Israel refuses to extend visa of critical Dutch journalist

JTA

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Citing an administrative technicality, Israeli authorities refused to extend the work visa of the Jerusalem-based reporter of a Dutch daily that is highly critical of the Jewish state.

Derk Walters, who has been the main correspondent of the NRC Handelsblad daily in Israel and the Palestinian Authorities since 2014, has exhausted the procedure to have his visa extended and must leave the country in July, the daily reported Tuesday.

In explaining the refusal, Israel’s Government Press Office told NRC that it had learned that NRC’s editor-in-chief is also its managing director. This claim, which NRC denies, means that NRC does not meet the Government Press Office’s rules for accreditation, Nitzan Chen, the Government Press Office wrote to NRC in September.

In an article penned by Peter Vandermeersch, editor-in-chief of the daily, and published Tuesday, he claimed the Government Press Office made up a bureaucratic issue to silence Walters’ critical reporting on the Israeli government and security forces.

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The refusal to extend a work visa to Walters is “an attempt by Israel to prevent free and critical coverage over that country,” Vandermeersch wrote. He added that Herman Loonstein, a Jewish and pro-Israel lawyer from Amsterdam, wrote to the Government Press Office, informing them that Vandermeersch is acting as “both Editor in Chief and Director General.”

NRC and Walters especially have been the subject of many complaints by pro-Israel groups and, according to the daily, also by the Government Press Office.

In January, the paper refused to correct an assertion in one of Walters’ articles that stated that in 1948 “almost all the Arabs were driven out of Haifa.” Jewish fighters fired several mortar rounds into crowded areas in the port city in April 1948 amid fighting between Arab and Jewish militias for control of it. However, then mayor Shabtai Levi asked local Arabs not to leave, vowing to keep them safe.

Walters and his paper also have refused to correct an inaccurate quote attributed to David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. RC quoted Friedman as saying that “liberal Jews are worse than Nazi collaborators.” In reality he wrote that “J Street supporters” are “far worse than kapos.”

J Street is a dovish Jewish American group. Kapos were Jews forced by the Nazis to control other Jews in camps and ghettos.

In 2016, an article by Walters about Hebron said Israeli soldiers “shot dead five Palestinians” in the city without mentioning the Israeli army’s claims that the Palestinians in question were shot while trying to stab Israelis. NRC has refused requests for a correction.

In 2011, one of NRC Handelsblad’s veteran editors, Hans Mol, who had worked in the paper for 23 years before retiring, published a book titled “How Nuance Disappeared From A Quality Paper: NRC Handelbald Takes Up an Anti-Israeli Position.” In it, he accused NRC of pursuing an editorial line on Israel that “does not live up to basic journalistic standards.”

Rejecting calls to rethink its coverage of Israel following the book’s publication, NRC Handelsblad representatives dismissed the book as coming from a disgruntled former employee.

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