TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may shut down the Jerusalem bureau of Qatari media outlet Al Jazeera, Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Tuesday.
The move comes as Israel reviews its policies toward the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which receives a large percentage of its funding from Qatar. Last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman slammed Al Jazeera for being an “incitement machine” that publishes propaganda “in the style of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.”
On Monday, Netanyahu met with members of the Foreign Ministry, Shin Bet security service, Government Press Office and the Defense Ministry to discuss the possibility of closing the media outlet’s Jerusalem offices.
The Qatari-based outlet is one of the largest news organizations in the world and its Jerusalem bureau employs 34 people, mostly Israeli Arabs. Despite Liberman’s views, which many in the country share, thus far the government has not moved to shut down the Jerusalem bureau for fear of a PR backlash.
However, the boycott of Al Jazeera by other countries in the region may change Israel’s policy. The news organization has been accused of bias and stirring up trouble in the Middle East by Arab countries.
Liberman also accused the news service of supporting Iran.
“I’ve been tracking Al Jazeera for many years,” Liberman said. “You’ll never see a single article against Iran.”
In an interview with the Hebrew daily Maariv, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Jerusalem Walid al-Omari said any move towards closing his office down would be challenged in court.
“If they try to discontinue our activity in Israel and close our office here, we will petition the High Court of Justice,” he was quoted as saying. “How can Israel continue to argue to the world that it is part of a democratic and universal dialogue if it behaves like a dark dictatorship?”
“What’s wrong with Al Jazeera?” asked al-Omari. “We are duly registered, law-abiding workers who pay taxes and behave according to journalistic ethics. From day one we have been registered. Everything is transparent, everything is coherent.”
“We convey the news. It’s not our fault if the news is ugly,” al-Omari added. “We convey everything that happens to our viewers and to our target audience. In Israel, we put on air people from the government and the opposition, the right and the left, and even settlers. … Even the prime minister himself was on our channel when he was the head of the opposition in 2009.”
Since the network’s Jerusalem Israeli-Arab employees are unionized, any move towards shutting the local offices down would need to receive approval from Israel’s Supreme Court.