JERUSALEM — Israel plans to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office, stop transmitting its broadcasts and strip the Qatar-based channel’s journalists of their credentials, the country’s communications minister said Sunday.
Ayoub Kara accused the broadcaster of “incitement” as he announced the plans for shuttering the station’s operations.
“Freedom of expression is not freedom to incite,” he said, according to a ministry statement. “Democracy has limits.”
Al Jazeera denounced the decision “made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East,’” and said it was unclear when the Israeli government would act on Kara’s request.
The broadcaster added that it will fight any attempt to close its office in the courts and would also continue to cover news in the neighboring Palestinian territories.
A legal amendment will need to be made to adopt the measures, the ministry statement said, with the law updated to reflect the “current geopolitical reality.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his support for the move, having publicly vowed to close down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau last month. He has been attempting to rebuild his following among right-wing voters after agreeing to remove metal detectors at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem last month, which was seen by some Israelis as a capitulation to Palestinian worshipers after a two-week-long stand off. He also accused the channel of incitement; however, his office declined to give specific examples of content it deemed to have stoked tensions.
The announcement also came just days after Netanyahu’s former chief of staff agreed to testify against him in relation to allegations of fraud and breach of trust, throwing his continued tenure into jeopardy.
Al Jazeera has accused Israel of siding with four Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that are imposing an economic blockade on Qatar and have severed diplomatic relations with the country. They accuse Qatar of backing terrorism and have demanded the shutdown of Qatari-funded Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan have closed Al Jazeera offices in recent months, while the channel’s signal has been blocked in the United Arab Emirates.
“The collusion by Netanyahu with his Arab autocratic neighbors leaves little doubt that free independent media and truth are ready to be sacrificed as collateral damage in the power politics of the region,” Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid Omary, wrote in an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Since its inception, Al Jazeera has provided Israel with a rare conduit for airing its viewpoints to Arab and Muslim audiences and participating in dialogue with them.”
Although it has never been banned from Israel, the channel has faced similar criticism in the past.
During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also called for the channel to be closed.
“Changing the law in order to shut down a media organization for political reasons is a slippery slope,” the executive secretary of Israel’s Foreign Press Association, Glenys Sugarman, told the news agency Reuters.