Early July NRC-correspondent Derk Walters will have to leave Israel. The visa Walters was promised late March will not be extended by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO). This was confirmed to NRC, one of the main quality newspapers in the Netherlands, by the government service that coordinates the press and works under the responsibility of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli decision was announced Tuesday afternoon by Peter Vandermeersch, the Editor in Chief of the newspaper. „There is no other way but to see the decision as an attempt by Israel to obstruct free and critical news gathering about the country”, he writes in NRC. Israel seems to increase the pressure on critical foreign voices.
A few months ago representatives of Human Rights Watch were refused a work permit.
NRC and Walters have been under heightened surveillance by Israeli dignitaries for a longer period. Early 2016 the Director of the Foreign Press Department told Walters that the „Israeli embassy has been worried about the way NRC covers Israel for years”. He stated that in one of his newspaper articles Walters „legitimizes the stabbing of innocent jews by Palestinians” and he accused the correspondent of „activism”.
This was followed by other „harassments”, according to the editorial staff of NRC.
Last December the GPO stated that NRC did not meet the standards of a media organization, because the government service claimed to know that the Editor in Chief was also the general director of the media company. Therefore the office would not extend Walters’ visa.
Dutch Lawyer Herman Loonstein had informed the GPO the previous month about the supposed dual function of Vandermeersch. The claim is incorrect: Vandermeersch is a member of the board, but not a general director of the media company. This is not unusual at a media organization.
„In view of what Derk Walters writes and how he behaves, I thought it was important for the authorities in Israel to know what the situation is”, Loonstein now says about his letter. „Vandermeersch is lucky to get off this lightly”, he says about the incorrect accusation. „As a member of the board Vandermeersch has a position that comes with more liberties than he would have as a general director.”
In February the suspicion that these were all harassments, was confirmed. In an internal memo that was accidentally included in one of the GPO’s e-mails, director Ron Paz wrote to his boss Nitzan Chen: „We are going to make them sweat, we will leave all options on the table, including a complete change of our decision, and we will give the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also a say. What do you think?”
The memo continues: „By the way: I am going to give him a hard time over his address in Tel Aviv, because I know he moved to East Jeruzalem - he posted that on his Facebook page.”
At the end of March it turned out that the authorities did recognize NRC as a media organization. But that did not result in the extension of the visa. This time the reason was that the correspondent had not accepted the offer for an extension of the visa for only three months. But the reason he had not done that at the time is because the Israeli government had not recognized NRC as a media organization.
Despite a renewed protest by the editorial staff the GPO stuck to its decision not to extend the visa. According to the GPO a successor will be able to obtain a visa. On Tuesday the GPO did not respond to a request for a comment.
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders stated in a response: „I regret the fact that the visa of correspondent Derk Walters will not be extended in Israel. The ministry of Foreign Affairs has addressed this matter with the Israeli authorities repeatedly. Journalists have to be able to write what they want. Freedom of press is great good. We advocate this all over the world, also to Israel.”