Updated May 21, 2024 - World

Under U.S. pressure, Israel reverses crackdown against AP

 Israeli Army's armored vehicles and tanks move in and out of Gaza on April 25, 2024, Sderot, Israel.

Israeli Army armored vehicles and tanks move in and out of Gaza on Apr. 25, 2024, Sderot, Israel. Photo: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Israeli government on Tuesday reversed its decision to seize broadcasting equipment from the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The Israeli Ministry of Communications' decision earlier Tuesday to confiscate video and broadcasting equipment used by the AP for a live shot of northern Gaza is another point of tension between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government.

  • The move is raising concerns in the Biden administration — and renewing them among press freedom advocates — about the Israeli government's intentions to limit freedom of the press around the Gaza war under a pretext of national security.

The latest: Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karai said in a statement late on Tuesday that he ordered to "cancel the operation and return the equipment to the AP agency" because the Ministry of Defense "wishes to examine the matter of the broadcasts ... regarding the risk to our forces."

Behind the scenes: U.S. officials spoke Tuesday with officials in the Israeli Prime Minister's office, expressing concerns about the Israeli Ministry of Communications' crackdown on the AP and asked Israel to reverse its decision, two sources with knowledge of the issue said.

  • NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the White House and State Department spoke to Israeli officials to "express our serious concern and ask them to reverse this action."
  • "The free press is an essential pillar of democracy and members of the media, including AP, do vital work that must be respected," Watson said.

Driving the news: Israeli Ministry of Communications officials seized the AP's equipment in the southern Israel town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon, arguing the global news agency had violated a new foreign broadcast law by providing a live feed of northern Gaza to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the AP reported.

  • An Israeli official said the Ministry of Communications took action against the AP without coordinating with the Israeli Prime Minister's office.
  • Karai claimed in his statement that the equipment transmitted the positions of Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip to Al-Jazeera, "putting them at risk."

What they're saying: White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre told reporters the Biden administration is concerned about reports of the seizure. She said journalists need to have the right and the ability to do their job.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karai and to reflect that the equipment is being returned to the AP.

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