Daily Israel Report

U.S. Blasts Saudis for Barring American-Israeli Reporter

White House criticizes Saudi Arabia after it refuses a visa to an American journalist because he works for The Jerusalem Post.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/26/2014, 5:46 AM

Saudi King Abdullah with Obama (archive)
Saudi King Abdullah with Obama (archive)
Reuters

The United States on Tuesday slammed Saudi Arabia for refusing a visa to a an American journalist working for Israeli media who planned to cover President Barack Obama's visit to the kingdom, AFP reported.

The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief, U.S. citizen Michael Wilner, was the only journalist to be denied a visa to Saudi Arabia to cover Obama's brief visit on Friday, according to AFP.

In response, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that Washington was "very disappointed by the Saudi decision."

"It certainly should not be the case that the affiliation of a journalist should in any way count against their ability to do their job, just because they work for The Jerusalem Post," Rhodes said.

Rhodes said that the White House made clear its concerns to Saudi Arabia.

The Jerusalem Post, in an editorial quoted by AFP, said that top U.S. officials, including national security adviser Susan Rice, personally appealed to the kingdom to issue a visa but to no avail.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The White House Correspondents Association said that the refusal of the visa to Wilner, who planned to travel directly to Saudi Arabia, was "outrageous."

"The denial is an affront not only to this journalist, but to the entire White House press corps and to the principle of freedom of the press that we hold so dear," it said, according to AFP.

Like most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia has no formal relations with Israel, but Iran, the Saudis’ rival, has claimed that Israel and Saudi Arabia are conducting secret contacts.

In late December the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency claimed that a Saudi Arabian delegation had flown to Israel for meetings with high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Israel did not respond to the report.

Two weeks earlier, an Iranian report claimed that the head of the Saudi intelligence service met with several senior Israeli security officials, including the head of the Israeli Mossad, in Geneva on November 27.

An earlier Fars report said that Israel and Saudi Arabia had teamed up to launch a virus against Iran’s nuclear program.

Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of the Saudi intelligence services, complimented Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the international security conference in Munich. In December, the same Prince Turki Al-Faisal met and spoke with MK Meir Sheetrit of Livni’s Hatnua party and with Itamar Rabinovich, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

The Saudis insist, however, that they will not recognize Israel or hold contacts with it as long as it refuses to accept the Arab Peace Plan which Riyadh introduced in 2002.

The plan says that 22 Arab countries will normalize ties with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the indefensible and narrow pre-1967 borders and Israeli acceptance of the "right of return" for millions of descendants of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel, effectively bringing an end to the Jewish state.