More free speech in Israeli and Palestinian than US media
By Ray Hanania
Published in the Jerusalem Post Jan. 20, 2010
The United States may be the world's most powerful nation, but I think Americans might be afraid of Israel. I know many of the politicians are.
Take the recent case of Jared Malsin, a Jew with US citizenship who covers the Palestinian territories from Bethlehem at the Palestinian news agency, Maan. Malsin took a trip to Prague last week and upon his return, was arrested and taken into custody by Israeli authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport. He was deported to New York yesterday.
During his interrogation and week-long detention, Israeli police took time to look him up on the Internet and read through his writings, which were largely critical of Israel. It's a fascinating story whenever a journalist is detained and jailed by any government. But did anyone in the US care or come to his defense?
Why would they, you might ask?
Well, last year, freelance American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested by Iranian officials and charged with espionage. There wasn't one politician, candidate or elected official in the US who didn't come to her defense and demand her release.
Months later in March, two Asian-American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested and charged with espionage by the North Korean government. The response from the US was powerful and loud. Everyone, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issued statements denouncing the arrests and demanding the release of the journalists.
SO WHY the near-total silence from American leaders and muted coverage in the American press now over the arrest and detention of Malsin?In both cases, the mainstream American news media reported on their status almost daily, sometimes as their lead stories.
It is a testament to the confidence of Israel's media that they, more than anyone else, have written and followed the Malsin story. In fact, if it wasn't for the Israeli media and the Maan News Agency, few others would be covering the story.
The Palestinian press is much like any media, including Israel's. Some, like the Maan News Agency, are professional journalists. Others, who I will leave unnamed, are not. The issue isn't Malsin's arrest as a journalist by a government, but rather that issues like these are frequently turned into political tools to bash Israel.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli government was wrong in detaining Malsin, keeping him in custody for a week and then deporting him. His rights were seriously restricted.
Malsin is the victim of bad government policy. His arrest undermines principles of freedom and justice Israel claims it represents, though most Israeli media uphold journalistic principles by reporting on the incident.
It's the American mainstream media and its government officials who disappoint me the most, however. While the Israeli media sees this as a story about a government agency violating free speech, the American media and the elected officials in the US view it as a reason to bash Israel.
In a way, that puts the mainstream American press and American politicians in the same boat with those Palestinian and Arab media which see the issue not as one of principle but as an opportunity to attack Israel.
Malsin's arrest and deportation is not about whether Israel is a good or bad country. It's not about whether or not the Israeli government is fair or unjust when it comes to Palestinian rights. It is, though, about a government agency that has violated a journalist's rights and in so doing, compromised Israel's image as a free nation.
One of Malsin's colleagues told me that while there are restrictions that keep most Israeli journalists from entering and covering the West Bank, and most Palestinian journalists from entering and covering Israel, for the most part, Malsin was allowed to travel almost everywhere to get his story, until this incident.
You may not agree with his views, or maybe you do. That isn't nor should it be the issue.
But there is one thing for sure. Most of the Israeli and Palestinian media did a better job of covering his case than the mainstream news media in America, the country that claims to set the bar for the rest of the world when it comes to free speech.
Have the mainstream American media and American officials failed in doing their jobs, or are they just afraid to get on Israel's bad side?
Whatever the reason, many in the Israeli and Palestinian press are keeping the story on the front burner in a way that helps guarantee that Malsin's journalistic rights will eventually be protected, while putting the "free media" in America to shame.
The writer is a Palestinian American columnist, Chicago radio talk show host and coordinator of the National Arab American Journalists Association.