While the Communications Ministry’s announcement Sunday of its plans to ban the Al Jazeera network from Israel won the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the decision to shutter the Jerusalem offices of the Qatari-based media outlet accused of promoting Islamist extremism has at least one Israeli organization up in arms.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a far-left organization which has often challenged Israeli security measures to defend citizens from Palestinian Authority terrorists, took aim Monday at Communications Minister Ayoub Kara’s announcement.
On Sunday, Kara said that his ministry would work to protect freedom of the press, but would not permit media outlets to threaten Israel’s security, noting Al Jazeera’s role in promoting incitement against Israel following the July 14th terror attack which left two Israeli officers dead.
“Freedom of expression is a basic value, and I will do everything I can to protect objective journalism and freedom of expression, which is very important to me,” said Kara. But, continued Kara, “the events on the Temple Mount have put me in a position where I need to think about how I can secure the safety of Israel’s citizens, and that is the most important.”
“Recently, we’ve noticed that some outlets are not being used for free expression, but for incitement against Israeli citizens. One of these outlets, the Al Jazeera network, is responsible for the loss of some of our finest sons.”
Kara pledged to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem offices, as well as revoke the press credentials of its journalists and even bar broadcasting of the Qatari network on Israeli satellite and cable services.
Not surprisingly, the move drew criticism from Al Jazeera, which took the opportunity to launch a scathing attack on Israeli democracy, referring to the Jewish state as “a country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East.”
On Monday, the ACRI joined the fray, accusing Israel of declaring war against freedom of expression.
Banning Al Jazeera over its anti-Israel incitement, the ACRI claimed, was tantamount to a “declaration of war”.
“This joins a series of steps taken by the government against freedom of expression and against anybody that criticizes government policy.”
Yet even many in the Arab world have pointed out Al Jazeera’s promotion of anti-Jewish incitement and anti-Semitic canards.
While Al Jazeera’s coverage of events in Israel has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism and pro-Islamist incitement, even Arab states hostile to Israel have slammed the Qatari-controlled network and its reporting.
Founded in 1996, the Arabic network and its English affiliate have acted as the de facto state mouthpiece of the Qatari government, promoting radical Islamist groups supported by Qatar, like the Muslim Brotherhood.
In June, four Arab states severed relations with Qatar, demanding the government end its support for radical Islamist groups – and shut down the Al Jazeera network they claim has been used to promote extremist ideologies.
Last month, the United Arab Emirates went even further, accusing Al Jazeera of anti-Semitism and incitement.
In a letter to United Nations Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote that Al Jazeera had "promoted anti-Semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi".
Gargash also noted that Al Jazeera programing had "praised Hitler, described the Holocaust as 'divine punishment', and called on Allah to 'take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people... and kill them, down to the very last one'".
In the past, other Arab states, and even Al Jazeera employees, have accused the network of promoting the agendas of radical organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his successor, Nouri Al-Maliki, both ripped Al Jazeera for its incitement of violence in Iraq, leading to temporary bans of the network.
In 2013, dozens of members of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau quit, accusing the network of working on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.