Syria’s decision yesterday to deny a journalist visa to WND’s Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein is “a stupid move” and “exhibits a new level of depravity,” Lebanese leaders said today.
Klein had planned to travel to Damascus this week to interview officials from Syria, Lebanon and the U.S., as well as co-host ABC Radio’s nationally syndicated “The John Batchelor Show,” but his visa application was rejected because, according to at least one official in the Syrian embassy, he’s Jewish.
“This is absolutely ridiculous. Syria is out of control,” said Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt, a veteran politician and head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party. “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,” he said. “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.”
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, Batchelor and Batchelor’s producer Lee Mason made arrangements last week with the Syrian embassy in the U.S., in advance of their trip and were told Monday by Ammar al-Arsan, the press attach? 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, yesterday.
When the trio arrived in Amman, they were informed visas 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?”
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 immediately was raised when Klein’s name was mentioned.
Al-Arsan 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.”
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.
Batchelor decided to leave the Syrian embassy and instead broadcasted with Klein last night from the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, one of three Jordan hotels hit by al-Qaida bombing attacks last month.
“It seems like it’s 1938 and Czechoslovokia 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.”
Klein today resubmitted a request for a visa directly to Syrian ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha, who has been invited again tonight to explain on the air why the Klein visa application was rejected.
Moustapha was scheduled to appear on the show last night but was not reachable at the time of his guest spot.