Is it possible that reporters in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Lebanon have more freedom than their colleagues in Israel?
For the first time since the Paris-based group started issuing its Press Freedom Index, Israel has lost its place as the best country in the Middle East for freedom of the press.
Because of such moves, Israel's ranking in the survey of 175 countries plummeted from 46th last year to 93rd place in the latest index.
And, because of Israel's widely criticized decision to bar journalists from freely entering Gaza last winter to cover its controversial military offensive, Israel's secondary ranking for press freedom in the West Bank and Gaza Strip plunged to 150th place, right below Sudan and Afghanistan.
For comparison, the US ranking jumped in one year from 36th to 20th for press freedom inside its borders. And the US ranking rose from 118th and 108th (below the UAE, Oman and Qatar) for press freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Israel was buffeted by a lot of criticism for clamping down on press freedom during the last military offensive in Gaza. (Cartoonists had a field day. In one example, Al Jazeera produced this cartoon, at right...)
But, to this day, Israeli government officials are unapologetic about the move, which some Israeli leaders saw as a critical element in the government's war plans.
Danny Seaman, head of the Israeli Government Press Office, defended the media ban during the fighting by saying that reporters who went into Gaza became Hamas apologists.
“Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that,” Danny said at the time.
Earlier this week, another veteran Israeli government spokesman defended the media ban by making the argument that any reporter who went into Gaza, especially those who had never been there before, were likely to do little more than parrot Hamas propaganda.
That defense, coming from an Israeli official who had previously professed some sympathy with reporters barred from getting into Gaza, suggests that Israeli leaders are unlikely to see their latest press freedom rankings as much to worry about...