Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, is moving forward with a plan to ban Qatari state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera throughout the country.
According to Al Jazeera, the plan would revoke the credentials of all journalists working for the broadcaster’s Arabic and English credentials, shut down its cable and satellite transmissions, and evict staff from their Jerusalem headquarters. Kara would need approval from the Knesset to move forward with some elements of the plan.
All journalists working within Israel must be accredited by the government, and both civilian and military authorities have wide latitude to censor print and broadcast publications, according to the US State Department. It’s unclear whether Israeli authorities will order access to Al Jazeera’s web content cut off, though just weeks ago the Knesset approved a law allowing the censorship of content deemed criminal or tied to terror groups.
“We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work,” Kara said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously threatened Al Jazeera over its coverage of violence and security measures at the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary compound. One of two police investigations against Netanyahu, both of which appear to be nearing indictments, concerns allegations he secretly held negotiations with an Israeli paper in exchange for good coverage.
In the past few years, Sunni Arab states have accused Qatar of funding extremist groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, though the Qatari government insists it is being scapegoated. There’s some evidence foreign hackers, possibly from the UAE, have deliberately sought to inflame tensions by posting fake articles to the Qatari foreign ministry’s web sites.
Months ago, the same governments accusing Qatar of funding terror put in place a regional trade blockade on its land and sea borders, a move enthusiastically backed by President Donald Trump, though said blockade does not seem to be working.
The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Israel to abandon the plan to block the network, with Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour issuing a statement saying “Censoring Al-Jazeera or closing its offices will not bring stability to the region, but it would put Israel firmly in the camp of some of the region’s worst enemies of press freedom.”
“Regimes that want to control power will almost always go after two targets—the media and the foreigners,” the American University in Beirut’s Rami Khouri told Al Jazeera. “Everybody goes after the media.”
As the Guardian noted, Al Jazeera has faced crackdowns in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, with the latter four countries blocking its channel and “affiliate sites.”