Israel is reportedly considering closing down the al-Jazeera news bureau in Jerusalem alongside a broader Sunni Arab campaign to pressure the Gulf nation of Qatar over its close ties to Iran and backing for terror groups.
The satellite news network is based in Qatar and is seen by much of the region as loyal to the monarchy. On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the Qatari network a propaganda organ “of the sort [that was found in] Nazi Germany.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened on Monday the first meeting between relevant agencies, including the Foreign Ministry, Shin Bet security service, Government Press Office and Defense Ministry, to explore the possibility of shutting the bureau, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported on Tuesday. Preliminary staff work for the move has begun in all four agencies.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan have already closed the al-Jazeera bureaus in their territories, but the move might be more difficult for Israel. Most of al-Jazeera’s 34 employees in Israel are Israeli citizens, according to the report, so their right to work in the country in any business that isn’t illegal is protected under the Basic Law: Freedom of Vocation. In addition, al-Jazeera would likely appeal to the High Court of Justice against any state move to shut it down, claiming freedom of the press.
Even if the courts approve the closure in the end, the process could delay the proceedings until after the current diplomatic crisis between Qatar and Sunni Arab states blows over.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and cut off land, sea and air routes to the tiny peninsular nation, which relies on food imports. Its long-haul carrier Qatar Airways has also been impacted.
At the heart of the dispute are the longstanding allegations linking Qatar to regional Islamist militant groups. Qatar denies supporting terrorist organizations, but Western officials have regularly accused its government of allowing or even encouraging the funding of some Sunni extremists. Qatar also has hosted a leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, as well as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group that Gulf nations consider a threat to their hereditary rule.
AP contributed to this report.