Israel threatens to toss Antony Loewenstein after he asked Lapid question about apartheid

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….

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.