Al Jazeera has strongly condemned a US Department of Justice (DOJ) order that forces AJ+ to register as a foreign agent, saying it appears the designation was a precondition of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to “normalise” diplomatic ties with Israel.
In a letter dated Monday, the DOJ said AJ+ should be subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), claiming the outlet engages in “political activities” on behalf of the Qatar government.
AJ+, which is part of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network, produces videos for social media in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. With offices in Doha and Washington, DC, the FARA determination would only apply to AJ+ English based in the US.
In making its case against Al Jazeera, Jay I Bratt, the DOJ’s counterintelligence chief, said in the letter the Qatari government provides Al Jazeera’s funding and appoints its board of directors.
“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” Bratt wrote.
The FARA designation of AJ+ follows relentless lobbying efforts by the government of the UAE, which has long tried to pressure Qatar into shutting down the Al Jazeera Media Network.
In 2017, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremism and fostering ties with Iran, allegations Qatar has strongly denied.
At the start of the Gulf crisis, the blockading quartet issued an extensive list of demands Qatar would need to comply with in order to have the blockade lifted, including the shuttering of Al Jazeera.
In a statement to the New York Times, Al Jazeera said: “The UAE has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received DOJ’s letter the day before the UAE signed the Accords,” referring to the normalisation agreement signed at the White House on Tuesday.
“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” the statement said.
Patrick Toomey, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, warned against the FARA designation, saying the administration of President Donald Trump should not target news outlets for political reasons.
“This order is a threat to the freedom of the press,” Toomey said. “People in the United States rely on dedicated news organisations for reporting on world events and the human impact of our government’s policies around the globe. The government should not misuse a vague and overboard ‘foreign agent’ law to target news organisations for political purposes.”
The Palestinians have criticised the normalisation deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain as a betrayal by fellow Arab states, further undermining their efforts to achieve self-determination and leaving them isolated under a new framework to regional “peace” dictated by Trump’s administration that also views Iran as malice.
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from already illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state in exchange for establishing ties with it.