ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – From its creation, Al Jazeera was bound to incite controversy. Though state-funded, it was the first allegedly independent news network in a region tightly regulated by the government. Contentious coverage of neighboring countries brought the network plenty of threats, but none lasted. Still, the threats to shut down Al Jazeera continue to grow.
Israel recently announced plans to close the in-country Al Jazeera office and to block the Arabic and English channels. This announcement comes a month after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain demanded that Qatar shut down the controversial network. Qatar refused and Al Jazeera has been able to proceed apace.
Israeli communications minister, Ayoub Kara, revealed Israel’s plans a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the network of inciting violence with its coverage of protests at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Kara said that Israel was following its Arab neighbors, stating that Israel based the decision “on the move by Sunni Arab states to close Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work.”
Al Jazeera was ready to play defense. In the past, when the Saudi-led block tried to close the entire network, Al Jazeera was quick to publish an open letter highlighting its journalistic integrity and emphasizing its role in the Arab world as an independent media outlet. Al Jazeera’s letter responding to recent threats from Israel denounced the Israeli government for media censorship and for being too politically close to the Saudi-led block. Al Jazeera Arabic also pointed out that while it has given time to more extremist viewpoints, it was the first Arabic network to present Israeli politicians and commentators on the air.
As a democratic and predominantly Jewish state, Israel’s existence puts it at odds with its neighbors. However, censoring pubic media outlets is not an efficacious way of breaking the ice with its neighbors. Israel is expected to uphold freedom of the press. Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Magdalena Mughrabi, said: “This is a brazen attack on media freedom in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The move sends a chilling message that the Israeli authorities will not tolerate critical coverage.” Mughrabi also criticized Arab countries that have attacked Al Jazeera.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders criticized Israel for becoming more like its neighbors and warned against media censorship. Press freedom organizations say that Israel is not helping to bring stability to the region and should instead help undermine efforts to deter critical journalism.
To be sure, Arab countries don’t want to get too identified with Israel’s anti-Al Jazeera effort and open themselves up to criticism from other Arab countries. Besides, there are more pressing concerns, such as the sputtering blockade of Qatar. So the momentum to shut down Al Jazeera is slowing down as countries address on other parts of their agenda. This means the network has a fighting pulse to continues to beat, heavy and strong.