Al Jazeera under fire for hosting IDF spokesperson

Arab critics accuse Qatari-owned station of normalization with Israel, providing a platform for ‘false Israeli narrative’

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

IDF Spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on September 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF Spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on September 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Al Jazeera Arabic TV is once again facing sharp criticism from Palestinians in particular, and Arabs in general, for interviewing an Israeli official.

On Tuesday night, the Qatari-owned network hosted Avichay Adraee, IDF spokesperson for Arabic Media, on its popular The Opposite Direction program.

The TV show is hosted by Faisal al-Qassem, a Syrian-born media personality famous for his provocative style and staunch criticism of Arab governments and heads of state.

It was not the first time that Al Jazeera (in Arabic) had come under attack for hosting Israelis.

The station is one of a few Arab media outlets that has been hosting Israeli government officials and political analysts and journalists for many years. But each time an Israeli appears on one of its shows or news broadcasts, Al Jazeera is denounced by a large number of Arabs for “providing a platform for the Zionist enemy” and “promoting normalization” with Israel.

Adraee was invited to appear on the show to debate retired Syrian army officer Salah Kairata.

Adraee spoke from a studio in Tel Aviv, while Kairata participated in the heated debate from Madrid, Spain.

The program focused on the recent tensions along the northern border of Israel in wake of the downing of an F-16 jet after it scrambled to conduct strikes in Syria after an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace.

Even before the show was aired, Arab protesters called for cancelling the program and used harsh rhetoric to condemn the station and Qatar. They were particularly enraged by a post Adraee wrote on Twitter, where he boasted about his appearance on the TV show.

“For the first time, an IDF officer participates in The Opposite Direction program on Al Jazeera,” Adraee said. “I will tell viewers in the Middle East that wherever there’s corruption and evil, we find the hands of Iran.”

Most of the criticism directed against Al Jazeera appeared on Twitter and Facebook. Organizations representing journalists in some Arab countries also joined the chorus of critics and accused Al Jazeera of “allowing a Zionist enemy to invade our living rooms.”

Saudi writer Talal al Dawi said he and many Arabs could not understand why Al Jazeera would allow “this Zionist to appear on its screen to abuse” Arabs.

“Isn’t Qatar an Arab country?” he asked.

By hosting the Israeli army spokesman, Al Jazeera has “acted against the Arab consensus, which rejects normalization with the Zionist entity,” said the Palestinian Media Association in the Gaza Strip – a group representing Palestinian journalists.

The group called on Palestinian officials to boycott Al Jazeera in response to its recurring practice of hosting Israeli interviewees. “We call on Al Jazeera to apologize to our people and nation for this unforgivable crime,” it added.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in the Gaza Strip, condemned Al Jazeera for hosting the IDF officer. “This is a clear assault on the national and Islamic values which criminalize and reject all forms of normalization with the Zionist enemy,” the group said in a statement.

The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank accused Al Jazeera and its presenter, Faisal al Qassem, of “proceeding with the impudent process of normalization with the occupation.”

The syndicate claimed in a statement that the appearance of the IDF officer on the Qatari-owned station was an act of “support for the occupation and its false narrative.”

Mohammed Madhoun, a Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip, said that “terrorists” like Adraee should not be allowed to appear in the Arab media. “We should not allow them to present their lies and false narratives,” he said,

Ofir Gendelman, Arab Media spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been appearing regularly on Al Jazeera, praised Adaree for his “powerful and eloquent words” during the TV debate.

Gendelman dismissed widespread criticism against Al Jazeera for hosting Israeli officials.

Addressing the Arab critics, he said: “If you have confidence in you positions, why are you refusing to debate us? Only those who know that their position is weak and unconvincing are the ones who are afraid to have a debate with people who oppose their opinion.”

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