Security cabinet again delays decision to close Al Jazeera in Israel amid Gaza talks

Reports say repeated delays linked to Qatari-owners role in mediating potential hostage release, truce deal with Hamas which is at a crucial stage

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 security cabinet, in a meeting overnight Thursday, again held off on voting to approve a law allowing the government to close the Al Jazeera news station in Israel, apparently in a bid to avoid torpedoing ongoing talks to secure a hostage release and truce deal with Hamas.

The delay came despite the government getting the green light on Thursday from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to implement the law.

The Ynet news site reported that the vote could instead be held during Sunday’s cabinet meeting. The report quoted an unnamed senior official as saying that the delay was due to the ongoing efforts to reach a deal with Hamas. Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, is a key mediator.

The official said that the threat to shutter the satellite channel could press Qatar to apply additional pressure on the terror group to make concessions. Israel was also eager to ensure that the US could not blame Jerusalem for any failure to reach a deal.

The cabinet meeting was, however, held under the assumption among the country’s leadership that Hamas would officially reject the latest offer for a hostage and truce deal.

The Knesset approved the so-called Al Jazeera law on April 1, giving the government temporary powers to prevent foreign news networks from operating in Israel if they are deemed by security services to be harming national security.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who spearheaded the effort to pass the law, vowed immediately after the final vote that the Qatari-funded channel’s operations in Israel would be closed down “in the coming days,” saying “there won’t be freedom of expression for Hamas mouthpieces in Israel.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Kan broadcaster reported Thursday that the attorney general had raised the issue that Al Jazeera has not been given the right to a hearing, but said that the law could still be legally brought to a vote in the security cabinet.

Israeli officials have long complained about Al Jazeera’s coverage, which they say is heavily influenced by Hamas and endangers IDF troops in the Gaza Strip amid fighting that has been ongoing since the terror group’s October 7 onslaught.

In the past, Israel stopped short of taking action, mindful of Qatar’s bankrolling of Palestinian construction projects in Gaza, which were seen by all sides as a means of staving off conflict.

Under the law, Karhi is empowered to issue closure orders, but only after receiving the approval of the prime minister and the security cabinet, and after a professional position paper has been presented to the prime minister and the communications minister by the security services detailing the “factual foundations” of allegations that the channel is causing damage to Israel’s national security.

Such orders are valid for 45 days but can be renewed for further 45-day periods.

Under the terms of the law, any order to shut down a foreign news channel must be brought within 24 hours for judicial review by the president of a district court, who must then decide within three days if they wish to change or shorten the period of the order.

The law itself has been passed as a temporary law and will expire on July 31 or earlier if the declaration of an emergency situation is lifted by the government.

Karhi’s office said in October 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.”

Karhi accused the station of pro-Hamas incitement and exposing Israeli troops to ambushes. Al Jazeera and the Doha government did not respond to those allegations.

The move has been criticzed, including by the US, as an attack on the freedom of press in Israel.

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