Israel refuses to extend visa of critical Dutch journalist
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Israel refuses to extend visa of critical Dutch journalist

Government Press Office says it denied work permit to Derk Walters due to invalid accreditation, not because of unfriendly reporting

Screen capture from video of Derk Walters, a Dutch reporter for the NRC Handelsblad daily newspaper. (YouTube/NRC)
Screen capture from video of Derk Walters, a Dutch reporter for the NRC Handelsblad daily newspaper. (YouTube/NRC)

Citing an administrative technicality, Israeli authorities refused to extend the work visa of the Jerusalem-based reporter of a Dutch daily that is highly critical of the Jewish state.

Derk Walters, who has been the main correspondent of the NRC Handelsblad daily in Israel and the Palestinian Authorities since 2014, has exhausted the procedure to have his visa extended and must leave the country in July, the daily reported Tuesday.

In explaining the refusal, Israel’s Government Press Office told NRC that it had learned that NRC’s editor-in-chief is also its managing director. This claim, which NRC denies, means that NRC does not meet the Government Press Office’s rules for accreditation, Nitzan Chen, the Government Press Office wrote to NRC in September.

In an article penned by Peter Vandermeersch, editor-in-chief of the daily, and published Tuesday, he claimed the Government Press Office made up a bureaucratic issue to silence Walters’ critical reporting on the Israeli government and security forces.

The refusal to extend a work visa to Walters is “an attempt by Israel to prevent free and critical coverage over that country,” Vandermeersch wrote. He added that Herman Loonstein, a Jewish and pro-Israel lawyer from Amsterdam, wrote to the Government Press Office, informing them that Vandermeersch is acting as “both Editor in Chief and Director General” — a prohibited arrangement for a news media organization operating in Israel.

NRC denied the claim and reported that in fact Vandermeersch is a member of the board and that “this is not unusual at a media organization.”

Members of the foreign press decried the banning of a colleague with messages posted on social media.

The GPO told JTA it is an “absolute lie” that Walters was refused a visa due to his anti-Israel reporting — saying recommendations for work visas and press cards are never based on on journalistic content. Referring to the question of NRC’s validity for accreditation, the GPO said that NRC refused to comply with a request for clarification on “a substantial deviation from the facts and from universal journalist ethics.”

After allowing Walters to illegally work without a visa for months and then granting him a three-month extension, the GPO said, it informed the newspaper that no further extensions would be granted.

“The State of Israel in general and the Government Press Office in particular champion freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The GPO does everything in its power to accommodate the media in Israel in all respects,” the GPO said in a statement.

The GPO said Walters’ visa was not renewed because of his intentional violation of the legal requirement that he have a visa. It said the NRC was given time “to send a replacing journalist which will receive permits by law.”

“Mr. Derk Walters has violated Israeli law by working without a permit for months,” the statement asserted. “According to NRC’s position, he did so with intent and not as negligence.”

Asked by phone if Walters would be eligible to practice journalism in Israel in the future, a GPO spokeswoman said she did not know.

NRC and Walters especially have been the subject of many complaints by pro-Israel groups and, according to the daily, also by the Government Press Office.

In January, the paper refused to correct an assertion in one of Walters’ articles that stated that in 1948 “almost all the Arabs were driven out of Haifa.” Jewish fighters fired several mortar rounds into crowded areas in the port city in April 1948 amid fighting between Arab and Jewish militias for control of it. However, then-mayor Shabtai Levi asked local Arabs not to leave, vowing to keep them safe.

Walters and his paper also have refused to correct an inaccurate quote attributed to David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel. RC quoted Friedman as saying that “liberal Jews are worse than Nazi collaborators.” In reality he wrote that “J Street supporters” are “far worse than kapos.”

David Friedman is sworn-in as the US ambassador to Israel during a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, on March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.(AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
David Friedman is sworn in as the US ambassador to Israel during a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, on March 29, 2017, in Washington, DC.(AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

J Street is a dovish Jewish American group. Kapos were Jews forced by the Nazis to control other Jews in camps and ghettos.

In 2016, an article by Walters about Hebron said Israeli soldiers “shot dead five Palestinians” in the city without mentioning the Israeli army’s claims that the Palestinians in question were shot while trying to stab Israelis. NRC has refused requests for a correction.

In 2011, one of NRC Handelsblad’s veteran editors, Hans Mol, who had worked in the paper for 23 years before retiring, published a book titled “How Nuance Disappeared From A Quality Paper: NRC Handelbald Takes Up an Anti-Israeli Position.” In it, he accused NRC of pursuing an editorial line on Israel that “does not live up to basic journalistic standards.”

Rejecting calls to rethink its coverage of Israel following the book’s publication, NRC Handelsblad representatives dismissed the book as coming from a disgruntled former employee.

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