Aaron Klein, World Net Daily’s Jerusalem bureau chief, was prevented today from entering Syria, where he planned to interview officials from Syria, Lebanon and the U.S., as well as co-host ABC Radio's nationally syndicated "The John Batchelor Show," because, according to at least one official in the Syrian embassy, he's Jewish.
Klein, an American citizen whose family has resided in the United States for five generations, is currently working full-time for WND in Jerusalem. He and Batchelor, along with producer Lee Mason, made arrangements with the Syrian embassy in the U.S., in advance of their trip.
All three were told Monday by Ammar al-Arsan, the press attache for the Syrian embassy in Washington, that the applications for the visas were approved, and that Damascus had sent an approval letter that would permit them to enter the country from Amman, Jordan today.
However, when the trio arrived in Amman, they were told there was a problem with the application. They met with Eyad Alarfi, assistant to consul general in Amman, who could provide no information about what was holding up the visa. Later, Alarfi said visa approvals were granted for Batchelor and Mason, but not for Klein.
By telephone, Klein spoke to an official from the Ministry of Information in Damascus who declined to provide his name. At first he refused to suggest why Klein had been singled out and prevented from entering the country. Later, however, he asked: "What religion are you?"
'We don't separate people on basis of race'
Klein said he refused to answer.
"You know what you are," said the official.
Mason, who made the initial arrangements for visas with Syrian media representative al-Arsan, said a red flag was immediately raised when Klein's name was mentioned.
He reportedly told her it would be better if Klein did not go. She asked if it was because he is Jewish. Al-Arsan replied: "Yes, it is."
Batchelor and Mason decided to leave the Syrian embassy without their visas.
"It seems like it's 1938 and Czechoslovakia all over again," said Batchelor.
"Aaron told me to go on to Syria and broadcast. But I told him that if I was to leave him behind, the enemy has won a victory. What we represent to the people of Jordan and Syria is that we don't separate people on the basis of race, color or creed."
Later, another official in the Syrian embassy told Klein he didn't think he was being singled out because he's Jewish, but rather because he is a Jerusalem-based correspondent.
However, Klein pointed out that other non-Jewish Jerusalem-based correspondents, including Fox News Channel's Jennifer Griffin, have recently been granted visas by Syria.
Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., said on The John Batchelor Show in response to the incident, "We are a sovereign country and we have the right to decide who enters and who does not."
However, Moustapha refused to answer the one question Klein had for him.
"Will you issue me a journalist visa to enter Syria?" Klein asked.
Moustapha attempted to change the subject and Klein asked him again.
When Moustapha still refused to answer, Batchelor interrupted, "Mr. Ambassador, will you issue a journalist visa to Aaron Klein, yes or no?"
Moustapha's "That's not the question" drew a sharp response from Batchelor who told Moustapha he took his refusal as a no and terminated the call.
U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said he had no response to the matter, other than to refer WND to the agency's human rights report and international religious freedom report on Syria, where the nation's poor record on those issues is "pretty clear."
"If Syria chooses to deny somebody a visa, unfortunately, there is not much we can do," Vazquez explained.
Lebanese leaders slam Syria
Meanwhile, Lebanese leaders today blasted foe Syria's refusal to grant Klein a journalist visa.
Walid Jumblatt, a veteran politician and head of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party said, "This is absolutely ridiculous. Syria is out of control. There is no reason in the world Klein should be denied entry into Syria. He should sue the Syrian government."
Jumblatt said if Syria indeed banned Klein because of his Jewish faith, the move would represent "a new low for the Syrian regime. They are getting so desperate they would coddle (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon just to get out of their problems. Meanwhile they do this? (Rejecting Klein's visa) is just a stupid, stupid thing."
Lebanese parliamentary member Abdullah Hanna called Syria's rejection of Klein "a very irresponsible decision. It seems this is their policy, to not let certain people in. I hope there will be a day when these unfortunate things don't happen in our region."
A pro-Syrian Lebanese leader, who asked his name be withheld, commented, "Did Klein actually think they would let him in? Not only is he Jewish, but he's written articles against Syria."
Reprinted by permission of World Net Daily