Israeli PM vows to ban Al Jazeera broadcasts

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday to use a fresh national security law passed by parliament to ban news channel Al Jazeera from broadcasting in the country.

The law, passed on Monday by 70 votes to 10, grants top ministers the power to ban broadcasts by foreign channels deemed a national security threat and to shut their offices.

Netanyahu was quick to single out Qatar-based channel Al Jazeera, with which his government has a long-running feud that predates Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“The terrorist channel Al Jazeera will no longer broadcast from Israel. I intend to act immediately in accordance with the new law to stop the channel’s activities,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter.

The broadcaster slammed the ban as “part of a series of systematic Israeli attacks to silence Al Jazeera”, including the killing of one of its most prominent journalists in the region while covering an Israeli raid in May 2022.

In a statement, the network said Netanyahu had launched a “frantic” and “disgraceful” campaign of accusations against the network, vowing to continue its “bold” coverage of the war.

Two network correspondents have been killed during the conflict and the broadcaster’s office in the besieged Palestinian territory has been bombed.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the law “contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility toward the press, a trend that has escalated since the Israel-Gaza war began”.

At least 95 journalists and media workers have been killed since the war began after an unprecedented attack by Hamas on October 7, according to the group, marking “the deadliest period for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992”.

In January, Israel said an Al Jazeera staff journalist and a freelancer killed in an air strike in Gaza were “terror operatives”.

The following month, it accused another journalist with the channel who was wounded in a separate strike of being a “deputy company commander” with Hamas.

Al Jazeera has fiercely denied Israel’s allegations and accused it of systematically targeting Al Jazeera employees in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said in a statement that the ban showed that Israel “desperately seeks to obscure the truth of its heinous crimes”.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said “if it is true, a move like this is concerning”.

– ‘Independent’ –

Broadcasting in both English and Arabic, Al Jazeera bills itself as the “first independent news channel in the Arab world”.

Launched in Doha in 1996, the network says it has more than 70 bureaus around the globe, with 3,000 employees and an audience in 430 million homes.

Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, also serves as a base for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Tensions between Israel and Al Jazeera have only grown since the latest Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on October 7.

Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, Wael al-Dahdouh, was wounded in an Israeli strike in December that killed the network’s cameraman.

His wife, two of their children and a grandson were killed in the October bombardment of central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.

His eldest son was the Al Jazeera staff journalist killed in January when a strike targeted a car in Rafah.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war began after Hamas’s attack, which resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

In response, Israel has launched a relentless air and ground campaign that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 32,845 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.