Citing security risks and antisemitic incitement, Israel shuts down Al Jazeera bureau

Photo by Gil C/Shutterstock.

by Troy Osher Fritzhand

(JNS) — The Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously on May 5 to approve a Knesset bill from last month that will bring about the closure of Al Jazeera’s bureau in the country.

“The government headed by me unanimously decided: The incitement channel Al Jazeera will be closed in Israel,” wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on X, while thanking Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Karhi added, “Our orders will go into effect immediately. Too much time has passed and too many unnecessary legal hurdles for us to finally be able to stop Al Jazeera’s well-oiled incitement machine that harms the security of the country.”

He also said, “There will be no freedom of speech for the Hamas mouthpieces in Israel. Al Jazeera will be closed immediately and their equipment will be confiscated.”

Economy Minister Nir Barkat said after the vote, “Al Jazeera is the biggest engine of antisemitism in the world that Qatar operates against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the government sends a strong message against the propaganda arm of the terrorist state of Qatar. We will not allow Israel’s enemies to broadcast antisemitic propaganda and blood plots from our territory,” Barkat said.

Energy Minister Eli Cohen said, “The decision to close the incitement channel Al Jazeera is an important step in the fight against bias and lies. We will not allow Hamas supporters to take advantage of Israeli democracy and freedom of the press to encourage terrorism.”

Harms the state’s security

The Knesset voted 71-10 in April for the bill that gives the prime minister authority to shut down the anti-Israel broadcaster’s local operations, which Jerusalem has accused of aiding the enemy in its war against the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.

The legislation states that the communications minister may act against a foreign channel that harms the state’s security, with the consent of the prime minister and the approval of the Cabinet or the government. The prime minister and Cabinet can approve the measure after security officials prove that the channel poses an actual security risk.

The measures enable authorities to order television providers to stop broadcasting the outlet; close its offices in Israel; seize its equipment; shut down its website; and revoke press credentials for staff.

On the afternoon of May 5, police officers raided a room in eastern Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel from where Al Jazeera was operating. Representatives of the Communications Ministry confiscated broadcasting equipment on the spot.

Meanwhile, the HOT cable provider and the Yes satellite television provider blocked customers from watching the channel, instead showing a message that reads, “In accordance with the government’s decision, Al Jazeera’s broadcasts have ceased in Israel.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the National Security Council supported closing the channel.

“There will be no freedom of speech for Hamas mouthpieces in Israel. Al Jazeera will be closed in the coming days,” Karhi vowed following the Knesset vote.

The Mossad intelligence agency backed the move due to Al Jazeera reporters revealing the staging areas of Israeli forces in the south as well as other sensitive locations.

Al Jazeera Israel bureau chief Waleed Omari said about the closure, “The background of this [shutdown] decision is not professional or journalistic…, it’s political.” He said they are planning on bringing the move to the courts.

Hamas also released a statement, saying, “The decision of the criminal Netanyahu and his Nazi government to close the Al Jazeera office and prevent it from working and reporting … is a blatant violation of freedom of the press and an oppressive and retaliatory measure against Al Jazeera’s professional role in exposing the occupation’s crimes and violations committed by its criminal Nazi army and its terrorist settlers against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara had initially objected to the draft legislation, arguing that it would give the communications minister draconian powers over Israeli media networks as well. A compromise version of the proposed regulations was reached leading to her giving the green light to the government vote at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Al Jazeera was founded with the financial backing of the Qatari royal family and has served for decades as a mouthpiece for the regime, which provides asylum for the leaders of Hamas, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, European Union, Israel and other nations.

The Arabic-language network is notorious for its anti-Israel reporting, antisemitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial, even as its English outlet has sought to offer a veneer of objectivity to Western viewers through some high-profile international anchors.

In February, the IDF exposed a Palestinian reporter working for Al Jazeera in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Abu Omar, as a Hamas terrorist operative. It came days after the IDF exposed Al Jazeera employee Mohamed Washah as a Hamas officer, citing documents seized in the Gaza Strip.

In another incident in March, the channel quietly removed a libelous story accusing Israeli soldiers of raping Palestinian women in Gaza, a day after it went viral on social media.

“It was revealed through Hamas investigations that the story of the rape of women in Al-Shifa Hospital was fabricated,” tweeted Al Jazeera columnist and former director Yasser Abuhilalah. “The woman who spoke about rape justified her exaggeration and incorrect talk by saying that the goal was to arouse the nation’s fervor and brotherhood.”