Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during a discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, February 22, 2018. Bloomberg

U.S. Lawmakers Ask Justice Dept. to Declare Al Jazeera a Foreign Agent Amid 'Israel Lobby' Film Tensions

The legislators accuse the Qatar-owned network of airing anti-Semitic and anti-American content while giving 'favorable coverage' to terror groups

WASHINGTON – A senator and several members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday, asking him to look into the possibility of declaring Al Jazeera a foreign agent of Qatar's government. 

The letter was signed by Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and more than ten Republican members of the House, in addition to three Democratic legislators who are considered strong supporters of Israel – Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Tom Suozzi of New York. The letter comes amid tensions in Washington's pro-Israel circles over Al Jazeera's plans to air a documentary film about pro-Israel organizations in America. 

In the letter, the legislators explained that since the U.S. Justice Department declared Russia Today, an international news channel operated by the Russian government, as a foreign agent for Moscow, Congress “needs clarification” whether the same standard should apply to Al Jazeera, which is operating from Doha and is owned by the Qatari government. 

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The legislators accuse Al Jazeera of airing anti-Semitic and anti-American content while giving “favorable coverage” to terror organizations. Haaretz has learned that the main reason behind the letter, however, is a controversial Al Jazeera film about the “Israel Lobby in the United States,” which the network prepared in 2017 by sending an undercover reporter to infiltrate pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. In their letter, the legislators hint at this issue by saying that the Justice Department should investigate “reports that Al Jazeera infiltrated American non-profit organizations.” 

Al Jazeera claims to be independent from the Qatari government, and the government itself claims it has no oversight over the network's coverage. Last month, however, Haaretz revealed that Qatar's government promised figures in the U.S. Jewish community that the documentary on the Israel lobby will not be aired. The promise was made as part of an effort by Qatar to improve its standing in Washington by reaching out to U.S. Jewish leaders, especially on the right-wing side of the political spectrum. Qatar's Foreign Ministry denied the report, but Haaretz stands by its accuracy.

Last month, a number of pro-Israel activists and organizations in the U.S. received letters from Al Jazeera, informing them that they will appear in the upcoming documentary on the Israel lobby, and seeking their response. Ever since those letters were sent, there have been no further signs that Al Jazeera plans to air the documentary.

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