Moves to Shutter Al Jazeera in Israel Threaten Press Freedom and Critical Speech
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—Moves by the Israeli government to shutter Al Jazeera’s presence in the country threaten to degrade press freedom in Israel and throughout the region and to conflate critical speech with ‘incitement,’ PEN America said today.
At a press conference on Sunday, August 6, Israeli Communication Minister Ayoub Kara announced plans to shut down Al Jazeera’s presence within Israel by revoking the media credentials of Al Jazeera journalists, closing the network’s Jerusalem bureau, and stopping the station from broadcasting to local television providers. Kara alleges that Al Jazeera is “a supporter of terror” that “endanger[s] the security of Israel’s citizens.” Kara acknowledged that closure of the Al Jazeera office would require enabling legislation, for which he indicated he would push.
Al Jazeera was barred from attending the press conference. The Qatar-based media outlet, funded by the government of Qatar, is a global news organization with approximately 80 news bureaus around the world.
Kara’s proposal to shutter the network follows public accusations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Al Jazeera incited recent violence stemming from a dispute over heightened Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount, a holy site in both Judaism and Islam, in which several Israelis and Palestinians have been killed. Netanyahu also promised he would work to shut down the network. The Prime Minister’s office, however, has declined to give specific examples of content that they consider to constitute incitement.
Kara stated that he had based his decision “on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibit their work,” referencing recent diplomatic demands against the government of Qatar brought by a Saudi-led coalition. The call to shutter Al Jazeera was widely condemned by press freedom and free expression groups—including PEN America—as a brazen and unjustifiable assault on press freedom, and since has been dropped, reportedly, from the coalition’s political demands.
“Israel’s decision must be viewed as part and parcel of the effort by countries in the region to use national security or diplomatic considerations as a pretext to shut down Al Jazeera,” said James Tager, Free Expression Programs Manager at PEN America. “Netanyahu and Kara may claim ‘incitement,’ but their plans to close a major and globally-recognized news outlet will have an inevitable damaging effect on press freedom in Israel and throughout the region. Minister Kara’s push for legislation to enable Israeli authorities to shut down media outlets for ‘incitement’ appears to be part of a larger effort that would allow authorities to bypass any judicial process. Individual proposals to silence media outlets on the alleged justification of incitement should be heard by the courts, not rubber-stamped by the legislature.”
PEN America has previously expressed concern that allegations of “incitement” are used in Israel to criminalize critical speech. PEN America has repeatedly called for the release from detention of and dropping of all charges against Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, whose poetry and social media activity are alleged by authorities to constitute “incitement to violence.”
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
CONTACT: Sarah Edkins Lien, Director of Communications: [email protected], +1 646.779.4830