On Sunday Israel’s minister of communication Ayoub Kara said he is banning Al Jazeera from broadcasting, shutting its Jerusalem bureau, and revoking press credentials for reporters with the Doha-based network. Kara charged the media outlet is a “tool for the Islamic State” and created biased content when covering recent demonstrations regarding the al-Aqsa mosque. But, commentators have raised the point that Israeli regulations prevent sweeping bans on media outlets and the network and its journalists will likely continue to work in the country.
News of the ban broke over the weekend when Kara told reporters in a press conference, “Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization,” Haaretz reported, adding Kara said, “And when we see that all these countries have determined as fact that Al-Jazeera is a tool of the Islamic State [group], Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and we are the only one who have not determined that, then something delusional is happening here.”
Kara also noted Israeli channels had agreed to his request to stop airing Al Jazeera.
Hours later Al Jazeera responded in a statement condemning the move:
“Al Jazeera Media Network denounces this decision, which comes in the context of a campaign that was initiated by a statement made earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence during its coverage of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Other Israeli ministers and officials had previously made similar statements following a break into Al Jazeera bureau by a number of settlers.
Al Jazeera denounces this decision made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East.”
The television network also made a point to specifically address Kara’s aligning with regional powers that have also taken Al Jazeera off air. From Al Jazeera’s statement:
“[Al Jazeera] also finds the justifications made by the minister of communications as odd and biased as they are in unison with the actions carried out by a number of Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan) that have closed the network’s bureaus, shut down its cable and satellite transmissions, and blocked its websites and applications.”
Al Jazeera political analyst Marwan Bishara mentioned this point on-air yesterday, stating “Israel is taking its cues from Arab dictators.”
Amnesty International today released a statement critical of the Israeli decision, dubbing it a “brazen attack on media freedom in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The move sends a chilling message that the Israeli authorities will not tolerate critical coverage.”
Netanyahu has backed Kara’s announcement over social media stating, “Following my instructions, he [Kara] took several practical steps today to stop the actions of incitement by Al Jazeera in Israel,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Yet, today op-ed columnists indicated the task to shut down Al Jazeera operations in Israel is cumbersome and could be held up by internal reviews.
“None of the steps mentioned by Kara have any practical implications: in practice, Al Jazeera will continue to broadcast as usual,” wrote Nati Tucker in Haaretz. Tucker went on to explain neither Kara nor Netanyahu are authorized to ban specific journalists or entire news networks. In order to revoke press credentials to work in Israel, the Government Press Office would need to conduct a hearing. And so, for the time being, all journalists working for Al Jazeera can continue to operate as normal
Tucker added a similar process is required for Israeli broadcasters to take Al Jazeera off-air, where the decision could only be made after a hearing is conducted.
Covering their own affair Al Jazeera reported today that the process to rid Israel of Al Jazeera is lengthy and bureaucratic:
“‘Revoking Al Jazeera’s journalists’ media credentials, shutting down its cable and satellite transmissions, and closing its local offices in the country are all measures that must overcome many legal barriers,’ Fady Khoury, a lawyer with legal centre Adalah, told Al Jazeera.”
In an opinion piece that appeared in Al Jazeera today, Mark Levine speculated Netanyahu could have thrown his support behind the ban as a smoke screen to deflect from the media frenzy in Israel about a looming indictment against the prime minister:
“Perhaps Al Jazeera is a convenient scapegoat for Netanyahu’s failures and his increasing lack of popularity at home.
Or perhaps Israel is jumping on the bandwagon of the campaign against Al Jazeera launched by Saudi Arabia and the UAE? “
Levine’s take included a personal anecdote that reveals the general relationship between Al Jazeera and Israel leading up to the ban was both amicable, and beneficial to Israel. He notes Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau is inside of the same office park as the Israeli government office that decides to credential or blacklist journalists. From Levine:
“Al Jazeera’s offices – like other media organisations – have been located for years in the same complex as the Government Press Office. Showing up for press credentials from the network has never caused any more trouble than I’ve experienced when I requested credentials for US news organisations, for example. In fact, it often felt like the relationship with Al Jazeera was a source of pride for Israeli media and press officials, one that reflected the unique set of circumstances that served each side well.
For Israel, Al Jazeera, particularly the original Arab network, provided the government unprecedented opportunities to speak to Arab citizens across the region, beginning in the 1990s – at the height of the Olso peace process. The fact that Al Jazeera allowed Israeli officials and, through its reports, ordinary citizens to speak unfiltered was an unprecedented opening for Israel to the outside world, an opening worth what it perceived as negative coverage.”
In the past two days, Al Jazeera has posted numerous tweets on social media critical of the ban.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 7, 2017
“Completely undermines Israel’s claims to be the only democracy in the region”
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 7, 2017