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Netanyahu uses Arab puppet to try to shut down ‘Al Jazeera’

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“I will shut down Al Jazeera, period, no matter what it costs me,” said Ayoub Kara, Israel’s communications minister,  as the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

“If they wanted to open their mouths, they can do it at the dentist”, Kara added.

Israel’s assault on the Qatar-based network has been going on for some time now and has gained considerable traction in the past couple of months, not only with the background of the violent clashes around the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem in July, but also due to the blockade from several Arab countries on Qatar, which some analysts say is really aimed at Al Jazeera.    

Many were under the impression that Kara was taking his cues from Arab countries, as Allison Deger reported on this site last month. Kara had said that

“Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization. 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.”

It’s almost as if Kara was saying ‘so many Arab dictatorships couldn’t possibly be wrong’.

And he repeated this logic recently as reported Thursday:

“They [Al Jazeera] crossed the line of free speech and are part of terrorism; all the countries in the region say so, and because of our delusions of free speech over security, we are playing into their hands”, he said.

But is Kara really taking his cues from the Arab states, or is it a more local matter?

On Thursday, the Israeli Government Press Office held a seminar in Jerusalem on Freedom of the Press. The event featured a panel discussion on “The limits of freedom of expression – the dilemma between security and press freedom,” in which Al Jazeera Jerusalem Bureau chief Walid al-Omari was meant to take part, but did not.

The Jerusalem Post noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu had intervened Wednesday night to keep al-Omari out, as also confirmed by the GPO, revealing that fact on Facebook, Thursday.

We should remember this part well, because it reveals a crucial point here: Kara is the puppet, Netanyahu is the one running this show.

Netanyahu’s record with control of communications is very interesting, in that he has held the portfolio since his 2015 election. In order to relieve himself from having to be the target of accusations for his tightening control of the media, Netanyahu had appointed Tzachi Hanegbi, a Member of Knesset from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, in February this year for the communications portfolio. Hanegbi was there for 3 months, and made 17 actions during his short tenure, as Haaretz pointed out in July. He was replaced by Member of Knesset Ayoub Kara (Likud), who happens to be an Arab Druze, as Israel defines it. This is not a mere triviality. The ‘Arab’ card is in fact something that Kara himself has been playing, as a favorable card in relation to the assault on Al Jazeera. Last month, during a press conference, he said:

“I am the only one (in the government) who is an Arabic speaker, who understands Arabic and my native language is Arabic. You cannot fool me with Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic. I know how to identify how disturbing reporting becomes incitement instead of being free speech.” (Reported by Jerusalem Online)

So Kara is not only playing the Arab card in terms of his capacity to judge the matter, he is also playing it in terms of his supposed ‘taking cues’ from other Arab countries. The latter is not exactly something that Israel is known for, and if it had come from a non-Arab parliamentarian, it would no doubt have raised some eyebrows. But Kara is Netanyahu’s ‘Arab puppet’, as racist as that may sound. Netanyahu is the kind of person who mentions the ‘Arab Supreme Court Judge’ when he tries to counter claims of Israeli discrimination against Palestinians. And it’s clear that Netanyahu is bent on closing down Al Jazeera, but it would probably look better if an Arab did it.

Al Jazeera has been a thorn in Israel’s side with its outstanding critical reporting. Its documentaries concerning Israel have brought anguish to Israel and no doubt further tarnished its reputation, as for example last year’s 4-part series “The Lobby”, exposing Israeli intervention in UK politics, or the one from three weeks ago titled “Israel’s Volunteer Soldiers”, where Al Jazeera revealed how Israel gathers its army volunteers and paid soldiers from abroad (many of them not Jews, constituting about 3% of the army forces), and why they come.  

This makes Al Jazeera what Education Minister Naftali Bennett would call “shrapnel in the butt,” as he refers to the unending Palestinian problem, but it would be too problematic for Israel to say such a thing about Al Jazeera. It’s much more convenient to ride the ‘Arab countries’ bandwagon, to go along with the ‘terror’ and ‘ISIS’ accusations. And what could be more appropriate than to have an ‘Arab puppet’ do it? Now the motto is ‘if the Arabs say it themselves, it couldn’t be wrong’.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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