LA Times Amends Israel ‘Refusing Entry’ Editorial: HRW’s Omar Shakir Has 1-Year Visa

CAMERA’s Israel office has prompted an important Los Angeles Times clarification which belies the extremely misleading print headline for the July 9 editorial (“No entry for Israel’s critics,” page 15).  (Online the headline is “Israel should stop trying to wall out its critics.”)
The editorial featured what the writers described as a “noxious law passed by the Knesset in March – requiring border authorities to refuse entry also to people who have publicly supported a boycott of the country. These visitors would be turned away not because they are suspected of a crime or pose a security risk, but because they have expressed an opinion in favor of a nonviolent protest movement that is unpopular to the country.”
The Los Angeles Times writers slammed the law as “an attack on the freedom of expression and on political dissent,” and argued:

Refusing entry to the country’s critics isn’t unprecedented; Israel has turned away travelers for political reasons in the past, including denying a visa earlier this year to a researcher from Human Rights Watch. It has also restricted the foreign travel of Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement. 

The editorial concealed from readers that Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir entered Israel this spring on a one-year work visa after initially having been denied a visa. Haaretz reported that after the initial refusal, Shakir received a tourist visa which he used to enter the country:

A Human Rights Watch researcher to whom Israel initially denied a visa on the Foreign Ministry’s recommendation was finally allowed into the country on Monday.

To his surprise, Omar Shakir was even met at Ben-Gurion Airport by a Foreign Ministry representative, who rushed him through customs and border control. He was not questioned nor detained at the airport.

Moreover, in April, Shakir received a one-year work permit, and he uses his perch in Israel to routinely churn out criticism of Israel on a daily basis. If the Jewish state is implementing a policy of “no entry for Israel’s critics,” as the editorial headline claims, it certainly is doing a lousy job at it, as evidenced by the admittance of Shakir, who represents a well-funded massive global organization known for its criticism of Israel.

CAMERA contacted The Times, pointing out that the distorted characterization of Shakir’s case grossly misinforms readers. In response, editors commendably updated the digital version of the article, parenthetically adding the key information that the decision to reject Shakir’s visa application “was reversed two months later and he was granted a year-long work visa in April”).

In addition, editors appended a note to the bottom of the article notifying readers of the added information that Shakir had received a one-year work visa. (While the note refers to an “update” of the article, the additional information fits the bill of a clarification. Omar Shakir’s one-year visa was not a new development that occurred after publication; it preceded the editorial by several months.)

As of this writing, The Times’ print edition has yet to clarify.
While CAMERA applauds the digital clarification, we note that the grossly misleading headline (“No entry for Israel’s critics”) remains on the record unchanged. While the editorial itself clarifies that Israel isn’t denying all critics entry, what about the many people who only read the headline?
As for BDS activist Omar Barghouti, it’s unclear how his case supports the editorial’s claim that “refusing entry to the country’s critics isn’t unprecedented.” Barghouti wasn’t refused entry. Rather, his permit to travel abroad is being withheld. As a non-citizen permanent resident of Israel, Israeli authorities are investigating whether his center of life is actually in Israel or Ramallah. (Before that, there was also the small issue of the investigation for tax evasion for some $175,000, but even so, he was able to leave the country to get an award at Yale University.)
Finally, the editorial argues that the new Israeli law enabling the refusal of entry to those who publicly call for a boycott of Israel is a “step backward for a country that routinely boasts of its robust democracy and presents itself up as a bastion of freedom in an unfree part of the world.” Likewise, it warns against a “backslide” for Israel, which has “built a strong democracy marked by vigorous debate and a tolerance of alternative points of view.” But do restrictions on the entrance of foreigners into any country impinge on that country’s democracy?
As letter-writer Charles Taubman observed (July 12): “when did Israel, or any other country for that matter, become obligated to grant equal rights and privileges to nonresidents? The United States does not; why should Israel?”
It is perfectly legitimate for a U.S. paper to oppose Israeli or equivalent American laws restricting entrance of foreigners. But it is misleading of The Times to slam the new Israeli law as a purported attack on democracy without giving American readers the greater understanding that such restrictions are the law of the land at home as well.

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