columnIsrael at War

‘Al Jazeera’ plays the free-speech card

The temporary closure of the Qatari network’s Israel operations is a national-security measure, not a violation of values it doesn’t possess.

An eviction notice on the door of the 'Al Jazeera' offices in eastern Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
An eviction notice on the door of the 'Al Jazeera' offices in eastern Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The brouhaha surrounding the closure of Al Jazeera’s Israel operations is part of a broader disinformation campaign against the Jewish state. Even the way the move is being portrayed by the Qatari media outlet—as a violation of free speech—is a lie.

Not surprising, given that mendacity is a requirement for employees of the network. But bad journalism isn’t behind the legislation, which passed last month in a landslide Knesset vote and unanimously by the Cabinet on Sunday.

Indeed, if slanted coverage had been the impetus for the law, the government would long ago have banned Al Jazeera, as well as most other broadcasters and print publications, including the Hebrew-language ones. Contrary to negative narratives, Israel actually adheres to the tenet (coined by Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

No, the bill, which allows Israel to temporarily shutter foreign broadcasters deemed to be a threat to national security during the war against Hamas in Gaza, was born and approved as an emergency measure in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre. It arose as a result of Al Jazeera’s involvement in, support for and obfuscation of the atrocities committed by Hamas on Simchat Torah—and in its abetting the terrorist organization’s falsification of ostensible Israeli crimes.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi explained at the time: “Israel is at war—on land, in the air, at sea and through public consciousness. … Al Jazeera’s broadcasts and reports constitute incitement against Israel, serving Hamas-Daesh [ISIS] propaganda and encouraging violence against Israel, thereby actually harming state security.”

There’s no question that the step was warranted. Back in February, Israel Defense Forces Arabic-language spokesman Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee revealed documents showing that Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Washah was a “prominent commander” in Hamas’s anti-tank missile unit who, in late 2022, began R&D work for its aerial array.

Similar findings emerged about additional reporters and videographers doubling as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives. The evidence is so extensive that even Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara—who initially objected to the bill on the grounds that it would give the communications minister excessive power over the press—greenlit a tweaked version.

Judging by Baharav-Miara’s tendency to hinder the government she’s supposed to counsel and defend, her decision to allow the regulations indicates just how egregious Al Jazeera’s behavior has been. And the only reason that it’s taken this long to pass and implement the legislation is the delicate nature of Jerusalem’s relations with Doha.

Qatar, home since 2016 to Hamas “political leader” Ismail Haniyeh, inserted itself as a mediator in the effort to free the hostages held in Gaza by his counterpart in the Strip, Yahya Sinwar. But since the agreement in November that led to the release of mostly women and children from Hamas’s tunnel-dungeons, no progress has been made.

Of course, that’s because Israel refuses to retreat from Gaza and leave Sinwar in control. So, none of the “negotiations” brokered by the United States, Egypt and Al Jazeera’s royal patron is of any help to the 132 remaining captives.

Waiting any longer to put a muzzle on Qatar’s antisemitic mouthpiece was therefore pointless. Taking the step on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day was especially fitting, however; even more so given Hamas’s reaction.

“The decision of the criminal [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his Nazi government to close the Al Jazeera office and prevent it from working and reporting,” the terrorist group said in a statement, “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.”

Israel rests its case.

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