The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly condemned yesterday’s announcement by the Israeli government to close Al Jazeera’s offices in Jerusalem, revoke its journalists’ credentials and shut down the network’s cable and satellite transmissions.
The announcement follows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement in late July where he accused the Qatar-based broadcaster of incitement over the Temple Mount, a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, and being unprofessional in the coverage of the Al-Aqsa Mosque clash between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli security forces.
During a press conference yesterday in Jerusalem in which Al Jazeera was barred from attending, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara told the media that he would cut Al Jazeera’s cable and satellite connections and demand that the media house’s journalists be stripped of their credentials. He added without further explanation that Israeli authorities will also seek to limit its Arab citizens access to Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language broadcasts.
“We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work,” Kara told media, adding that the channel is being used by groups to “incite” violence – an accusations denied by the network. Israel’s parliament will now consider the request in its next session.
The network has denounced the decision in a statement, saying that “during the press conference, the minister could not substantiate his comments by referring to a single news bulletin or situation that proved Al Jazeera had not been professional nor objective during its coverage in Jerusalem.”
Israel has joined the coalition of the countries that have recently banned Al Jazeera – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. They all broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of fostering extremism and later issuing 13 demands, including Al Jazeera’s closure.
The IFJ strongly condemned the move, and asked the coalition to stop using journalists as “political footballs” which has had a devastating impact on hundreds of media staff and their families.
The IFJ once again strongly opposed the witch-hunt against the media broadcaster in the region.
"The decision by Israeli authorities to close down Al Jazeera's office in Jerusalem and to withdraw their journalists' credentials under a general accusation of supporting violence is an attack against press freedom and pluralism of information,” said IFJ President, Philippe Leruth.
“If some information broadcasted by Al Jazeera was wrong, Israeli authorities had the possibility to exercise their right to reply. Choosing not to do this, and instead joining an international campaign against Al Jazeera, they give the impression they want to silence a voice that doesn't please them which is contrary to the democratic values they represent," he added.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), an IFJ affiliate, also condemned the announcement. “We stand in solidarity with Al Jazeera, its journalists and crews working in Palestine. The move of the Occupation Authorities to close down Al Jazeera is a grave violation of freedom of expression and the rights of journalists to work.” The union also called on Arab states not to involve media and journalists in their political disputes.
Other media organisations have also condemned the announcement.