Apr 1, 2024 - World

Netanyahu signals he will shutter local Al Jazeera bureau under new law

Al Jazeera

The Al Jazeera logo is seen at a bureau in Berlin on Feb.27, 2014. Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he plans to "act immediately" on a new Israeli law that gives senior government officials power to shutter foreign news networks for national security purposes.

Why it matters: Press freedom experts have warned that shuttering Al Jazeera could set a dangerous precedent in Israel.

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "deeply concerned" by the new legislation, arguing it poses "a significant threat to international media within the country."
  • Leaders of the National Press Club also objected to any effort to shutter Al Jazeera in a statement.

Details: Netanyahu's comments came shortly after Israel's legislative body, the Knesset, passed a new measure Monday that empowers Israel's communications minister to take action against any foreign media network that it can prove poses a national security risk.

  • The bill had overwhelming support, passing in a 71-10 vote.
  • In a statement posted on X, Prime Minister Netanyahu alleged "Al Jazeera harmed Israel's security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against IDF soldiers."
  • "It is time to remove the shofar of Hamas from our country," he added, referencing a loud ram's horn instrument used in Jewish religious ceremonies.
  • State department spokesperson Matthew Miller responded to a question about the new law in a briefing Monday, noting that the U.S. supports the work of the free and independent media.
  • He said the U.S. doesn't agree with everything in Al Jazeera's coverage, but he acknowledged that a lot of what we know about what's happening in Gaza comes from Al-Jazeera's reporters on the ground.

Catch up quick: Israel's communications minister first signaled that he was looking temporarily shut down Al Jazeera's local bureau through new emergency regulations that were passed in October following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war,

  • Axios reported at that time that U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken told a group of American Jewish community leaders he asked the Qatari prime minister to tone down Al Jazeera's rhetoric about the war in Gaza.

Zoom in: Banning Al Jazeera could complicate relations between Israel and Qatar, who is a key mediator in the hostage talks.

The big picture: Even before the war, Prime Minister Netanyahu was eyeing ways to rein in the media as a part of a wider judicial overhaul, Axios has noted.

  • Netanyahu's government had already proposed a law to create a government-controlled media regulator that journalism experts warned could make the press vulnerable to political meddling. Prominent Israeli broadcasters quickly pushed back.
  • The new law passed by the Knesset, "contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility toward the press, a trend that has escalated since the Israel-#Gaza war began," CPJ said in its statement Monday.
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