Israeli parliament passes law paving the way for Al Jazeera closure

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to use new law to shutter local operations of Al Jazeera.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to “act immediately to stop” Al Jazeera’s operations in the country after the Israeli parliament approved a law that grants senior ministers powers to shut down foreign news networks deemed a security risk.

“Al Jazeera harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against Israeli soldiers,” Netanyahu wrote on X on Monday.

“I intend to act immediately in accordance with the new law to stop the channel’s activity,” he said.

The Qatar-based network rejected what it described as “slanderous accusations” and accused Netanyahu of “incitement”.

“Al Jazeera holds the Israeli Prime Minister responsible for the safety of its staff and Network premises around the world, following his incitement and this false accusation in a disgraceful manner,” it said in a statement.

“Al Jazeera reiterates that such slanderous accusations will not deter us from continuing our bold and professional coverage, and reserves the right to pursue every legal step.”

Netanyahu has long sought to shutter broadcasts from the Qatar-based media outlet, alleging anti-Israel bias.

The law, which passed in a 71-10 vote in the Knesset, gives the prime minister and communications minister the authority to order the closure of foreign networks operating in Israel and confiscate their equipment if it is believed they pose “harm to the state’s security”.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that an Israeli move to shut down Al Jazeera would be “concerning”.

“The United States supports the critically important work journalists around the world and that includes those who are reporting in the conflict in Gaza,” Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“So we believe that work is important. The freedom of the press is important. And if those reports are true, it is concerning to us.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a media freedom watchdog, said the new Israeli law was “posing a significant threat to international media”.

“This contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility towards the press, a trend that has escalated since the start of the Israel-Gaza war,” the CPJ said.

Long campaign

Since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza in October, Israel’s government has passed wartime regulations allowing it to temporarily close foreign media deemed a threat to its national interests with the consent of the courts.

The legislation’s passage comes nearly five months after Israel said it would block Lebanese outlet Al Mayadeen. It refrained from shuttering Al Jazeera at the same time.

After the vote on Monday, Israel’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, said he intended to move forward with the closure. He said Al Jazeera has been acting as a “propaganda arm of Hamas” by “encouraging armed struggle against Israel”.

“It is impossible to tolerate a media outlet, with press credentials from the Government Press Office and offices in Israel, acting from within against us, certainly during wartime,” he said.

His office said the order would seek to block the channel’s broadcasts in Israel and prevent it from operating in the country. The order would not apply to the occupied West Bank or Gaza.

Israel has often lashed out at Al Jazeera, which has offices in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. In May 2022, Israeli forces shot dead senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

A United Nations-commissioned report concluded that Israeli forces used “lethal force without justification” in the killing, violating her “right to life”.

During the war in Gaza, several of the channel’s journalists and their family members have been killed by Israeli bombardments.

On October 25, an air raid killed the family of Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh, including his wife, son, daughter, grandson and at least eight other relatives.

The legislation was passed as Netanyahu faces huge protests against his handling of the war on Gaza and the security failures which did not detect the October 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel.

At least 1,139 people were killed in those attacks and about 250 captives were taken to Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the Israeli parliament building in West Jerusalem in the largest antigovernment demonstration since the start of the war.

Protesters on Sunday demanded the government secure a ceasefire that would free the captives held by Hamas and called for early elections.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies