April 16, 2024

Lawmakers in Israel on Monday passed new legislation that allows the government to temporarily close foreign media outlets deemed to be a risk to national security. In the wake of the Israeli parliament approving the law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to shutter Al Jazeera, saying it “will no longer be broadcast from Israel.”

Calling Al Jazeera a “terrorist channel,” Netanyahu wrote on X that he intends to “act immediately” to stop the news channel’s activity.

Responding, the Qatar-based network, which is one of the most widely viewed sources of news in the Arab world, said in part, “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… 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.”

According to the New York Times, under the new law, if the prime minister deems a foreign media outlet to “concretely undermine” Israel’s national security, the government can temporarily close its offices, confiscate its equipment, remove it from Israeli cable and satellite TV providers and block access to any of its online platforms in Israel or owned by Israeli entities. The BBC reported that a ban would be in place for a period of 45 days at a time, which could be renewed. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Monday urged the Israeli government not to close the Jerusalem-based bureau of Al Jazeera and to “allow the media to report freely on news events in Israel and Gaza during the current conflict.”

The org’s program director in New York, Carlos Martínez de la Serna, said, “CPJ is deeply concerned by new legislation authorizing the Netanyahu government to shutter Al Jazeera in Israel. The law grants the government the power to close any foreign media outlets operating in Israel, posing a significant threat to international media within the country. This contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility toward the press, a trend that has escalated since the Israel-Gaza war began.”

Later on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that if reports of Israel attempting to shut down Al Jazeera are true, “a move like this is concerning.” “We believe in the freedom of the press; it is critical, it is critically important and the United States supports the critically important work journalists around the world do.,” she added.

With foreign journalists banned from entering Gaza, Al Jazeera staff based in the strip have been some of the only reporters able to cover the war on the ground, the BBC noted.

The new law comes at a critical time in Israel’s relations with Qatar, which has been hosting ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the New York Times said.

Netanyahu’s government has long had an uneasy relationship with Al Jazeera and the Hamas-led attack on October 7 has increased those tensions. Prior to the war, Netanyahu had been championing a controversial media bill that was expected to harm media independence and freedom of expression, according to local broadcasters.

The Israel-Hamas war has been raging for nearly six months and the international tide continues to turn on Israel. Today, Israel has been criticized after seven people working for food aid charity World Central Kitchen, including a U.S.-Canadian citizen, were killed in an air strike in Gaza.

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