Security check for Arab reporters puts damper on Bennett meeting with EU chief

Arab journalists accompanying Ursula von der Leyen refused security inspection and left before the meeting.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A diplomatic kerfuffle over security checks almost stopped the meeting Tuesday between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, Ynet reported Tuesday night.

Four journalists of Arab extraction accompanying the European leader were angered over being asked to undergo what they deemed an unusually strict inspection by security officers in the Prime Minister’s Office. They refused to comply, and a commotion arose, said the report, to the extent that von der Leyen threatened to cancel the meeting if the issue could not be resolved.

Sources told Ynet that for about 10 minutes, Bennett’s new political adviser Keren Hajioff and others unsuccessfully tried to persuade the journalists to comply; instead, they left without covering the event. Von der Leyen did meet with the prime minister, and their staffs also held extensive discussion.

The European staff, however, told the PMO that they viewed the incident seriously and that there would be follow-up.

According to a statement by the PMO, however, “Several of the accompanying journalists refused to undergo the normal checks as is accepted and demanded by security officials at the Office and as such, they were not allowed to enter.

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“The issue was explained to the delegation of the commissioner and accepted with understanding. The visit went ahead as scheduled and the issue was not raised during the talks.”

According to reports about the meeting, it appears that stronger ties with Israel would benefit Europe.

In a joint statement following the meeting, von der Leyen made it clear that the EU has committed to weaning itself off its current dependency on Russia, which until its February invasion of Ukraine had supplied about 40% of the EU’s energy needs.

Since the beginning of the war, she said, Moscow attempted to “blackmail” Europe by cutting off energy supplies, and so it is “very important” to the EU to be able to “diversify to trustworthy suppliers.”

This very much includes Israel, she said, thanking Bennett for being “willing to increase the deliveries of gas to the European Union via Egypt.”

On Wednesday, she said, “We will already take a very important step with the signing of a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding between Israel, the European Union and Egypt.”

A similarly crucial subject of discussion – this time to Israel – was the Iranian threat. Bennett said his office, “emphasized his call for the international community to take a hard line against the regime and its accelerated progress toward developing nuclear weapons.”

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Von der Leyen’s statement did not refer to Iran, only mentioning that both partners “have the interest in a secure and stable Middle East in common” before saying that she hoped that the success of the Abraham Accords in normalizing its relations with several Arab countries would “also help advance relations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Von der Leyen then met with Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah and announced the release of EU funds for 2021 to the PA.

The EU had held up some $235 million over systematic incitement against Israel found in Palestinian textbooks, which directly contradicts PA commitments made in the Oslo Accords. Although no content has been changed and no commitment to do so has been made, von der Leyen said that “all the difficulties are gone.”

Nothing was mentioned regarding funding for the current year.