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Bennett meet with EU chief marred by dispute over security check for Arab reporters

Reports say European president Ursula von der Leyen threatened to boycott meeting unless issue was resolved; PM’s office says journalists refused normal security screening

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greets visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at his office in Jerusalem on June 14, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greets visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at his office in Jerusalem on June 14, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting Tuesday with visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was marred by a dispute over the treatment of journalists in her entourage that threatened to derail the talks, Hebrew media reported.

According to the Ynet news site, four journalists of Arab origin refused to undergo what they said were “excessive” security checks before entering the Prime Minister’s Office.

Von der Leyen reportedly warned at one stage that the meeting would be called off unless the issue was resolved. The journalists ultimately refused to undergo the checks and left in anger without covering the meeting, Ynet said.

Von der Leyen’s team told PMO officials that they viewed this as a “grave incident” and that the EU would be taking up the issue further, the report said.

The report did not specify the excessive security checks, but the PMO has in the past been criticized by press groups for racially profiling Arab journalists, with several instances of reporters being strip-searched or ordered to remove bras.

The PMO dismissed the incident, saying the reporters refused to undergo normal security screening.

“Several of the accompanying journalists refused to undergo the normal checks as is accepted and demanded by security officials at the office and as such, they were not allowed to enter,” the PMO said.

“The issue was explained to the delegation of the commissioner and accepted with understanding. The visit went ahead as scheduled and the issue was not raised during the talks.”

There was no official comment on the incident from the EU delegation.

Following the meeting, Bennett hailed improving ties between the EU and Israel, saying they were on “a strong trajectory.”

According to a statement from Bennett’s office the sides “discussed strengthening bilateral relations between Israel and Europe” and agreed to enhance cooperation in “innovation, dealing with climate change and sustainability.”

“Prime Minister Bennett acceded to EU Commission President von der Leyen’s request for cooperation in exporting natural gas to Europe via Egypt,” the statement said.

Bennett also raised the Iran issue with von der Leyen and “emphasized his call for the international community to take a hard line against the regime and its accelerated progress toward developing nuclear weapons.”

Earlier in the day, von der Leyen met Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah, saying Some EU aid to the PA will resume after being held up for over two years.

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