The Foreign Ministry has reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against shutting down Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel, saying that the move could harm the Jewish state’s image worldwide.
The Thursday report, by the Haaretz daily, came a day after the Government Press Office revoked the credentials of an Al Jazeera reporter for allegedly being an “active partner in Palestinian resistance.”
Netanyahu said last month that he would actively work to kick the Qatari broadcaster out of the country.
After the National Security Council, which works under Netanyahu’s aegis, asked the Foreign Ministry to consider possible responses to the move, the ministry informed the advisory body that “there is no doubt any harm to Al Jazeera and its reporters’ operations in Israel will cause damage to Israel’s image in the world,” the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry also warned that the expulsion of Al Jazeera could supply additional fodder for Israel’s international critics and see the country grouped with nations with limited freedom of press.
“Steps like this may cause Israel to be presented in the same list of countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey,” unnamed ministry officials told the paper.
Despite the Foreign Ministry’s reported opposition to the move, Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) have accused the channel of taking a fiercely anti-Israel stance in its reporting and encouraging violence against the Jewish state.
The GPO, which also works under the prime minister, said the decision to strip Jerusalem correspondent Elias Karram of his press card came after it was alerted this week to a 2016 interview in which the Arab Israeli reporter said “media work is an integral part of the resistance.”
The GPO said that a hearing will be held for Karram to clarify his comments and explain how his role as a self-declared member of the “resistance” influences “his work as a journalist according to universal ethics.”
“These remarks call into question the ability of Karram, the representative of a foreign network, to cover – as a professional journalist – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which, according to his own words, he is taking an active part,” the GPO said in a statement.
Following the GPO decision, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in the country condemned the move and said Israel was engaged in “persecution” of the network.
“The political persecution is reminiscent of the Inquisition,” Walid al-Omari told Army Radio on Thursday.
Kara, however, defended the move, saying it was a first step toward expelling Al Jazeera, which he said “endangers the security of Israeli citizens” by supporting terrorism and religious extremism.
The communications minister also said he was not concerned how expelling the network would reflect on Israel’s reputation as a robust democracy and group it with authoritarian Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt that have outlawed the broadcaster.
“I am not searching for democracy, I am searching for the security of the citizens of Israel,” Kara told Army Radio.
Netanyahu first called for expelling the television station from Israel last month amid tensions surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the compound following a terror attack at the site, in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using weapons smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In response, Al Jazeera said it “denounces such arbitrary accusations and hostile statements” and vowed to take “all necessary legal measures in case they act on their threat.”
Kara later echoed Netanyahu’s call, saying he would revoke the press cards of Al Jazeera reporters, call on television providers to drop the network and promote legislation to outlaw the station.
He also accused Al Jazeera of “inciting violence which has provoked losses among the best of our sons,” he said in reference to the two officers slain during the July 14 terror attack, who like Kara hailed from Israel’s Druze minority.
The human rights group Amnesty International has come out strongly against Israel’s declared intention to expel Al Jazeera which it has called “a brazen attack on media freedom.”
Agencies contributed to this report.