Outrage after Netanyahu security bars journalist from Prince William event

Foreign Press Association demands apology as producer forced to miss press conference following questions about his ethnicity

Britain's Prince William meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 26, 2018 in Jerusalem. (AFP/ POOL/ Thomas COEX)
Britain's Prince William meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 26, 2018 in Jerusalem. (AFP/ POOL/ Thomas COEX)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office prevented a foreign journalist from covering the premier’s meeting in Jerusalem with the visiting British Prince William Tuesday.

Nebi Qena, the AP’s chief television producer for Israel and the Palestinian territories, was held at the entrance to the residence for 45 minutes, forcing him to miss the event, while other journalists were allowed to enter.

Netanyahu’s office later apologized, citing “human error.”

Qena is an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo and an Albanian citizen. He has been with the AP for 10 years, including three based in Jerusalem.

He said he was repeatedly questioned by security guards about his “ethnic origin.” AP colleagues, on the scene and in the Jerusalem bureau, were asked by Netanyahu aides about Qena’s religion and whether he was a Muslim as they tried to secure him entrance.

Qena had registered for the event ahead of time and been assured he would be allowed to enter. The AP was serving as the video press pool for international media.

“The Associated Press decries this blatant ethnic and religious profiling of an AP journalist and calls on the prime minister’s office to cease such biased practices immediately,” said Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories for international news organizations, called the incident  “disgraceful” and a “blatant case of ethnic profiling.”

Illustrative: Reporters and photographers during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in 2011. (photo credit: Mark Israel Sellem/Flash90)

“We call on the prime minister’s office to apologize immediately, and urge the Duke of Cambridge’s office to speak out against this offensive behavior, which has marred a historic visit,” the FPA said. “Enough is enough.”

The AP’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Josef Federman, is the chairman of the FPA.

The security department in Netanyahu’s office issued a statement regretting “distress or discomfort.”

“This incident was caused by human error and will be investigated and the necessary changes will be made immediately,” it said.

William’s office referred queries to the UK Embassy, which had no immediate comment.

The incident is the latest case of journalists covering the prime minister complaining of overly invasive security procedures.

In January, an Israeli journalist said he underwent a “humiliating” security check at the Prime Minister’s Office, with security demanding that he remove his pants in order to cover the weekly cabinet meeting.

Yanir Kozin, diplomatic correspondent for Maariv, charged at the time that the demand was in retaliation for his criticism of the PMO’s treatment of journalists a week earlier during the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence.

In that incident, 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.

Female reporters covering Mike Pence’s visit to the Western Wall on January 23, 2018. Tal Schneider is at left. (Michael Lipin/Twitter, via JTA)

The Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed by authorities to 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.

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.

Atef Safadi (Facebook)

In May 2016, Atef Safadi, the chief photographer for the European Press Agency, said security guards demanded he take his pants off for inspection when he arrived to cover a meeting between the prime minister and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as a pool photographer. Safadi refused and left the press conference.

In January 2011, the FPA threatened to boycott press conferences held by Netanyahu after an Al Jazeera news crew was subjected to a lengthy security check not demanded of other journalists.

Najwan Simri Diab was asked to strip and remove her bra, and Shirin Abu Aqla was reportedly held for an hour and then rejected, Haaretz reported at the time.

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