May 5, 2024 - World

Israeli officials raid Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau after shutdown order

 Inspectors and police are raiding the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem, Israel, on May 5, 2024, and are confiscating its equipment.

Inspectors and police raiding the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem and confiscating the network's equipment. Photo: Saeed Qaq/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Police officers raided Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau Sunday and pulled the network off the air in Israel after the Israeli parliament passed a measure forcing the closure of the Qatari-owned news outlet's local office.

Why it matters: The move silences one of the largest international media outlets on the ground covering the Israel-Hamas war. It complicates current conflict negotiations between Hamas and Israel.

Catch up quick: Israel's legislative body, the Knesset, passed a measure last month that empowers Israel's communications minister to take action against any foreign media network that it can prove poses a national security risk.

  • The law gives senior government officials power to temporarily shutter foreign news networks on national security grounds for at least 45 days, but that period can be extended.
  • Israeli government officials have signaled that the channel will be blocked until the conflict with Hamas is resolved. Al Jazeera has signaled that it could take legal action to fight the ban and remain on air.

Driving the news: Israel's communications minister signed orders Sunday to "act immediately" to implement the new law, allowing officials to begin taking actions to block the channel.

  • Israeli police officials began seizing Al Jazeera's broadcasting equipment from its Jerusalem offices Sunday, the Times of Israel reported. By late Sunday, Al Jazeera's signal was blocked by cable providers in Israel, per CNN.
  • The prime minister's spokesperson Ofir Gendelman posted on X that in addition to confiscating Al Jazeera's equipment, "the channel's correspondents will be prevented from working, the channel will be removed from cable and satellite television companies, and Al Jazeera's websites will be blocked on the Internet."

What they're saying: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for months accused Al Jazeera, which has been critical of Israel's ground operations in Gaza, of being a mouthpiece for Hamas, which Al Jazeera has denied.

  • "Al Jazeera reporters harmed Israel's security and incited against soldiers," Netanyahu said in a statement. "It's time to remove the Hamas mouthpiece from our country."
  • Al Jazeera slammed the move in response, calling the Israeli government's assertion that it poses a national security threat "slanderous."
  • The network said the order "will not deter us from continuing our bold and professional coverage, and reserves the right to pursue every legal step."

The big picture: The shuttering of Al Jazeera's bureau marks the first time Israeli lawmakers have voted to unilaterally shutter operations of a foreign media entity in the country. Press freedom experts have warned that it could be a slippery slope.

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists on Sunday condemned the move, arguing it could set a "dangerous precedent for other international media outlets working in Israel."
  • The action comes as Netanyahu has pushed to consolidate power broadly, including pressing to rein in media.
  • Representatives for U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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