Israel said on Sunday it planned to close the offices of Al-Jazeera in the Jewish state, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Arab satellite news broadcaster of incitement.
Netanyahu had said on July 27 that he wanted Al-Jazeera expelled amid tensions over a sensitive Jerusalem holy site. “Al-Jazeera has become the main tool of Daesh [the Islamic State group], Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran,” Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, a member of the Druze community from Netanyahu’s Likud party, told a news conference.
He accused the Qatar-based broadcaster of “inciting violence which has provoked losses among the best of our sons,” referring to two Druze policemen who were killed in a July 14 attack near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations to Kara “who on my instructions took concrete steps to end Al-Jazeera’s incitement” in Israel.
An official at Al-Jazeera in Doha said the channel “deplores this action from a state that is called the only democratic state in the Middle East” and called the move “dangerous.”
The official, who declined to be named, said the broadcaster would “follow up the subject through appropriate legal and judicial procedures.”
Israel’s communications ministry said “nearly all countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, have concluded that Al-Jazeera incites terrorism and religious extremism.” It said it had become “ridiculous that the channel continued to broadcast from Israel.”
Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of fostering extremism and later issuing 13 demands, including Al-Jazeera’s closure.
The Al-Jazeera official said on Sunday he was “surprised” at Israel’s move, and defended the channel’s “professional and objective” coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The channel’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, said his office had not received any official notification that it would be forced to close.
Speaking on Al-Jazeera, he said the move was related to internal Israeli politics. “Netanyahu wants to distract attention from issues he is facing,” he said, in an apparent reference to ongoing investigations into graft cases allegedly involving the premier.
The Israeli ministry said it would cut the channel’s cable and satellite connections and demand that Al-Jazeera journalists be stripped of their credentials. The closure of Al-Jazeera’s offices would come under the remit of security officials.
Israeli authorities would also seek to limit access by the Jewish state’s Arab citizens to the station’s Arabic-language broadcasts, the ministry said without elaborating.
Arab Israelis, the descendants of Palestinians who stayed after the state of Israel was created in 1948, make up 17.5 percent of the country’s population.
Israel has regularly accused Al-Jazeera of bias in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history. He has frequently criticized the news media, accusing outlets of seeking to undermine his government.
In July, Netanyahu accused the channel of “inciting violence around the Temple Mount,” a sensitive Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound.
The site in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed, is central to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Protests erupted there last month after Israel installed new security measures including metal detectors, after the two Israeli policemen were shot by attackers who emerged from the compound. “I have appealed to law enforcement agencies several times to close the Al-Jazeera office in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said on July 27. “If this is not possible because of legal interpretation, I am going to seek to have the necessary legislation adopted to expel Al-Jazeera from Israel.”
Palestinians refused to enter the site for nearly two weeks over the new security measures imposed after three Israeli Arabs shot dead the policemen nearby.
That triggered protests that left six Palestinians dead. A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis, killing three of them. The crisis ended when the Israeli authorities removed the new security measures including the metal detectors.
Palestinians, who viewed the measures as an Israeli attempt to assert further control over the compound which houses the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, then ended their boycott of the site. Under a decades-old agreement, only Muslims may pray inside the compound, although anyone can visit, including Jews.