Israel’s Crackdown on Critical Media: Al Jazeera First Target

Published: 03 April 2024

Knesset Building

Building of the Israeli Parliament -- Knesset -- where the country's MPs passed a controversial law targeting critical media. (Photo: zeevveez, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The Israeli Parliament approved a bill that allows the government to temporarily close the offices of foreign broadcasters in the country if it believes that their reports pose a threat to national security. The law paves the way for the closure of Al Jazeera which has been irritating Israel with its extensive reporting from Gaza.

Under the provisions of the “Bill for Preventing a Foreign Broadcasting Organization from Harming State Security,” the government can halt broadcasts by the foreign channel, shutter its offices, issue directives to take down its website if hosted on Israeli servers, or seize the equipment used to provide the channel’s content for a period of 45 days with possible extension.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wasted no time in leveraging the newly enacted bill, declaring on his X platform on Monday an immediate directive to halt broadcasting by Al Jazeera TV from Israel.

“The terrorist channel Al Jazeera will no longer broadcast from Israel. I intend to act immediately under the new law to stop the channel from operating,” Netanyahu wrote.

The Qatari state-owned news TV network, as he stressed, “harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against IDF soldiers.”

Netanyahu’s Likud colleague and his Communication Minister, Shlomo Karhi, supported the initiative, accusing Al Jazeera of serving as “a propaganda organ for Hamas,” a claim that has been refuted by Al Jazeera and many media watchdog organizations.

Al Jazeera Media Network swiftly responded, emphasizing that Netanyahu’s statements are false and constitute incitement against the safety of its journalists worldwide.

“Al Jazeera Media Network condemns these statements and sees them as nothing but a dangerous ludicrous lie,” the network said in a statement.

It stressed that for the safety of its global staff and facilities, it holds Netanyahu accountable. He  could not find any justifications for his ongoing attacks on Al Jazeera and press freedom except to present new lies and inflammatory slanders against the Network and the rights of its employees, it added.

The latest move, according to Al Jazeera, is just one in a series of systematic Israeli attacks designed to silence the network. These assaults include the assassination of its correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, the killing of journalists Samer AbuDaqqa and Hamza AlDahdouh, the bombing of its Gaza office, deliberate targeting of Al Jazeera journalists and their families, and the arrest and intimidation of its field correspondents.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York and dedicated to promoting press freedom worldwide, has urged the Israeli government to refrain from shutting down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau. They emphasize the importance of allowing the media to report freely on events unfolding in Israel and Gaza amidst the current conflict.

“CPJ is deeply concerned by new legislation authorizing the Netanyahu government to shutter Al-Jazeera in Israel,” according to CPJ’s program director, Carlos Martínez de la Serna.

He emphasized that such legislation fosters a climate of self-censorship and hostility towards the press, a trend that has intensified since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also called on the Israeli government to refrain from closing down Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau and to cease using “national security” as a pretext for censoring critical media.

The IFJ voiced its concern over the Israeli government’s increasing tendency to restrict press freedom and limit journalists’ ability to work in Israel, noting a “worrying trend that has only escalated since the start of the war in Gaza in October 2023.”

IFJ General Secretary, Antony Bellanger, emphasized that Netanyahu’s plan to ban Al Jazeera would deal a severe blow to media diversity and the public’s right to information.

“The actions of the Israeli government are unfitting of a democracy,” he concluded.