(by Kevin Liptak, CNN) – Saudi Arabia’s decision to prevent a Jerusalem Post reporter from covering President Barack Obama’s stop in the Gulf Kingdom this week prompted harsh criticism from the White House and others on Tuesday.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said the United States was “very disappointed by the Saudi decision” to deny a visa to Michael Wilner, the Washington bureau chief for the Israeli newspaper. Rhodes said administration officials protested the decision with Saudi counterparts but were unsuccessful in their appeals.
“We made it clear how important it was to us that this journalist, like any other journalist, have access to cover the President’s trip,” Rhodes added. “And we’ll continue to raise our concerns with the Saudis about why this journalist was denied a visa and about our very strong objections to their decision.”[Rhodes said Saudi Arabia’s decision didn’t prompt the White House to reconsider Obama’s trip Friday and Saturday. He said the U.S. has disagreements with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues, including Israel and human rights. “But we also share a significant set of interests with Saudi Arabia,” Rhodes said. “They’re a very important partner of ours in the Gulf, and we believe it’s better to have the type of relationship where we can cooperate but also be clear and honest with one another where we have differences.”]
Wilner, a Jewish American who has never held Israeli citizenship, was the only journalist who applied for a Saudi visa to be denied, according to the White House Correspondents Association, which represents reporters who cover Obama. [Wilner covers the White House for the Post, had signed up to cover Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia on Friday, seeking a visa along with the rest of the White House press corps. But after keeping his American passport for two weeks – and despite high level pleading from the White House – the Saudi government wouldn’t issue him a visa.]
“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,” the group said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia carries out no diplomatic relations with Israel. In an editorial on the Jerusalem Post’s website, Wilner said the decision to prevent him from covering Obama’s visit to the Gulf nation was likely because he’s Jewish.
“I am an American journalist covering the travel of an American president,” Wilner said. “We have little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation or because of my religion. That is a grave disappointment and a lost opportunity for the Kingdom.”
Obama travels to Saudi Arabia on Friday, the last stop on a five-country trip that also included the Netherlands, Belgium, the Vatican and Italy.
His stop in Saudi Arabia comes amid worries there over an interim deal between the United States, other world powers and Iran to halt Tehran’s nuclear program – an accord that Saudis say was brokered without their input.
The potential for an empowered Shiite* regime in Tehran has fueled concerns within the Sunni* government in Riyadh, which regards Iran as a regional rival. (See “Background” below for an explanation.)
Also stirring worries is the cautious U.S. approach in Syria, where rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad have made few gains and security is deteriorating.
A recent spat among the Gulf states – deemed essential to U.S. security interests and major suppliers of oil – only further complicated Washington’s ties to the region.
CNN reached out to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. and did not receive a response.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CNN.
1. Who is Michael Wilner? Be specific.
2. a) What did the Saudi Arabian government prevent Mr. Wilner from doing this week?
b) For what reason did they do so?
3. a) How did the Obama administration react to this blatant discrimination by the Saudi government?
b) Do you think this response was too harsh, exactly the right thing to do, or not strong enough? Explain your answer.
4. a) What is the White House Correspondents Association?
b) How did the White House Correspondents Association react to Saudi Arabia’s discrimination?
c) Do you think the entire group of reporters (the White House Press Corps) should have boycotted the trip unless the Saudi government changed its discrimination? Explain your answer.
5. a) How did Mr. Wilner respond to the terrible treatment he has received from the Saudi government?
b) What word(s) best describe Mr. Wilner’s response? (e.g. harsh, mild, bitter, hateful, classy, mature, gracious) Explain your answer.
6. If the Saudi government denied a visa to a homosexual reporter or a black reporter do you think the Obama administration would have had a different reaction? Explain your answer.
7. a) Do you think President Obama should call Saudi Arabia’s leader King Saud and insist that Mr. Wilner be given a visa? Why or why not?
b) For what reason do you think President Obama would not do this?
CHALLENGE QUESTION: An important question not answered by the CNN reporter:
-Has Saudi Arabia ever denied visas to Jewish American reporters under any other presidents?
-Is this a regular occurrence?
Why do you think these would be important questions to answer?
The White House Press Corps – The White House Press Corps is the group of journalists or correspondents usually stationed at the White House in Washington, D.C., to cover the President of the United States, White House events, and news briefings. Their offices are located in the West Wing.
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) is an organization of journalists who cover the White House and the President of the United States. The WHCA was founded on Feb 25, 1914, by journalists in response to an unfounded rumor that a Congressional committee would select which journalists could attend press conferences of President Woodrow Wilson.
The WHCA operates independently of the White House. Among the more notable issues handled by the WHCA are the credentialing process, access to the President and physical conditions in the White House press briefing rooms.
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A (Shi’ite) MUSLIMS
- Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as Orthodox, Conservative or Reform) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
- The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
- Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief in Allah and the Koran.
- Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
- The Shia are a minority, comprising between 10 percent and 15 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslim population – certainly fewer than 200 million, all told.
- The Shia are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon. But there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia and Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well.
- Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a). Although the minority in Iraq, Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule. (read more at wikipedia)
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