update deskIsrael at War

Knesset passes law to shutter Al Jazeera’s Israel bureau

"Al Jazeera will be closed in the coming days," Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi vowed following the vote.

Workers at Al Jazeera's offices in Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Workers at Al Jazeera's offices in Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Knesset plenum voted 71-10 on Monday night to pass a law allowing the closure of Al Jazeera’s Israel bureau.

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

Earlier on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed coalition members to vote in favor. According to a statement by the premier’s ruling Likud Party, he asked coalition chairman Knesset member Ofir Katz “to make sure that the law to close Al Jazeera in Israel is approved this evening in the Knesset.”

The statement continued, “After the approval of the law, Prime Minister Netanyahu will immediately act to close Al Jazeera in accordance with the procedure established by the law.”

The bill gives the prime minister authority to shut down the Qatari broadcaster, which Jerusalem has accused of anti-Israel bias and of aiding the enemy in its war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

The draft 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.

After the decision is announced, it is subject to review by the president of a district court or the deputy thereof within 24 hours, who may change the law or limit the period of its validity, which is 45 days with the possibility of an extension for another 45 days.

If passed, the law will remain in effect until July 31, the end of the special situation declared by the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command or until the end of significant military operations in the war.

The Israeli Cabinet approved emergency regulations weeks after the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7 to temporarily shutter Al Jazeera’s operations in the country.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karai announced his intentions to shut down the channel on Oct. 11. 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.

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

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.

However, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara objected to the draft legislation, arguing that it would give the communications minister draconian powers over Israeli media networks as well, and a compromise version of the proposed regulations was reached.

Al Jazeera has continued to broadcast from Israel as the legislation progressed through the Knesset, a process that could end on Monday night with Netanyahu’s approval.

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 from the Gaza Strip.

Last month, 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.”

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 terror organization by the United States, Canada, the 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.

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