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Source: CNN

Israel must do better.

The Benjamin Netanyahu-led country on Tuesday took the outrageous step of seizing a camera and other video equipment used by The Associated Press to broadcast a live feed of Gaza — a decision the country only reversed amid severe backlash from free press advocates and following a White House request.

“As soon as we learned about the reports, the White House and the State Department immediately engaged with the Government of Israel at high levels to express our serious concern and ask them to reverse this action,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told me, an action that unquestionably played a key role in persuading the Israeli government to publicly backtrack.

The brazen anti-media action against the AP on Tuesday, however, is only the latest from Israel, which over the course of the country’s bloody war on the terrorist group Hamas has engaged in a pattern of behavior that calls into serious question its commitment to a free and open press.

The country’s leadership has for months evaded questions and calls for accountability over the killing and treatment of journalists in the region as it conducts a protracted military operation in Gaza. Last month, it passed a law that allowed it to shut down the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network, with authorities raiding the outlet’s offices and taking the channel off the air. And on Tuesday, it used that same law to target the AP, ostensibly confiscating its equipment because it provided its video feed to Al Jazeera, one of its thousands of global clients.

Israel is the only democracy in the middle east — and it should act like it. The country should put on proud display the principles and ideals that make up a democratic society, serving as a beacon of light in a region otherwise made up of repressive regimes. And as NSC spokesperson Watson noted to me Tuesday, “The free press is an essential pillar of democracy and members of the media, including AP, do vital work that must be respected.”

Unfortunately, the Israeli government’s record on the press no longer reflects what one would expect the leadership of a proud and thriving democracy to look like. Its behavior, instead, is starting to resemble the actions of oppressive governments who seek to control the flow of information and quash dissent.

While Israel bowed to pressure on Tuesday and returned the AP’s equipment, the government notably offered no public apology to the renowned wire service. Instead, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi simply said that he had “ordered that the equipment be returned to the AP news agency.”

The lack of remorse, coupled with the fact that the new law that was wielded against Al Jazeera remains in effect, speaks volumes about the government’s view of the news media amid its devastating war with Hamas. As the AP noted after its equipment was returned Tuesday, the underlying issues are still unresolved.

“While we are pleased with this development,” the outlet said, “we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel.”

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