Never thought I would say this, but Benjamin Netanyahu just saved me from banging my head against the wall in desperate frustration.
This morning brought news that Israel’s Government Press Office had warned media outlets that any foreign correspondent found aboard the flotilla about to set sail for Gaza would be “denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years” as well as “the impoundment of their equipment” and “additional sanctions.” Attempting to write about the harsh measure with a degree of dispassionate objectivity, Ethan Bronner at the New York Times could barely contain his own anger — his article seemed to almost burst at the seams.
A few hours later though Netanyahu overruled his own press team and put out a statement saying that journalists would be exempt from “the usual policy applied to infiltrators and those who enter illegally” — a decision greeted by the Foreign Press Association. He also said that reporters would be invited along on the Israeli navy ships set to intercept the “Freedom Flotilla,” in order, Netanyahu said, to ensure “transparency and accurate coverage.”
I say this not because my sympathies are with the activists on the flotilla, but rather because there is such a thing as common sense and learning from history. How is that Israel’s PR minders fail to see that they only bring harm to their cause with these kind of aggressive steps directed at keeping the press from reporting. Because rather than act as a chilling force on coverage — presumably, this is the reasoning behind such a move — they always draw even more attention. The attempt to shut down a story becomes itself a story. And it all snowballs out of hand. Let’s call it the “protest too much” effect. Any reporter would naturally pay closer scrutiny to an event they are being forbidden from covering. That’s the common sense part. In the end, Israel just looks like it’s trying to hide something.
Think of the refusal to allow reporters in to cover the Gaza war two and a half years ago (a decision that was judged by the Israeli Supreme Court to be improper). Remember also the fateful choice to not participate in Judge Richard Goldstone’s UN investigation – that really served Israel’s interests, huh?
Let’s just hope that the prime minister’s smart decision indicates a learning curve taking place: If the hasbara gurus really want to keep international reporters from unfairly maligning Israel, maybe start by not alienating them.
Gal Beckerman is the Forward’s Opinion Editor. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Contact Gal Beckerman at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @galbeckerman