Al Jazeera's man in Jerusalem defends network against Israeli threats of closure
The head of Al Jazeera in Israel launched an impassioned defense of his network's reporting on Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Monday in the face of multiplying signals from the Israeli government that they are planning on shuttering the station's Jerusalem bureau and boot its reporters out of the country.
"It may be easier for regimes to silence and eradicate independent free media in the short term for the sake of political expediency," the channel's Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Omary wrote in an Haaretz newspaper op-ed on Monday.
"But in the long run everyone pays a heavy price. A world without a diversity of opinions and views is a world of authoritarian rule. It is a massive step backwards. And in this case, Israelis should not allow their authorities to kill the messenger," he said.
The defense of the station comes as Israel appears to be circling the wagons around the Qatari-owned station, that is also loathed by several authoritarian Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who say it is a tool of Qatar's ruling family and forments unrest.
In a late-night Facebook post on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu wrote that he has "appealed to law enforcement agencies several times to close the Al Jazeera office in Jerusalem. If this does not happen because of legal reasons, I will work to legislate the laws required to remove Al Jazeera from Israel."
A few days later the Minister of Communications Ayoub Kara announced that he was holding talks with government officials and legal experts in order to "bring[...] about the closure of Al Jazeera's incitement broadcasts in Israel".
Yet Omary argued in Monday's op-ed that the broadcaster, which operates Arabic and English channels, is the only Arab news outlet to frequently have Israeli guests and beam their points of view into Middle Eastern households.
"When Al Jazeera first hit the airwaves in 1996, most Arabs had never seen the face of an Israeli on Arab TV," Omary wrote, adding later that "Ironically, when Al Jazeera first launched it was seen by Arab audiences and regimes as being a channel created by Israelis, since it hosted Israelis and gave a voice to their opinions."
Indeed, as recently as this year, Netanyahu's foreign media spokesman David Keyes - who sits in the inner circle of the Prime Minister's advisers - appeared on the English channel.
The PM's Arabic spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, is also a frequent guest on the main Arabic channel.
In February, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, also appeared on the network, which is headquartered in the Qatari capital, Doha.
While the recent uptick in anti Al Jazeera feeling seems provoked by their coverage of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif crisis in Jerusalem over recent weeks, Israeli media reported earlier in July that Netanyahu was already exploring options to close the channel.
Along with the Jerusalem bureau, the station operates a bureau in Ramallah, but the journalists working there are accredited to the Palestinian Authority.
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aj has been inciting terrorism since it was formed by the terrorist supporting govt of Qatar. they never should have been allowed in Israel or the West in the first place