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Israel launches discussions on draft bill aimed at shutting down Al Jazeera

Aug. 1, 2017 10:26 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 2, 2017 10:16 A.M.)
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BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities have launched official discussions aimed at drafting a bill that would force the closure of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera News Network in Israel, Israeli media reported on Monday, as Israel has come under fire recently for its violations of press freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said on Sunday night that “professional discussions” were underway in order to draft a bill that would shutter the award-winning news network. The Communications Ministry's legal department and the Israeli Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting have reportedly been involved in the discussions.

During recent unrest around Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Al Jazeera for deliberately “inciting violence” at Al-Aqsa for its coverage of the events, and demanded that Israeli authorities shutter their offices in Israel.

However, according to The Jerusalem Post, Kara was initiating the bill in order to follow suit with several countries that had already shuttered Al Jazeera’s offices, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain -- all of which are monarchies that have little to no press freedoms, and Egypt, which Reporters Without Borders have called “one of the biggest prisons for journalists.”

The attacks on Al Jazeera came amid a diplomatic fallout between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Saudi Arabia and several other countries severing ties with Qatar in an effort to isolate the country in order to enforce several demands on the Qatari government. The main demand is that Qatar halt its funding to armed groups in the region, an allegation Qatar has consistently denied.

“We identify with the moderates in the Arab World who are fighting terrorism and religious extremism,” Kara reportedly said. However, it was unclear how Saudi Arabia, a hereditary monarchy which practices a strict version of Islamic law -- even prohibiting women from driving -- could be considered a “moderate” Arab country.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has long been accused of funding extremists in other countries in order to shift political dynamics in its favor.

“We will act like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and more, which expelled the inciting channel from their countries,” Kara reportedly stated, adding that these countries must “cooperate in the war against channels that preach terrorism.”

Following the eruption of the Gulf crisis, Israel was quick to jump on the bandwagon and promote the closure of Al Jazeera in Israel as well.

Israel’s ultra-right Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman even compared Al Jazeera’s publications with propaganda disseminated during Nazi Germany. “It is not media, it is a propaganda outfit in the style of the Soviets or Nazi Germany,” he reportedly said.

Israel’s calls to close Al Jazeera are not new, as several other attempts have been made in the past to shut down the network over what Israeli officials consider to be negative coverage on Israel owing to Al Jazeera's focus on Israel’s activities in the Palestinian territory, which Israeli authorities have deemed “incitement” against the Israeli state.

However, such calls had previously been abandoned, as they contradicted Israel’s claims of being a democracy equipped with a functioning free press. However, analysts have pointed out that Arab nations have provided Israel with the perfect political climate to go forward with their longstanding inclination to pull the plug on the network.

Others have pointed out that Al Jazeera has provided an important platform for Palestinian voices, which are often marginalized by Israel’s influence over international media, and for stories exploring the effects of Israel’s half-century military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

"What's wrong with Al Jazeera?" Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Israel Walid Omari asked last month when Israel had threatened to shutter the studio. "We are duly registered, law-abiding workers who pay taxes and behave according to journalistic ethics. From day one we have been registered. Everything is transparent, everything is coherent."

"How can Israel continue to argue to the world that it is part of a democratic and universal dialogue if it behaves like a dark dictatorship," Omari added.

Some have pointed out the irony of the so-called "only democracy in the Middle East" shutting down a news network at the behest of a monarchy ruled by a royal family that is routinely accused of human rights abuses, and whose citizens have no basic rights of expression or press freedoms.

Meanwhile, Israel has come under fierce criticism in recent days for its attacks on Palestinian journalists and media institutions amid two weeks of protests around Israeli restrictions on Al-Aqsa.

“Clearly, Israel is engaging in an ongoing policy that deliberately targets media institutions and journalists in Palestine who courageously work to represent the Palestinian human narrative and report on Israel’s military occupation and its persistent policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said on Sunday in response to Israeli forces raiding offices at PalMedia in Ramallah.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) also released a statement reacting to the raid of PalMedia and what it called a clear increase in attacks against journalists “who carry out their duty in conveying news about peaceful sit-ins organized by Jerusalemites."

“The wide range of indiscriminate violent attacks against media and journalists reaffirms the persistence of the Israeli occupation violations and attack on media freedoms through various violent means,” the Ramallah-based NGO said.

Israel has been accused of labeling any media that is critical of Israel and its policies in Palestinian communities as “incitement” in order to stifle criticisms of Israel’s discriminatory policies in Israel, its continued occupation of the West Bank for its 50th year, and its decade-long siege of the Gaza Strip that has collapsed the territory into an interminable humanitarian crisis.
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