Netanyahu Bars Al Jazeera's Israel Chief From Government Press Seminar on Freedom of Speech

Government Press Office announces that Netanyahu orders legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel

File photo: Benjamin Netanyahu at Al Jazeera offices
File photo: Benjamin Netanyahu at Al Jazeera offices Daniel Bar-On / Gini

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Government Press Office to remove Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al-Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech planned for Thursday.

"The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel and to close their offices in Israel," the GPO announced in a Facebook post.

Last month, the GPO announced its intentions to revoke the press accredidation of an Israeli Al Jazeera correspondent over comments he made on another TV network last year.

The GPO cited an interview Karram gave on a TV network identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, in which he said his journalistic work is part of his contribution to Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The Union of Journalists in Israel blasted the GPO's intention to revoke Karram's press permit, calling it an "intolerable move in a democracy."

Karram, who has Israeli citizenship and lives in Nazareth, has held a press card since 2011. The decision to cancel it is part of various sanctions the Israeli government is trying to institute against Al Jazeera – the Qatar-based station that has a local office in Jerusalem.

Earlier this summer, senior Foreign Ministry officials warned at a National Security Council meeting that imposing sanctions on Al Jazeera would damage Israel's image overseas.

Sources briefed on the details of the meeting, who asked to remain anonymous, told Haaretz that before it took place, the NSC asked the ministry to prepare an assessment of possible international responses to Israeli sanctions on the Qatari TV station. The ministry’s assessment, one source said, was that “there’s no doubt that any infringement on activities by Al Jazeera and its reporters in Israel would cause public relations damage to Israel overseas.”

Despite the Foreign Ministry’s position, both Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara have been publicly pushing for sanctions against Al Jazeera.