You’re an accomplished international journalist based in Jerusalem, abortion one of the most prestigious assignments in the global media industry.
The country’s prime minister, hemorrhoids Benjamin Netanyahu, invites you to a private cocktail party, an annual gala event he hosts for international journalists.
What happens when you get there?
Apparently, that depends…
If you’re Arab, have an Arab name or are even talking to someone who has an Arab name, you will be taken aside, questioned at length, sent through a security screening multiple times and strip searched.
If you are none of the above, welcome to the party.
Such was the vibe on January 11, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security detail strip searched a number of high profile foreign journalists as they tried to enter an invitation-only cocktail party somewhat akin to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The purpose of the event? To reach out to journalists.
Several journalists were forced to take off all their cloths, including their underwear, for as long as 20 minutes while Netanyahu’s security personnel checked their documents.
“I am not against a search and a security check, but I am against invasive humiliation,” said Najwan Simri Diab, a pregnant Al Jazeera journalist and producer who was asked to take off all her cloths and remove her bra along with other Arab female journalists. Najwan told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that she and her colleagues were clearly singled out because they were Arab, and Al Jazeera has filed a formal complaint with the Israeli government.
All those singled out for ‘extra screening’ were international journalists of Palestinian or Arab descent, with the exception of Charles Levinson, the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Israel, and Menahem Kahana, a veteran Israeli photographer who works for AFP.
However, based on accounts from a number of witnesses, Change.org can report that both men entered the security check while talking to Palestinian or Arab journalists also waiting in line. Their supposed association with Arab journalists, the witnesses said, was the reason they were singled out.
“When I got to the front of the security line, I was talking with a Palestinian journalist, so they thought we were together,” Menahem Kahana told Change.org. “The security checks are always harsh when the prime minister is involved, but they are often ultra harsh to 10 or so more who have Arab names or relations.“
“It’s not ok what they did,” he continued. “You can’t come to a cocktail party which the prime minister’s office invited you to and then get aggressively frisked and strip searched.”
“It’s the exact opposite of what they should be doing to reach out to the Arab world,” Kahana said. “They should be treating the Arab journalists better than everyone.”
Another senior foreign journalist, who witnessed the incidents but asked not to be identified, agreed with Kahana.
“There is undeniably a pattern of singling out people with any Arab background or connections,” they told Change.org. “They ask questions and say ‘Oh that’s an interesting name, what kind of name is that? Oh it’s an Arab name, ok then come with me.’”
All journalists at Tuesday’s event, including those who were strip searched, are accredited by the Israeli government, have already undergone background checks, and were registered for the event days beforehand.
“The fact is that we’re all accredited with the Government Press Office so they can do any background checks they like ahead of time,” the foreign journalist continued. “To spend 45 minutes sending each shoe through the scanner six times, to ask these women to take their bras off, to ask men to take their pants off, it’s insane.”
“This is the usual self defeating behaviour of the Israeli government,” they said. “Maybe they think all foreign journalists are antisemitic communists, but even if that were true, to have high profile journalists invited to a party get strip searched is just preposterous and not in Israel’s interests.”
The Foreign Press Association, which represents international journalists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, expressed “outrage” over the incident.
“It is incomprehensible that anyone would think such humiliating treatment is necessary at such an event,” read a statement by the press associations board. “While we appreciate the need for security, it is not remotely acceptable to invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them undress at the door.”
The group threatened to boycott future Netanyahu events should they not receive a response.
“For a government trying to usher in a new era of relations with the foreign media, it is a peculiar way to start,” the group’s board said. “We ask for assurances that this will not happen again or we will respectfully decline further invitations.”
As someone who has attended this annual gala and many other press events with the Israeli prime minister, I can attest to the fact that all journalists who are going to be anywhere near him always go through an extensive security screening far beyond your average airport screening, includes metal detectors, xray machines, background checks, a short interview and individualized checks of all equipment.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s staff taking steps to protect him. But what happened here is just wrong. Please sign the petition below calling on Netanyahu himself to take responsibility for it and apologize.
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Photo: Jessica Fatheree