Gov’t approves emergency regulations that could pave way to closing Al Jazeera offices

Regulations cover foreign news channels; Karhi says Qatar-owned outlet has harmed national security; proposal to shutter outlet in Israel to be filed next week

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Illustrative: An employee of Al Jazeera walks past the channel's logo at its headquarters in Doha, Qatar, in 2006. (AP/Kamran Jebreili, File)
Illustrative: An employee of Al Jazeera walks past the channel's logo at its headquarters in Doha, Qatar, in 2006. (AP/Kamran Jebreili, File)

The government approved regulations on Friday that will allow it to temporarily shut down foreign news channels during the current state of emergency due to the war with Hamas, if it believes the outlet is damaging national security.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi led the charge to pass these regulations in order to shut down the Al Jazeera news channel specifically, which he claims has damaged national security since the war began.

The regulations are retroactive, Karhi’s office said, meaning broadcasts by Qatari-owned Al Jazeera since the Hamas atrocities of October 7 and the declaration of the state of emergency, can now be used as the basis for a decision to shut down the staunchly pro-Palestinian news outlet.

A proposal to shut down Al Jazeera will be brought to the next meeting of the security cabinet, which must approve such requests, Karhi’s office said in announcing the approval of the regulations.

“Israel is at war on land, in the air, at sea, and on the public diplomacy front. We will not allow in any way broadcasts that harm the security of the state,” said Karhi, when announcing the approval of the regulations.

“Al Jazeera’s broadcasts and reports constitute incitement against Israel, help Hamas-ISIS and the terror organizations with their propaganda, and encourage violence against Israel,” insisted the communications minister, a member of the hardline flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi heads into a cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Karhi’s office said that the drive to shut down Al Jazeera in Israel was based on “proof that it is assisting the enemy, broadcasting propaganda in the service of Hamas, in Arabic and English, to viewers around the world, and even passing sensitive information to the enemy.”

Al Jazeera has denied these allegations.

According to the new regulations, the communications minister can shut down foreign media outlets during the state of emergency, but needs the agreement of the defense minister and the approval of the security cabinet.

The communications minister can then order TV providers to stop broadcasting the news outlet in question; close its offices in Israel; seize its equipment; and shut down its website or restrict access to its website, depending on the location of its server.

The decision must be approved by the security cabinet, must be based on legal opinions by the security establishment that the outlet is indeed harming national security, and is subject to the review of a district court.

The court must issue a ruling on the decision within three days — it can approve or annul that order, or shorten the time period for which it is in effect.

Such a decision will be valid for 30 days but can be extended for additional 30-day periods. The emergency regulations will be in place for three months, or until the specific state of emergency is formally ended by the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a security cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, October 7, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Earlier this week, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara insisted on making changes to a previous version of the regulations proposed by Karhi, so that an order to shutter a foreign news outlet be made only with the consent of the defense minister and be subject to immediate judicial review by the courts.

A report in The Marker said that an even earlier version of the regulations would have given the communications minister sweeping powers over all media outlets, including domestic ones, and allowed him to order reporters and others involved in broadcasts harming state security to be arrested.

Karhi strongly denied his intent to pass such measures.

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