Israeli Government Cites ‘Press Freedom’ in Decision Allowing Qatari Broadcaster’s Jerusalem Bureau to Remain Open
The director of the Israeli government’s press office cited “press freedom” on Thursday as the underlying reason for not revoking the media credentials of the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera broadcaster’s Israel correspondent.
Nitzan Chen — who heads the Government Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem — said that “freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of the Government Press Office” in reviewing the case of Al Jazeera reporter Elias Karam — who declared in a 2016 interview with pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV station Dar al Iman that “journalistic work is an integral part of the Palestinian resistance.”
However, Chen added, in a reference to Karam’s government-issued press ID, “we will not accept a situation in which an official certification issued by the State of Israel will serve as a tool for those who exploit it for public struggle against the country.”
Said Chen: “Unfortunately, there have been reports lately, on Al Jazeera television network, which do not meet factual, public and professional standards. In the coming months, the GPO will monitor the network’s reports in Israel, in Arabic and in English, and will not hesitate, after consultation with legal and security agencies, to draw necessary conclusions.”
The decision follows last month’s statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Al Jazeera of “incitement” and expressing his desire to close down the Israel bureau run by Karam, an Arab citizen of Israel. Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said on August 6 that he would examine closing the bureau, prompting furious protests from Al Jazeera itself, as well as human rights group Amnesty International, which slammed Israel’s “brazen attack on media freedom.”
In his statement — the outcome of a hearing held in Jerusalem on August 21 — Chen quoted Karam’s defense extensively. “In his professional work as a news reporter, he testifies to have adopted a ‘golden rule,’ according to which ‘one should not mix opinion with reporting,’ and thus he conducts himself as a journalist,” Chen said. “He also stressed that he does not see his role as a journalist in taking any position, either for or against one resistance or another, and advocates ‘completely objective reporting, presenting reality as it is without interfering in it or without being part of it or influencing it.'”
Al Jazeera, which operates Arabic and English-language channels, has frequently been accused of promoting antisemitism and extreme anti-Zionism. The station has provided a platform for a number of antisemitic Islamist preachers, among them the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who described the Nazi Holocaust as “divine punishment” imposed on the Jews during an Al Jazeera broadcast. Qaradawi is based in the Qatari capital, Doha.
Though it bills itself as an independent broadcaster, Al Jazeera — whose parent company is owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer bin Mohammed Al Thani of the Qatari royal family — shies away from critical reporting of Qatar itself. A 2016 report on media freedom in Qatar by Freedom House observed that, “while the country’s flagship satellite television channel, Al Jazeera, is permitted to air critical reports on foreign countries and leaders, journalists are subject to prosecution for criticizing the Qatari government, the ruling family, or Islam.”
The Freedom House report cited examples of journalists detained by the Qatar authorities last year — among them a BBC crew who were reporting on the horrific working conditions experienced by thousands of migrant workers brought into Qatar under its kafala system, likened by many human rights activists to a form of slavery. Ninety-four percent of Qatar’s population of 2.1 million is composed of migrants from countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Across the Arab world, Al Jazeera has over the last decade been the target of draconian bans and closures imposed by Arab censors in a number of countries, including Algeria, Egypt and Iraq. In May, the Egyptian authorities announced a ban on 21 websites, including Al Jazeera.