Analysis

Banning Al Jazeera in Israel Won't Be So Easy. Here's Why

Israel's communication minister said he requested revoking press credentials and taking Al Jazeera off the air – but the bodies in charge of doing so give no indication of complying

The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen inside its headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen inside its headquarters in Doha, Qatar. NASEEM ZEITOON/REUTERS

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara convened a press conference on Sunday in which he announced a series of steps aimed at closing down Al Jazeera in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hurried to praise Kara on Twitter, writing that his minister had “taken several practical steps to block Al Jazeera’s incitement against Israel.” In fact, none of the steps mentioned by Kara have any practical implications: in practice, Al Jazeera will continue to broadcast as usual.

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Kara is leading a move initiated earlier by Netanyahu aimed at shutting the TV channel in the country, claiming that it was "inciting" against Israel. Kara met with the heads of the two main broadcasters in Israel, Hot and Yes, as well as with the ministry’s director general, Maimon Shalima. He then convened his press conference on the topic.

Kara’s first step was to call on the Government Press Office to revoke the credentials of Al Jazeera employees working in Israel. However, such revocation is not under the minister or the Press Office’s purview. For this to take place, the security serves would need to make a recommendation to revoke the credentials. GPO Director Nitzan Chen clarified, “According to our procedures, such permits are denied only when the director, after consulting security agencies, believes that they would endanger national security.”

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017.
Dusan Vranic/AP

“I have contacted these agencies, asking for a professional opinion regarding Al Jazeera” said Chen. He added that he would wait for their comments, and even then, credentials would not be revoked without an orderly hearing, as specified by regulations.

Kara is also trying to get cable and satellite companies to remove Al Jazeera broadcasts. The minister said that he had directly approached cable and satellite companies and that these “had expressed their willingness to consider blacking out Al Jazeera broadcasts.” Howerver, these companies have not publicly declared their willingness to do so.

Yes commented, “The authority to take down or launch channels is the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting's, and if it holds a discussion and hearing on this matter after which it decides to order the removal of this channel, we’ll comply.” That council directly supervises Hot and Yes, but sources there say that they have not been part of the process and that the matter is not on their agenda. Hot responded that they had received the minister’s request and were looking into the matter.

Most Al Jazeera viewers in Israel's Arab sector don’t watch its broadcasts through national cable or satellite companies, but through private satellite dishes that receive hundreds of channels from Arab countries. Israeli authorities have no control over these channels. Despite this, Kara declared that he had “contacted other agencies, requesting the limiting of broadcasting this network on open satellite, which serves most viewers in the Arab sector.” He did not specify whom he had contacted.

A further step Kara mentioned was his appeal to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, asking him to use his authority to close Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel. The Public Security Ministry said that this should be brought to the Israel Police, not to them. The police, in turn, evaded responsibility for dealing with Kara's request, commenting, "You must check with the Public Security Ministry or the Communications Ministry."

This means that in the short-term, there will be no changes to Al Jazeera's broadcasting in Israel. However, Kara said: “I intend to promote an amendment to the law in cooperation with the responsible authorities to adapt the present law, which passed in the '80s, to current geopolitical realities. Such an amendment would allow the government to prefer the security of its citizens and to always consider the welfare of its citizens and the welfare and security of the public.”

However, such a legislative process could only begin after the Knesset reconvenes at the end of October, and even then, it would have to pass through government ministries and be approved by the attorney general, who would have to determine if such an amendment is constitutional, not impeding freedom of expression. Only then could such a bill go to a Knesset committee for further debate.

Kara said, "The safety of our citizens and their wellbeing supersedes freedom of expression during times of terror. Period. The freedom of expression is not the freedom to incite and foment strife. Even democracy has its limits.”