Al Jazeera: Israel’s “declaration of war” on press freedom

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Rights groups, journalists and media organisations have condemned Israel’s decision to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Jerusalem.

Anger erupted after the Israeli communications minister, Ayoub Kara, on Sunday proposed to shutter the office in Jerusalem and revoke the press credentials of the network’s Arabic and English journalists there.

“Al Jazeera denounces this decision made by a state that claims to be ‘the only democratic state in the Middle East,'” the network said in a statement, adding that the reasons the Israeli minister of communications used to justify such a move were “odd and biased”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that Israel should abandon its “undemocratic plans” and allow Al Jazeera and all journalists to “report freely from the country and the areas it occupies”.

“Censoring Al Jazeera or closing its offices will not bring stability to the region, but it would put Israel firmly in the camp of some of the region’s worst enemies of press freedom,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel slammed what it described as a “declaration of war” by the Israeli prime minister – who has repeatedly called to ban Al Jazeera – and Kara, the minister of communications.

“This joins a series of steps taken by the government against freedom of expression and against anybody that criticises government policy,” ACRI said.

By Monday, however, it was still unclear what the next steps would entail.

The director of Israel’s government press office, which issues press credentials to journalists, said it would not distribute press cards if it believed that would endanger state security.

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“Therefore, I have contacted the security echelon and have requested a professional opinion regarding the Al Jazeera network,” said Nitzan Chen. “The [government press office] will make its decision after this opinion has been received.”

On social media, the announcement to close Al Jazeera in Jerusalem elicited mixed responses.

Twitter users expressed their thoughts under two Arabic hashtags; We Are All Al Jazeera and Israel Shuts Down Al Jazeera Channel.

Hosam Alhashlamoun: “I can hardly recall a raid or war in Palestine without Al Jazeera being part of the memory.”

“Al Jazeera is the voice of truth in this era full of lies.”

Others were quick to point that Al Jazeera has hosted Israeli military and government figures – the first Arabic channel to do so.

“The occupation closed Al Jazeera’s offices and [will] revoke the press cards of its journalists. We hope that Al Jazeera will not invite an Israeli guest to comment on this issue. #No_To_Normalisation”

“The closure of Al Jazeera’s offices by Israel is merely an act of polishing the channel’s image as an enemy of Israel for the sake of gaining Arab and Muslim sympathies.”

Still, there were those who managed to see the lighter side of the situation.

Additional reporting by Ibrahim Husseini.

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