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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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White House worries as Netanyahu plans Al Jazeera closure

(JTA) — The Biden White House said it was “concerning” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to close down the Israeli offices of the Al Jazeera, based on a law just passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Netanyahu, posting in Hebrew on X, formerly Twitter, said of the Qatar-based network that “the time has come to eject this herald for Hamas from our country.”

The new law, passed by a vote of 71-10 in the 120-member body, allows the government to shut down a news outlet that poses a threat to security for 45 days, and renew the shutdown for another 45 days, for as long as the Israel-Hamas war persists.

According to a press release from the Knesset describing the law, a publication’s offices may be shuttered after a “professional opinion from security agencies” recommending the shutdown is sent to the communications minister, who must then receive approval from the prime minister or the Security Cabinet. The order must then go before the president of a District Court, who may shorten the time period of the ban or limit its conditions.

A general view of the Al Jazeera logo during day two of Web Summit Qatar 2024 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, Feb. 28, 2024. in Doha, Qatar. (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile for Web Summit Qatar via Getty Images)

Upon the law’s passage, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, said it would be a useful wartime tool.

“We have received an efficient and quick tool to act against those who use the freedom of the press to harm the security of Israel and the IDF soldiers, and to incite to terrorism during wartime,” Karhi said, according to the Knesset press release.

Israel has accused Al Jazeera of presenting distorted accounts of the war with Hamas and has said that some of its journalists double as Hamas operatives. Al Jazeera has on multiple occasions accused Israel of targeting its journalists. Netanyahu accused the channel of “harming the security of Israel, actively participating in the Oct. 7 massacre and inciting against Israeli troops.”

But the White House expressed worry that the law would curtail freedom of the press.

“A move like this is concerning,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday in the daily press briefing, not long after Netanyahu said he would apply the law.

“We believe in the freedom of the press,” she said. “It is critically important and the United States supports the critically important work journalists around the world do. And so and that includes those who are reporting in the conflict in Gaza. So we believe that work is important. The freedom of the press is important. And if those reports are true, it is concerning to us.”

Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List, in a Knesset speech opposing the bill, accused its sponsors of hypocrisy, noting that government spokesmen had often conveyed their views through Al Jazeera.

“The Israeli position is always present in the network’s news reports and ads,” Abbas said. “So it is in Israel’s interest in general that Al Jazeera continue to broadcast. It is impossible, also for reasons of fairness, to block them on one hand and to use Al Jazeera to present your positions on the other.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists also expressed concern about the law.

“The law grants the government the power to close any foreign media outlets operating in Israel, posing a significant threat to international media within the country,” Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, said in a statement. “This contributes to a climate of self-censorship and hostility toward the press, a trend that has escalated since the Israel-Gaza war began.”

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