Israeli government seeks to extend controversial Al Jazeera ban as high court hears arguments against media law

Israeli government seeks to extend controversial Al Jazeera ban as high court hears arguments against media law
  • PublishedJune 7, 2024

The Israeli government is seeking to extend its controversial ban on the Al Jazeera news network in the country, after a court upheld the ban but shortened it by 10 days.

In May, Israel banned the Qatari-based news network from operating in the country for 45 days under a sweeping new wartime law that allows the Israeli government to ban foreign media organizations it deems “harmful” to the nation’s security. Al Jazeera condemned the move as a “dark day for democracy” that sets a concerning precedent for other international media outlets operating in Israel.

While the ban is not permanent and only valid during the declared period of war, the Israeli government can continue to extend the closure for additional 45-day periods.

On Tuesday, a Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the ban on Al Jazeera could stand but was to be shortened to 35 days, meaning it will expire on Sunday. Al Jazeera said it was notified by the Israeli Ministry of Communications on Wednesday that it intends to request that the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approve another 45-day ban.

Israel has claimed that Al Jazeera “harms Israeli security,” and has a “close connection” with Hamas, the militant group it is waging war against in Gaza.

“Al Jazeera reporters harmed Israel’s security and incited against IDF soldiers. It is time to expel the mouthpiece of Hamas from our country,” Netanyahu said last month.

According to Reuters, a Tel Aviv District Court judge said Tuesday he had been presented evidence of the government’s claims, but the evidence was not made public.

Walid Omary, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, told CNN he had “cynicism, sarcasm and contempt for the court’s decision, and we reject all accusations and excuses.”

Last month, Israeli authorities raided Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem, seizing its broadcast equipment and shutting down its operations. The network’s channels were removed from Israeli cable and satellite providers and its website was blocked from within Israel.

Weeks later, Israeli authorities also seized equipment from the Associated Press that was used to broadcast the Gaza skyline, claiming the broadcast was being provided to Al Jazeera and endangered Israeli troops. The move sparked swift condemnation, including from press groups, Israeli opposition leaders and the US government. Hours after the seizure, Israeli authorities returned AP’s equipment and the live shot was back on air.

Al Jazeera, one of the only networks to have a live, consistent presence from within the blockaded Gaza strip, has denied Israel’s claims that it is a threat to the country’s security, calling the allegations “dangerous and ridiculous.” At least six of its staff members have been killed in Gaza since the war began.

Earlier this week, the Israeli Supreme Court also heard arguments brought against the law by an Israeli civil rights association, which said among other arguments, that the law infringes on the right to freedom of expression, information and press in Israel.

During the hearing, Justice Yitzhak Amit, the head of the panel of judges, said that “there is no doubt that there is a violation of freedom of expression here,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

It’s not clear when the high court will issue its ruling on the law.


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