On December 12, 2016, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party and a former finance minister, was the guest speaker at the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
In attendance at this event was the Australian author and freelance reporter Antony Loewenstein, now based in Jerusalem.
At the conclusion of Lapid’s address, Loewenstein asked the following question:
“You talked before about the idea that since Oslo, Israel has done little or nothing wrong but the truth is that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the occupation, there are now 600,000 to 800,000 settlers, all of whom are regarded by international law as illegal. Is there not a deluded idea here that many Israeli politicians, including yourself, continue to believe that one can talk to the world about democracy, freedom and human rights while denying those things to millions of Palestinians and will there not come a time soon where you and other politicians will be treated like South African politicians during Apartheid?”1
In response Lapid attempted to denigrate the question by saying it reflected the so-called “post-truth post facts era” and that the question comprised “presumptions, not facts”. Lapid also added falsely that it was the Palestinians who had refused to negotiate a two state solution and that “Israel is not an apartheid country, Israel is a law-abiding democracy”.
Following this exchange which had gained some prominence in the media, a pro-Israel site called Honest Reporting, began criticising Loewenstein for being a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and for speaking in favour of BDS at a rally in Sydney in 2014.
The Jerusalem Post subsequently reported that the Director of the Government Press Office (GPO) was “leaning against renewing the press card of Antony Loewenstein” due to his “suspected BDS activity” and that he had not given enough information to GPO staff. Apparently if his press card is not renewed in March 2017 when it expires, Loewenstein will be banished from the country.
In a post published on December 19, 2016, Loewenstein said that his freelance credentials were examined and accepted by the Israeli Press Office in March 2016 and that he is not formally associated with any media. He emphasised that when he obtained a GPO press card, he had fully satisfied the GPO’s criteria.
When asked whether he regretted asking the question at Yair Lapid’s press conference that generated the backlash, Loewenstein said “I don’t regret asking the question, but I am disappointed with the response. It is deeply revealing about present-day Israel that increasingly discourages dissent … Real democracies don’t just tolerate dissent, they encourage it.”
Apart from gaining the support of the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union, Loewenstein has also gained the support of the London-based The Centre for Investigative Journalism (TCIJ).
In a statement issued on December 24, 2016, TCIJ expressed its concern with media reports from Israel that Loewenstein’s work visa and freelance press credentials will not be renewed when they expire in March 2017.
TCIJ noted: “This is a free speech issue and we remind the Israeli government and its supporters that free speech is a cornerstone of any democracy; threatening to remove it is a slippery slope towards authoritarianism.”2
1. Antony Loewenstein, ‘Senior Israeli politician doesn’t like question about occupation, spits dummy’, author’s blog, Dec 13, 2016.
2. The Centre for Investigative Journalism, ‘Israeli Expulsion Threats Prompt Free Speech Concern’, Dec 22, 2016.