Qatari TV channel at heart of Gulf crisis may be shut by Israel too

Al Jazeera's office in Jerusalem. Israel plans to close the Al Jazeera bureau, accusing the Arab satellite news broadcaster of incitement.
Al Jazeera's office in Jerusalem. Israel plans to close the Al Jazeera bureau, accusing the Arab satellite news broadcaster of incitement.PHOTO: AFP

TEL AVIV (Bloomberg) - Israel is moving ahead with efforts to shut Qatari-owned Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau as its security service assesses whether the Qatar-based broadcaster presents a significant threat to the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the possibility of closing the broadcaster's operations last month because of its coverage of Palestinian protests at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which he said constituted incitement to violence.

Communications Minister Ayoob Kara said on Sunday (Aug 6) that his office has formally proposed the shutdown, suggesting that it could help Israel improve relations with Gulf nations that have taken similar action as part of a political feud with Qatar.

"Democracy has limits," Mr Kara said at a press conference in Jerusalem. "Freedom of expression is not freedom to incite."

Mr Netanyahu endorsed Mr Kara's remarks in a Twitter message.

Israel has long presented itself as a bastion of press freedom in a region where government restrictions on the media are commonplace, and has pointed to Al Jazeera's presence in Jerusalem as proof of the nation's liberal values.

That has changed in the past month since Mr Netanyahu blamed Al Jazeera's reporting for stirring passions against Israel that led to violent demonstrations, after the government installed metal detectors at the Jerusalem shrine following a shooting attack that killed two policemen.

Mr Kara also noted that a Saudi Arabia-led alliance that severed ties with Qatar last month had demanded the closing of Al Jazeera among its conditions for ending the dispute.

"We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close Al Jazeera offices and prohibit their work," Mr Kara added. "We want alliances with these countries."

The Shin-Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, has started investigating Al Jazeera's operations and will produce a report that will determine whether it should be shut down and if its journalists' credentials should be revoked, Mr Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office in Jerusalem, said in a telephone interview.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists reporting in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, criticised the potential action against Al Jazeera.

"Changing the law to shut down a media organisation is a slippery slope," the group's executive secretary, Ms Glenys Sugarman, said in a telephone interview.