Danny Seaman, who for ten years has been acting director of the Israeli Government Press Office, is being forced out of his job. It is his responsibility to issue and oversee foreign reporters’ credentials and he wields his power like a cugdel. His capriciousness is legend. He himself concedes that he has denied credentials to over 60 individuals during his tenure. You can be sure that they fell into disfavor either because of Seaman’s disagreement with views expressed by the reporter or even for personal reasons having nothing to do with journalism. He’s notorious for harassing Palestinian journalists working for foreign news organizations.
Seaman is ‘famed’ for the missive he sent to foreign journalists seeking to cover the Gaza flotilla story from within Gaza, recommending that they eat at Roots, a so-called Gaza resort, known as a hangout for those foreigners who can afford its high prices. The purpose of the exercise was to point out to these journalists that there supposedly was no hunger and no humanitarian crisis worth reporting there.
Tellingly, and the reason I call him Israel’s answer to J. Edgar Hoover, is that despite the fact that he is leaving his post, only one journalist is willing to talk publicly about him at all. The rest are too cowed by his power (Hebrew) to cross swords with him. There is a civil service procedure being implemented to fill the job permanently. Seaman is applying for the job but most believe he will not get it since he has alienated so many journalists. But that still prevents them from braving his wrath.
Of course, one would hope that someone with more professional standards would take up the new position. But there’s no guarantee of that happening because the Israeli government essentially views the foreign media with deep suspicion, if not outright disdain. So why would it appoint a fair individual to fill the post? It may be possible that with the Cast Lead massacre and Mavi Marmara fiasco that Israel is becoming a tad smarter and recognizes the need not to deliberately alienate the foreign press as was Seaman’s wont. One can always hope.
So much for freedom of the press in the Only Democracy in the Middle East™.