Journalist denied Israel entry flies home to U.S

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A U.S. journalist working for a Palestinian news agency who was refused entry to Israel on his return from a holiday, was flown to New York on Wednesday, colleagues and Israeli officials said.

Israel insisted Jared Malsin, 26, had not been expelled but left voluntarily after a court rejected his appeal for a visa. He was held for a week in a holding cell at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv with little hope being of being admitted.

Malsin, who is Jewish, was detained on January 12 on his return from a holiday in Prague. Israeli authorities said he was refused admission on the grounds that he refused to answer their questions after he landed.

“He refused to cooperate,” Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry said. Malsin would not answer questions “about his past here”, she added. Hadad confirmed media reports Malsin had been flown to New York.

Malsin was chief English editor for the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, the agency’s lawyer Castro Daoud said.

Hadad denied Malsin was refused a visa for political or security reasons.

An Israeli document obtained from the courts showed officials questioned him after seeing he had been to Israel “many times without proper visa arrangements”.

After Malsin said he lived in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, the officials said they searched his name on the Internet and found he reported on the Palestinians and his coverage “had a critical eye on Israel”.

Officials said they believed he was “taking advantage of being Jewish in order to obtain a visa”, the document said.

In a statement, the International Federation of Journalists denounced Israel’s treatment of Malsin as “an intolerable violation of press freedom”, a charge Israel has denied.

Israeli law allows for Jews to be granted automatic citizenship if they choose to immigrate. Malsin had not formally applied for such status although he was Jewish, Hadad said.

She said Malsin had not technically been deported, but chose to leave voluntarily, adding “you can only be deported from inside a country’s boundaries”, and Malsin had not been admitted to Israel.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch)

Reporting by Erika Solomon; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Andrew Dobbie