Israel’s Al Jazeera ban ‘alarms’ media watchdog on free press stranglehold

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Israel's Knesset passes law to enable the government to ban foreign news outlets
Israel's Knesset has passed a law to enable the government to ban foreign news outlets deemed to pose “harm to the state’s security”. Image: AJ on X screenshot APR

Pacific Media Watch

The New York-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists says the announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his intention to ban Al Jazeera follows a similar pattern of media interference, including the killing of media workers.

“We’ve seen this kind of language before from Netanyahu and Israeli officials in which they try to paint journalists as ‘terrorists’, as ‘criminals’. This is nothing new,” Jodie Ginsberg told Al Jazeera.

“It’s another example of the tightening of the free press and the stranglehold the Israeli government would like to exercise. It’s an incredibly worrying move by the government.”

Netanyahu wrote on X on Monday that “Al Jazeera harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against Israeli soldiers.

“The terrorist channel Al Jazeera will no longer broadcast from Israel. I intend to act immediately in accordance with the new law to stop the channel’s activity.’

The Qatar-based network rejected what it described as “slanderous accusations” and accused Netanyahu of “incitement”.

“Al Jazeera holds the Israeli Prime Minister responsible for the safety of its staff and network premises around the world, following his incitement and this false accusation in a disgraceful manner,” it said in a statement.

‘Slanderous accusations’
“Al Jazeera reiterates that such slanderous accusations will not deter us from continuing our bold and professional coverage, and reserves the right to pursue every legal step.”

Netanyahu has long sought to shut down broadcasts from Al Jazeera, alleging anti-Israel bias, the network reports on its website.

The law, which passed in a 71-10 vote in the Knesset, gives the prime minister and communications minister the authority to order the closure of foreign networks operating in Israel and confiscate their equipment if it is believed they pose “harm to the state’s security”.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said that an Israeli move to shut down Al Jazeera would be “concerning”.

“The United States supports the critically important work of journalists around the world and that includes those who are reporting in the conflict in Gaza,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“So we believe that work is important. The freedom of the press is important. And if those reports are true, it is concerning to us.”

The legislation’s passage comes nearly five months after Israel said it would block Lebanese outlet Al Mayadeen. It refrained from shutting Al Jazeera at the same time.

Move with closure
After the vote on Monday, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he intended to move forward with the closure. He said Al Jazeera had been acting as a “propaganda arm of Hamas” by “encouraging armed struggle against Israel”.

“It is impossible to tolerate a media outlet, with press credentials from the Government Press Office and offices in Israel, acting from within against us, certainly during wartime,” he said.

According to news agencies, his office said the order would seek to block the channel’s broadcasts in Israel and prevent it from operating in the country. The order would not apply to the occupied West Bank or Gaza.

Israel has often lashed out at Al Jazeera, which has offices in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

In May 2022, Israeli forces shot dead senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

A UN-commissioned report concluded that Israeli forces used “lethal force without justification” in the killing, violating her “right to life”.

During the war in Gaza, several of the channel’s journalists and their family members have been killed by Israeli bombardments.

On October 25, an air raid killed the family of Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh, including his wife, son, daughter, grandson and at least eight other relatives.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

Pacific Media Watch and news agencies.

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