Silencing the truth
May 16, 2024
Luca Mazzacane
(Pavia, Italy)

Last week, Israel's parliament (Knesset) passed a law allowing the government to shut down a foreign broadcaster they say constitutes "harm to state security."  It’s clearly the Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera that’s in the crosshairs of Benjamin Netanyahu's executive action. 

Netanyahu called Al Jazeera a "terror channel" and said it will no longer be allowed to broadcast to Israel. The Israeli premier accused the Qatari network of harming Israeli security, participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, and inciting against Israel. "It is my intention to act immediately under the new law to stop the channel's activities," he wrote on X

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, hailing the passage of the law, also called Al Jazeera a "propaganda arm of Hamas." "It is impossible to tolerate a media outlet, with government press office credentials and offices in Israel, acting from within against us in wartime," Karhi said. "There will be no freedom of speech for the Hamas spokesman in Israel. Al Jazeera will close down in the next few days," he added. 

The law allows the communications minister to shut down foreign media operating in Israel if he deems them a danger to national security. The minister is authorized to order that the channel at issue cease broadcasting, that its Israeli offices be closed, its equipment confiscated, and that access to the website be blocked and taken offline if the server is physically located in Israel. The closure orders will be valid for 45 days but can be renewed for additional 45-day periods. 

In recent months Qatar has emerged as a key intermediary in efforts to broker a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, with a swap of hostages still held by Hamas for thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. The small Arabian Qatari peninsula has hosted the Palestinian Islamist group's political office in its capital Doha for more than a decade, while the country is also home to the advanced headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command. 

The United States immediately reacted to the news, calling it "deeply troubling" through White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. She was echoed by State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, who criticized Israel's intention to ban Al Jazeera, saying that Washington does not always agree with the broadcaster's coverage but supports its work. He said the State Department continues to "support press freedom" and believes that "the work done by the free and independent press is important everywhere in the world."  "Much of what we know about what has happened in Gaza," Miller said, "is due to the reporters who are there doing their work, including those at Al Jazeera.” 

For its part, Al Jazeera called the reasons cited by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for banning the station in Israel "serious and ridiculous lies." In a statement, the Doha-based TV station condemned what it called "dangerous moves" by the Israeli government, which has long been engaged in a battle against Al Jazeera reporting, intensified by its coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza. They emphasize that already on May 15, 2021, the Gaza office of Al Jazeera was bombed, and now Israel wants to close the file “for good.” 

It should be pointed out, by the way, that the Al Jazeera broadcaster is a small technological jewel, having since its inception used direct broadcast satellite and built a vast archive that can be accessed without a paywall. Much of its reporting can also be used freely by the public according to the evolved logic of Creative Commons, contrary to the narrow and closed spirit of copyright.

The Italian Executive Committee of the National Order of Journalists regards as particularly serious Israel’s passage of a special law allowing news outlets to be shut down for "national security" reasons.  The measure has been designed to black out the Al-Jazeera station, an international all-news outlet that for years has provided news and information, particularly on the Arab world (but not only), that other stations have avoided or deemed unimportant.  Relevant to the current situation, Al Jazeera closely follows Israeli-Palestinian affairs, complete with a correspondence bureau in Tel Aviv.

The Italian committee reiterates the importance of having journalists who can operate safely, even in war zones. It is already very serious that Israel has prevented the international press from reporting inside Gaza and that so many Palestinian and Al Jazeera journalists have been killed while doing their work. This new Israeli law is one more step toward restricting sources of information about the tragedy unfolding in the Gaza Strip. Freedom of the press must apply always and everywhere, as the European Union itself has reiterated on the merits.

If Al Jazeera were to shut down, we would know even less about what’s happening in Gaza than the very little we now know. That would appear to be the intended purpose of Israel’s new law. 


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