By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Israel’s closure of Al Jazeera sparks widespread condemnation

Al Jazeera logo, with its code of ethics in English and Arabic. Photo (cc) 2009 by Joi Ito.

BBC News reports that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has followed though on longstanding threats to shut down Al Jazeera, accusing the Arab news service of acting as a propaganda arm for the terrorist group Hamas. As the story notes, though Al Jazeera is now off the air in Israel, it is still available through Facebook and other social media outlets. The Committee to Protect Journalists has denounced the action, quoting a statement from CJP Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna:

CPJ condemns the closure of Al-Jazeera’s office in Israel and the blocking of the channel’s websites. This move sets an extremely alarming precedent for restricting international media outlets working in Israel. The Israeli cabinet must allow Al-Jazeera and all international media outlets to operate freely in Israel, especially during wartime.

Al Jazeera has called the action a “criminal act” that “stands in contravention of international and humanitarian law.”

Shutting down Al Jazeera strikes me as an ill-considered move, not least because it will have little more than a symbolic effect. Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, and both it and Hamas receive some funding from the Qatari government. But Al Jazeera also enjoys a reputation for reliable journalism. Certainly it’s sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but that’s not a reason to ban it in Israel or anywhere else.

This commentary by Zvi Bar’el of Haaretz, a liberal Israel newspaper, notes that Arab governments, too, have closed Al Jazeera from time to time, adding that Israel should have held itself apart from that repressive attitude toward freedom of the press. He writes that “closing its offices cannot prevent or frustrate the network’s operations, which are aired in more than 90 countries and reach 350 million potential Arabic-speaking viewers and millions of English speakers worldwide,” and adds:

Al Jazeera may not be able to broadcast from its offices in Israel, but it doesn’t need offices in Tel Aviv or Ramallah in order to continue showing the world the destruction, death, and hunger in Gaza. It broadcasts this reality directly from the Strip, as it did when it reported from the field during the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or when it reported on the authoritarian regimes of Egyptian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Saudi kings, and the draconian regime of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, before and after the Arab Spring revolutions. It did so even after these states shuttered its offices.

In the U.S., the National Press Club came out against the move as well. Here’s part of a statement by Emily Wilkins, the club president, and Gil Klein, president of the club’s Journalism Institute:

The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to shut down Al Jazeera operations in Israel is the wrong one. It is wrong for the people of Israel, for the people of Gaza, for people in the West Bank, and for the rest of the international news network’s millions of viewers around the region and world who rely on Al Jazeera’s reporting of the nearly seven-month Israel-Hamas war. We fully support Al Jazeera’s decision to fight this in court.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Schnapp

    Thanks for reporting this.

  2. NahantJim Walsh

    Mr. Netanyahu is no fan of free expression, nor are his friends Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The picture of Netanyahu and Putin sitting together in Red Square watching a Russian military parade is stomach-turning.

    https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2105853342762733

  3. David F. Pierre, Jr.

    It is good that this is being reported, but why has the media *ignored* these:
    1. Ukraine’s Zelensky has shut down three TV networks that he didn’t like, banned eleven opposition parties, suspended having elections this spring, and outlawed the practice of Russian Orthodoxy. (And there’s more.)
    2. Brazil’s Lula has repeatedly stomped on free speech and has even proposed a government “fact-checking service” along with fines and even jail time for people who share political commentary or satire online.

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