Gov’t declines to extend tenture of controversial press office director

Gov't declines to extend tenture of controversial press office director

The following is my translation of a piece that was published yesterday on Walla!, a popular Israeli news and information site.

Auspicious appointments

By Emily Grunzweig
22 July 2010

The Office of the Civil Service issued a public tender for the position of director of the Government Press Office (GPO). Danny Seaman, who has been director of the office for the last 10 years, declared his candidacy for an internal tender that was issued in March, but the committee decided against extending his tenure.

The responsibilities of the GPO, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, include coordination between the government’s communication offices and the international media based in Israel. Over the years that Seaman headed the GPO, several complaints were made regarding his dealings with the foreign media. In 2007 the Office of the Civil Service opened an investigation into these complaints, which included accusations that Seaman behaved in an inappropriate manner, and that he issued press credentials inequitably, circumventing GPO regulations.

Information Minister Yuli Edelstein gave the following response: “Mr. Danny Seaman served for a number of years as the acting head of the GPO. As per the orders of the Office of the Civil Service, an internal tender for the position was issued. Mr. Seaman put himself forward as a candidate, but the committee declined to select him. Given the importance of the position and the fact that it was unfilled, we issued a public tender in coordination with the Office of the Civil Service.

Danny Seaman’s long history of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ includes the following incidents:

Violently shoving and pushing a female photojournalist while she was covering the Pope’s visit last year (video clip here).

Attempting to predicate press accreditation on the political views of the applicant. Seaman was complicit in denying renewed press credentials to 60 foreign journalists in a single year – thereby turning veteran, respected journalists who had lived in Israel for years into illegal aliens.

This happened to a prominent German bureau chief who had been in Jerusalem for 15 years. When Joerg Bremer, bureau chief of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, took the matter to the highest levels, Seaman response was to tell a Haaretz reporter that the bureau chief is a “piece of shit” that he’d like to “screw over” (actually, Seaman said he wanted to “fuck over” the reporter, but that bit of colourful language didn’t get past the editor).

Refusing to renew the press credentials of Palestinian cameramen, producers and photographers who had worked for the foreign media for decades; thus destroying their careers and livelihoods.

Refusing to renew the press credentials of veteran reporters of Middle Eastern extraction; according to Reporters Without Borders, this led to a Reuters cameraman and a reporter for Abu Dhabi TV being deported under humiliating circumstances.

Telling New York Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner that he (Seaman) did not want foreign reporters covering Gaza because “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization…”

Attempting to predicate press accreditation on having the applicant journalist investigated by the Shin Bet.

Comparing the BBC to “the worst of Nazi propaganda.”

Sending out an email to the entire foreign press corps, shortly before the May 31 flotilla incident, in which he sarcastically recommended the cream of spinach soup at Roots, a restaurant in Gaza (this was apparently meant to imply that Gaza, where 80 percent of the population lives on UNRWA aid; and that the media is exaggerating the gravity of the situation there).

Below is the (slightly edited) text of a letter I sent in 2006 to the head of the civil service, following my own experience with Danny Seaman.

October 29, 2006

Shmuel Hollander
Office of the Civil Service
39 Kaplan Street
Jerusalem 91919

Dear Mr. Hollander,

Re: Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office

I am writing to lodge a complaint against Mr. Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, and his assistant Sharon Gorbagi. On the afternoon of 28 September 2006 I went to the GPO office for what was supposed to be a routine renewal of my press card. Instead I was dragged into a shocking confrontation that included abusive language and threats directed against me by Mr. Seaman. Ms. Gorbagi witnessed most of this incident; she was extremely rude to me, and she also supported Mr. Seaman’s threats against me. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I have decided to make this incident a matter of public record because I think it is very grave.

Since we are both native English speakers, the conversation between Mr. Seaman and me took place in English. He used foul language that is considered offensive in polite discourse – and completely unacceptable coming from a civil servant. I have never in my life, in all my travels around the world, been addressed by a civil servant in such an abusive manner.

When I asked Mr. Seaman why he was speaking to me in this manner, he responded by threatening to initiate a Shin Bet investigation of me. When I asked why he would do such a thing, he gave two reasons: 1) he was enjoying himself (he repeated several times, while smiling, that he was enjoying himself); and 2) I was asking too many questions and he did not allow questions. He then added that he would make sure the Shin Bet investigation took the maximum length of time possible, and that even when he received their approval of my application for a press card he would deny it and force me to re-submit the paperwork. When I asked him why he was doing this, he told me that he did not have to explain himself, and that every time I asked a question, he would reject my application again. Then he added, “You will be without a press card for at least six months.”

In response to my request to speak to his boss, Mr. Seaman said, “I do not have a boss. I am not accountable to anyone. I make all the rules. And just the fact that you have asked me this question means you will never receive a GPO card again.” Shortly after that, I left his office and returned to Tel Aviv.

During subsequent conversations with colleagues who work for various Israeli media, I was warned several times that if I were to lodge an official complaint against Danny Seaman I would risk ruining my career as a journalist in Israel. I was completely shocked to discover that friends who are experienced and well-respected Israeli journalists were so afraid of Mr. Seaman that they were unwilling to make an official complaint against him. Several of my colleagues reported having experienced or witnessed similar confrontations with Mr. Seaman. They all said that my only option was to write a letter of apology (one friend told me I should “crawl”). The consensus opinion is that Mr. Seaman is a civil servant who has become corrupted and sadistic by his power and by the fact that he does indeed seem to be unaccountable.

I have decided to submit an official complaint not only because I need a press card for professional reasons, but also because I am deeply concerned about the long-term damage Danny Seaman is doing. Every foreign journalist in Israel must deal with Mr. Seaman; and I have heard many terrible stories from various foreign correspondents about their dealings with him – confrontations that included threats, foul language and abusive treatment. I am also deeply concerned that a civil servant, whose salary is paid with tax funds, feels that he can abuse Israeli citizens with impunity.

Sincerely yours,

Lisa Goldman

One month after I sent that letter, I gave a detailed deposition to an attorney at the Office of the Civil Service. Another year passed before I was informed, in November 2007, that the legal department had decided to issue Seaman with an official censure.

After asking – in despair and anger – what it takes to get fired in this country, I asked the attorney at the Office of the Civil Service how the censure would affect Seaman. He answered that when (or if) a tender were issued for the position of GPO manager, a position to which Seaman was appointed ‘temporarily’ in 2000, the censure in his file would make him an unsuitable candidate.

Four years later, the tender was finally issued. And, as the attorney at the Office of the Civil Service said, Seaman was indeed rejected as an unsuitable candidate.

My only wish for Danny Seaman is that he should be treated for the rest of his life exactly as he treated others during his tenure at the GPO.