An Israeli journalist on Sunday said he underwent a “humiliating” security check at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, claiming the extensive security measures and the demand that he be strip-searched were in retaliation for his criticism of the treatment of journalists by the prime minister’s staff.
Maariv’s diplomatic correspondent Yanir Cozin said he was asked to cover the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, when he was flagged for additional security.
In a series of Facebook posts, Cozin — a journalist accredited with Israel’s Government Press Office, and a regular at the Prime Minister’s Office — said he initially agreed to an extensive body search.
But when he was asked to remove his pants, Cozin refused and was subsequently barred from covering the weekly cabinet meeting.
“The humiliation of journalists at the Prime Minister’s Office continues,” he tweeted Sunday morning. “Journalists who come to do their job — especially those who are there every single week — must be allowed to do their job.”
In a series of tweets, Cozin explained that last week he heavily criticized the Prime Minister’s Office for its treatment of foreign journalists during the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence.
Though Cozin said it was impossible to know for sure if the critical remarks he made to Army Radio about the gender segregation of reporters at the Western Wall and about the PMO’s demand that a Palestinian-Finnish journalist be strip-searched were the reason for his own experience, he noted he had never had an issue with security before.
“I come every week to cover the cabinet meeting, but the only thing I can do is exercise my own judgment in this case,” he told the Walla news site.
In response, Israel’s Diplomatic Press Corps said it “would not accept the humiliating invasive security checks of journalists who possess a GPO card and are there to do their job.”
The complaint by the corps’ president, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Itamar Eichner, said a message is being sent to journalists that “they are not welcome in the PMO.”
“How is this message consistent with the prime minister’s public position that Israel, unlike other countries in the region, enjoys press freedom?” the letter said.
Last week, female journalists covering Pence’s visit to the Western Wall criticized what they called discrimination after being forced to stand behind men, and behind a barrier, under rules enforced by Jewish ultra-Orthodox authorities.
The Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, is governed by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish establishment and women and men have separate visiting areas there.
The rule was applied to journalists gathering to cover Pence’s visit, effectively forcing women to stand behind men, leaving them with worse access.
After the ordeal, Tal Schneider, a journalist with the Globes financial daily, said she intended to personally sue the Western Wall rabbi for gender discrimination.
Pence’s visit also saw a Finnish-Palestinian journalist barred from covering an event at Netanyahu’s office after she refused to be strip-searched. The woman, who was born and raised in Finland, believes she was singled out because her father is Palestinian.
The Foreign Press Association accused Israel of ethnic profiling and called the practice of strip-searching journalists a “mark of shame” aimed at intimidating reporters.