World News

Netanyahu vows to shut Israeli office of Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday to shutter the local office of Qatari satellite television station Al Jazeera while the war in Gaza continues.

Hours after his party spokesperson said parliament would be convened to ratify the necessary law, the Knesset approved the bill allowing the temporary closure in Israel of foreign broadcasters considered to be a threat to national security.

The law approved on Monday would allow Netanyahu and the security cabinet to shut the station for 45 days, which would be renewable, and would stay in force until the end of July or until the end of major military operations in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will close the Jerusalem office of Qatari news agency Al Jazeera.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will close the Jerusalem office of Qatari news agency Al Jazeera. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool/File Photo

Al Jazeera rejected accusations that it harmed Israel’s security as a “dangerous and ridiculous lie.”

The station, which has been fiercely critical of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, from where it has reported around the clock, has previously accused Israel of systematically targeting its offices and personnel.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karai accused Al Jazeera of encouraging hostilities against Israel. “It is impossible to tolerate a media outlet, with press credentials from the government press office and with offices in Israel, acting from within against us, certainly in wartime,” he said.

Israeli officials have long complained about Al Jazeera’s coverage, but stopped short of taking action, mindful of Qatar’s bankrolling of Palestinian construction projects in the Gaza Strip — seen by all sides as a means of staving off conflict.

However the move to allow the government to close down the local offices of foreign media groups drew concern from the United States, Israel’s main ally, which said it was critical to maintain freedom of the press.

Al Jazeera said the accusation that it is harming Israel's security is a "dangerous and ridiculous lie."
Al Jazeera said the accusation that it is harming Israel’s security is a “dangerous and ridiculous lie.” AFP via Getty Images

“If it is true, a move like this is concerning,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing.

Since the Gaza war that erupted on Oct. 7 with a cross-border killing and kidnapping rampage by the enclave’s dominant Hamas Islamists, Doha has mediated ceasefire negotiations under which Israel recovered some of those taken hostage.

However, talks on a second proposed truce appear to be going nowhere.

In January, Netanyahu publicly called for the Qataris to be pressed into applying more pressure on Hamas. Qatar hosts the group’s political office and several top Hamas officials.

Asked if the threat against Al Jazeera might be part of such pressure, an Israeli government spokesperson, Avi Hyman, did not answer directly, though he did describe the station as “spouting propaganda for many, many years”.

‘DUE PROCESS’

In what may have been a hint that Al Jazeera could have legal recourse against any closure, Hyman added during a briefing: “There’s due process, so we’re not there yet.”

Israel’s communications minister accused the station on Oct. 15 of pro-Hamas incitement and exposing Israeli troops to ambushes.

Al Jazeera and the Doha government did not respond to those allegations.

The following month, Israel appeared to spare the Qatari station, instead ordering an end to the local broadcasts of a smaller Lebanese pro-Iranian channel, Al Mayadeen, under emergency media regulations.

The bill ratified on Monday passed its first reading in the Knesset in February.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel’s six-month military offensive in Gaza, including 63 in the past 24 hours, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

In the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

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