court, accused Mr Malsin of failing to arrange the correct visa, but did not give details.
It said he was suspected of “exploiting the fact that he is Jewish to gain a visa”. This was apparently on the basis that, when seeking a visa extension previously, he had told Interior Ministry officials he was exploring the option of emigrating to Israel, but had written articles critical of the country. By law Jews from around the world are eligible to emigrate to Israel.
The report also said Mr Malsin had refused to give the name of the friend he said he lived with in the West Bank.
This might have made Israeli officials even angrier:
…Mr Malsin, a graduate of Yale University, had initially come to Israel on the Birthright programme, which funds visits to Israel for young Jewish Americans.
Mr Malsin had never overstayed a visa, except for his most recent one, which was a few days overdue and that he had been told by officials this did not matter, Mr Hale said.
Whoa, biting the hand that feeds, Mr. Malsin. You’re only allowed to come on a Birthright tour if you expect to make aliyah or return to the States to make Jewish-Zionist babies. It’s simply bad form to take the free trip AND exploit the Law of Return in order to write nasty articles about Israel. If he had only gone to work for Israel HaYom, he would’ve been welcomed with a ticker tape parade and given the keys to the kingdom or a settlement or two.
Maan even reports that some Israeli officials have expressed concern and opposition to the violation of press freedoms.
Several major press freedom NGOs have expressed support for Malsin:
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors freedom of the press worldwide, urged Israel to refrain from taking punitive action against reporters over specific content in their work. “Israel cannot hide behind the pretext of security to sideline journalists who have done nothing more than maintain an editorial line that the authorities dislike,” the organization said.
The 2009 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index ranks Israel 93rd (out of 175) behind other Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates. Press freedom in the Israeli Occupied Territories is ranked 150th. Now we see a perfect example of why.
Malsin’s girlfriend, a Lutheran peace activist, has already been deported by Israel. She, alas, was not a journalist and had no protections from Israel’s wrath. And Israel didn’t even have to explain what sort of security risk she posed as a Christian adherent of non-violence.
H/t to Rupa Shah.