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Knesset Passes Law Allowing Israel to Shut Down Foreign News Networks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will “act immediately” to ban Al Jazeera in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel says he will “act immediately” to ban Al Jazeera in the country after the Knesset passed a law Monday that allows the government to shut down foreign news networks deemed to be threats to national security. Al Jazeera, one of the few outlets with local reporters in Gaza, denounced the move and said it was part of a pattern of Israeli attacks on the Qatar-based network, including targeting its journalists in Gaza since October 7 and the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank in 2022. For more, we speak with Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and president of the U.S./Middle East Project, who says Netanyahu’s move to ban Al Jazeera is “red meat to his own base … in a situation in which the war is not going particularly well for Israel. He’s looking for distractions.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Press freedom groups are denouncing plans by Israel to ban the award-winning TV network Al Jazeera. On Monday, Israeli lawmakers passed a bill allowing for the temporary banning of foreign broadcasters they deem to be a national security threat. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on social media, quote, “Al Jazeera harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the Oct. 7 massacre, and incited against Israeli soldiers. It is time to remove the bullhorn of Hamas from our country,” he tweeted.

Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government, is the most widely viewed network in the Arab world, is one of the few outlets to have reporters inside Gaza. Mohamed Moawad, the managing editor for Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, denounced Israel’s move to ban the network.

MOHAMED MOAWAD: This move alleging Al Jazeera of siding with terrorists is baseless. It’s alarming. Our work is — we uphold the highest standards of journalistic professionalism. Al Jazeera has been there in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories covering the war from both sides. Our work is corroborated and has been corroborated by so many outlets around the world. … The fact that we are on the ground covering from the field, giving voice to the voiceless, bringing this account which is not available on any other outlet, having correspondents covering from north Gaza, reporting on the starvation there, is very important. And I think the Israeli government is feeling pressure by our coverage. But what we are doing is try to give voice to the voiceless and try and make sure that the suffering of civilians on the ground is heard by the entire world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mohamed Moawad, the managing editor for Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel.

For more, we go to London. We’re joined by Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former Israeli peace negotiator under Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin.

Thanks so much for joining us again, Daniel. Start off by responding to what this means and what Netanyahu is threatening.

DANIEL LEVY: Netanyahu has passed a law — it’s now law in Israel — that Al Jazeera cannot broadcast. How that is implemented is equipment taken, our people arrested, our vendors who work with Al Jazeera unable to do so. That has not played out yet, Amy. That applies to Israel-occupied East Jerusalem, occupied West Bank. Gaza, which is a war zone, the Al Jazeera work was not in any way dealing with Israeli vendors or the Israeli system, of course. And we’re seeing at this stage still Al Jazeera reports coming out of both spaces.

But Netanyahu has passed this law. It’s important to note that not a single Zionist member of the Knesset voted against the law. If we remember before October 7th, there were these big protests: Save Israeli democracy from Netanyahu. Well, none of the opposition parties that are Zionist chose to oppose this law, which the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has called political, not security-related, and a dangerous challenge to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The two parties representing Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel did vote against in that parliamentary vote.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Daniel Levy, what evidence is there, if any, that — as the government says, that Al Jazeera actively participated in the October 7th attack?

DANIEL LEVY: Well, there is none whatsoever. Israel has not presented any evidence. It hasn’t really intended to do so. What’s going on here? Prime Minister Netanyahu, in part, is playing to a domestic political audience. He has set Qatar, he has set Al Jazeera up to be a figure of hate. Israelis are not being shown in their own media a whole different world of problems, the level of censorship and self-censorship inside the Israeli media. So, this is red meat to his own base, to the domestic politics, in a situation in which the war is not going particularly well for Israelis, looking for distractions.

I think other things that are going on here is, of course, that he doesn’t want these images and this message to come out. We saw that in May 2021 Israel bombed the media tower in Gaza, the al-Jalaa tower, where Al Jazeera and AP and others had their offices. We remember, just under two years ago, Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by the Israeli forces. We know that approximately a hundred journalists, the family of the major Al Jazeera correspondent Wael Dahdouh, himself injured, his family killed — so, these people have been killed.

And I think another piece of this is Netanyahu going not just against Al Jazeera, but trying to push back, and it’s part of his effort against Qatar. The Israelis run an aggressive campaign against Qatar in the U.S. and elsewhere. Qatar is mediating these talks. They’ve met with members of the families of the hostages. They are involved with the head of the CIA and with the head of the Israeli Mossad. But Netanyahu has systematically and frequently tried to undercut and undermine these negotiations. And this is another example of him doing so.

And how can he get away with this? It’s the same as the story of World Central Kitchen. It’s the same as how come this has created the worst hunger crisis anywhere in the world, according to the U.N. secretary-general, the number of Palestinian civilian deaths, U.N. workers, aid workers. Because he can get away with it, because the United States, his major backer and defender, continues to provide the arms and the weapons, the latest including 2,000-pound bombs.

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