Al Jazeera is one of the most popular Arabic-language news channels in the Middle East and one of the few willing to broadcast from Israel. That looks like it’s about to change: Israel is moving to effectively force the station out of the country.
Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, announced plans on Sunday to close Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office, revoke its journalists’ media credentials, and work with cable and satellite companies to stop Al Jazeera’s TV broadcasts.
In the press conference, Kara did not offer a specific reason for the new plan — he only accused the news outlet of “incitement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mentioned so-called “incitement” in a tweet applauding the plan on Sunday. He praised Kara for taking steps to “stop the activity of incitement in Israel.”
The Israeli government’s renewed calls against Al Jazeera come at a dangerous and sensitive moment for the region — and for Al Jazeera itself.
Recent tensions started in July when two Israeli police officers were shot and killed in Jerusalem near the area known as the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, one of the holiest places in the world for both Muslims and Jews.
In response, Netanyahu temporarily closed the site and installed metal detectors without consulting Muslim authorities in charge of the site. The move sparked wide-spread protests and violence in Jerusalem.
The protests soon spread to surrounding countries, and at least three Palestinians, including two teenagers, were killed, and at least 200 more were wounded across the region, reported Vox’s Sarah Wildman. Three Israeli civilians were also stabbed to death in their home.
At that time, Netanyahu said Al Jazeera’s coverage of the protests were “stirring violence” and threatened to close the network’s Jerusalem office.
Al Jazeera criticized the move to shutter its Jerusalem office in a statement on Sunday and said it would monitor the situation and continue covering news in the Palestinian-occupied territories. “Al Jazeera denounces this decision made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East,’” it said.
Israel isn’t the only country taking aim at Al Jazeera
In a strange bedfellows kind of statement, Al Jazeera went on to lump Israel in with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other Arab countries that have been at odds with it in recent months.
Al Jazeera is owned and funded by the government of Qatar, an oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchy locked in a growing diplomatic and economic clash with Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Early in June, four Arab countries, following Saudi Arabia’s lead, abruptly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and suspended all air, land, and sea travel to and from the country. Saudi Arabia also sent Qatar a list of demands, one of which asked the country to shut down Al Jazeera.
Since then, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have closed Al Jazeera’s bureaus and the network’s signal has been blocked in the United Arab Emirates.
In an opinion piece published last week in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief questioned why Israel was joining other Arab countries in silencing the network.
“The collusion by Netanyahu with his Arab autocratic neighbors leaves little doubt that free independent media and truth are ready to be sacrificed as collateral damage in the power politics of the region,” wrote Walid Omary. “What difference then is there between Israel, as a perceived democracy, and these dictatorships?”
It’s unclear when Israel’s Al Jazeera ban will go into effect. The Washington Post reported that a law would have to be amended in order for the communications ministry to adopt the measures, a process that could take weeks, if not months.