Home Australian News Israel’s threat to ban Al Jazeera in Gaza exposes its illiberalism

Israel’s threat to ban Al Jazeera in Gaza exposes its illiberalism

Israel’s threat to ban Al Jazeera in Gaza exposes its illiberalism

Earlier this week, the Israeli Knesset approved a bill — 70 in favour, 10 against — to ban foreign media in Israel if they pose a threat to the country’s security. 

The law did not single out any specific news organisation, so it could in theory include the likes of the BBC and CNN. But almost immediately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear who the intended target was with a message on X, declaring, “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.”

According to the Israeli government’s narrative, Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for Hamas propaganda. Last October, Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accused Al Jazeera of exposing Israeli soldiers to potential attacks from Gaza, telling Israel’s Army Radio, “This is a station that incites, this is a station that films troops in assembly areas [outside Gaza] … that incites against the citizens of Israel.” 

Being accused of supporting terrorism is nothing new for Al Jazeera. 

In 2014 I was one of three Al Jazeera journalists convicted of terrorism offences in Egypt, so Israel’s argument is familiar. Back then, we were covering the unfolding political crisis that flowed from the Arab Spring uprising. We had fulfilled our professional responsibilities by talking to all parties of the conflict, and that included the group that had formed the last government, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Like all decent reporters, we had their contact details, and while we were careful not to broadcast incitements to violence, we also had a duty to present their stories, political arguments and perspectives as fairly and critically as the Egyptian government’s. 

In other words, it was not propaganda. It was good journalism. But for the Egyptian government, anything that humanised its enemies or explained their worldview undermined the government’s political logic, and so our work became branded as “terrorist propaganda”. That’s how we wound up with seven-year prison sentences.

So it is with Al Jazeera in Gaza. The network has been there for years, with skilled and experienced Palestinian journalists who have a deep understanding of the story and a network of contacts unrivalled by any other international news organisation. They also have bureaus in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

On October 25, an air raid killed the family of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh, including his wife, son, daughter, grandson and at least eight other relatives. Al Jazeera broadcast Al-Dahdouh as he walked into the morgue to view the bodies of his family, offering a glimpse into the grief and loss experienced by many Gaza residents.

Then in January, an Israeli airstrike hit a car carrying three journalists, including another son of Al-Dahdouh’s, who was a cameraman with the network, an Al Jazeera colleague, and a freelancer. All three were killed. 

So it is no wonder that the network covers the plight of Palestinians with detail and empathy that Western news organisations often lack. And given the necessarily Arab-centric worldview from its headquarters in the Qatari capital of Doha, it is also hardly surprising that Al Jazeera is robustly sceptical of Israel’s position.

Is it biased? Perhaps, but far less than news organisations with reporters in Jerusalem and nobody in Gaza. If anything, that makes it more important for Israel and the rest of the world to watch and understand. Understanding is not the same as endorsing, but surely peace is impossible without appreciating why the people you are fighting behave the way they do.

As the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists pointed out in a statement, “The new law grants the government the power to close any foreign media outlets operating in Israel, posing a significant threat to international media within the country. This contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility toward the press, a trend that has escalated since the Israel-Gaza war began.” 

Israel often portrays itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only government in the region to tolerate critical media. This latest law threatens to undermine those claims. 


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