ROME — Moves are underway in Israel to shut down the Jerusalem bureau of Al-Jazeera, a decision which the Qatar-based pan-Arabic news network has denounced as “undemocratic.”
At a press conference on Sunday, which Al Jazeera was barred from attending, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara announced plans to initiate a procedure to revoke the press credentials of Al-Jazeera journalists working in Israel and to attempt to block the satcaster’s signal in the country, besides shutting down the Jerusalem bureau.
“Al-Jazeera denounces this decision made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East,’” the network said in a statement on Monday, adding that they would “watch closely the developments that may result from the Israeli decision, and will take the necessary legal measures.”
Kara’s move was backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Twitter message. Netanyahu has blamed Al Jazeera for stirring passions against Israel that recently led to violent Palestinian demonstrations at a contested Jerusalem shrine.
“Al Jazeera will continue to cover the events of the occupied Palestinian territories professionally and accurately, according to the standards set by international agencies, such as the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom),” Al Jazeera noted in its statement.
Israeli commentators have pointed out that shutting down Al Jazeera in Israel anytime soon is highly unlikely since this requires a long process in parliament, which is currently on break and where the move would face stiff objections.
Israel has long boasted of being a bastion of press freedom in the Middle East and pointed to Al Jazeera’s presence in Jerusalem as proof. Al Jazeera was the first Arab news outlet to host Israeli officials and political analysts.
The moves against Al Jazeera in Israel come after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in June broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar, claiming it supported islamic terrorists. They then banned Al Jazeera in their territories, and demanded it be shuttered as one of the conditions to mend fences. But subsequently they softened their stance, dropping that demand in July, though these countries are still blocking the signal of the Arab world’s most watched news outlet.