Israeli journalists to set precedent at Bahrain conference

The US and Israeli flags are pictured at the Israeli Embassy's independence day celebration in Washington on May 22, 2019 (AFP Photo/Mandel NGAN)

Jerusalem (AFP) - A handful of Israeli journalists were making their way to Bahrain on Monday after getting special permission to attend a US-led economic conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace, hosted by the Gulf kingdom.

Their apparently unprecedented visit is facilitated by the involvement of the United States, an ally of both countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

Israelis are normally barred from most Arab countries, except when they enter on second passports.

"I've been travelling the world to cover events for 13 years, but this one is the most exciting," tweeted Barak Ravid, correspondent for Israel's Channel 13 private TV.

"This is the first time Israeli journalists will be allowed to enter Bahrain," he wrote in a post that included a selfie of himself on a plane he said was heading from Jordan to the Gulf kingdom.

"Not a usual flight route for an Israeli journalist... Proud to enter with an Israeli passport," journalist Ariel Kahana from the Israel Hayom daily tweeted when he arrived in Bahrain.

Diplomatic correspondents from six Israeli media outlets -- the newspapers Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, Channel 12 and Channel 13 and the website The Times of Israel -- were invited.

However, Channel 12 said it would not send a correspondent after the US refused to accredit its journalist Dana Weiss, for reasons that were not immediately clear.

The Trump administration has running feuds with several American news organisations it views as hostile.

Jason Greenblatt, adviser to US President Donald Trump and one of the architects of the conference, played up the significance of their presence.

"There are those working to improve the lives of Israelis, Palestinians & others in the region, and to see if peace can be achieved. Bahrain is one such country," he tweeted.

But one of the invited journalists played down the significance of their participation.

"It is very exciting on a personal level, but we must not overstate the scope of our participation as Israeli journalists," he said on condition of anonymity.

"This is not a normalisation of relations between Israel and Bahrain, only an invitation by the White House to a conference, organised in Bahrain by the United States."

Besides the journalists, the Israeli government has remained discreet about the presence of its nationals at the event.

Media reports said Israel would not be represented by officials, but by businessmen, social actors or a former general who until a few months ago headed a defence ministry agency dealing with Palestinian affairs.