Israeli officials apologized to a trio of Turkish journalists Wednesday after the group complained of being subjected to humiliating treatment by Israeli security personnel at a conference in Tel Aviv this week.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara issued an apology to the group, hailing the importance of recently re-established ties between Jerusalem and Ankara, and an Israeli diplomat in Istanbul also issued an apology over the incident, officials said.
The three journalists were invited by the Israeli embassy in Istanbul to attend the annual cybersecurity conference held at Tel Aviv University, as special guests of the Foreign Ministry.
But when they arrived at Cyber Week in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Daily Sabah editor Şeyma Eraz said she and Fox Turkey reporters Emre İzkübarlas and Kenan Özcan were pulled from the group of other journalists and made to go through a separate security check.
Eraz told the paper that Israeli security officials demanded she remove her headscarf during the security check, while her two male colleagues were taken into a separate room and asked to remove their pants.
She said the security officials also broke some camera equipment while searching their belongings.
“I have been to many countries, attending many meetings attended by prime ministers and presidents, but I have never been humiliated like this [in] my entire life,” Eraz said of the incident.
“I asked him [the security director] how do they decide to check people in detail, and how possibly can they ask a man to take his pants off, and he simply responded by saying that he cannot share the details of their security policy with me.”
Israel consul general in Istanbul Shai Cohen “apologized to the journalists for the feeling of humiliation while explaining Israel’s special security requirements,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told the Times of Israel Thursday.
According to the Daily Sabah, Ron Gerstenfeld from the foreign ministry and an official from the Prime Minister’s Office apologized to the three.
“I told him that we are only journalists, not terrorists and that we cannot stand being humiliated in such a degrading manner,” Eraz said she told Gerstenfeld.
Kara, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, hosted Eraz, İzkübarlas and Özcan at his office in the Knesset where he apologized for the incident and highlighted the importance of Israel’s warming ties with Turkey.
“Relations with Turkey are only getting better and closer, and they are important to the government of Israel, the State of Israel and the Israeli economy,” Kara told the journalists according to a video he posted on his Facebook page. “It’s important that these ties don’t suffer, and I hope that cases like the one that this delegation of journalists from Turkey described to me will not happen again.”
In his post, Kara went on to say that his “positive meeting” with the three journalists “prevented an unnecessary diplomatic incident between Israel and Turkey.”
Nahshon told The Times of Israel that Kara did not coordinate his statement with the Foreign Ministry.
After exchanging ambassadors in December as part of a reconciliation agreement signed last July, Israel and Turkey have sought to improve cooperation which reached a nadir following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
Relations between the former allies were nearly severed in 2010 following an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish flotilla trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several soldiers wounded.
Last week, Turkey’s Finance Minister Naci Agbal said that Israel paid out $20 million to the families of the victims of the flotilla raid, one of Ankara’s conditions for rapprochement with the Jewish State.
Israel has been criticized in the past for strip-searches of Arab and Muslim journalists. Earlier this month, Israel’s Channel 2 complained after a photographer from a village straddling the Israel-Lebanon border was detained by security while trying to cover a visit to a hospital in Safed by Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.