Foreign Ministry Warned Moves Against Al Jazeera Will Damage Israel's Image

Despite the ministry's warning that moves against the network would clump Israel with countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey, government moves to revoke journalist's credentials

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

Imposing sanctions on the Al Jazeera television network would damage Israel’s image overseas, senior Foreign Ministry officials warned at a National Security Council meeting a few weeks ago.

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.”

Even though Al Jazeera’s editorial policy is harshly anti-Israel, the ministry warned, any moves against it would spark international criticism and give ammunition to people and organizations worldwide seeking to paint Israel as a country that undermines the fundamental democratic principles of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. As one source put it, “Such moves are liable to result in Israel being portrayed as in the same class as countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey.”

Both the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this article.

Despite the Foreign Ministry’s position, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara have been publicly pushing for sanctions against Al Jazeera. On Wednesday, their statements led to the first practical step, when the Government Press Office, which is subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office, announced that it planned to revoke the press credentials of one of Al Jazeera’s reporters in Israel.

Nitzan Chen, the director of the GPO, issued a statement saying that he planned to revoke the press card belonging to the station’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Elias Karram, who is an Israeli citizen living in Nazareth. Before the revocation is carried out, however, Karram will be granted a hearing at which he may try to alter the decision.

The statement said the GPO decided to revoke Karram’s press credentials, which he has held since 2011, because of an interview he gave about a year ago to a television station affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In this interview, Karram said his journalistic work is part of his contribution to the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Al Jazeera correspondent Elias Karram

The GPO said it received the material that served as the basis for this decision from Netanyahu’s spokesman for the Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, and Kara, the communications minister. Gendelman has been interviewed by Al Jazeera numerous times in recent years and is in regular contact with Karram for work purposes.

Gendelman and Kara both refused to respond to Haaretz’s questions on the matter.

In an English-language statement, the GPO said it had revoked Karram’s credentials over an interview he gave to the Dar al-Iman television station on May 26, 2016. In that interview, according to the statement, Karram said: “As a Palestinian journalist in an occupied area or in a conflict zone, media work is an integral part of the resistance and its educational political activity. The journalist fulfills his role in the opposition with the pen, voice or camera because he is part of this people and he carries out resistance in his unique way.”

These remarks, the statement added, “call into question the ability of Karram, the representative of a foreign network, to cover – as a professional journalist – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which, according to his own words, he is taking an active part.”

At the hearing, which will take place next week, Karram “will be requested to explain whether or not he is part of the Palestinian people’s resistance to the ‘Zionist occupation,’ as he stated in the interview, and if so, how this affects his work as a journalist according to universal ethics,” the statement continued.

“The whole issue of GPO cards is bound up with journalist’s rules of ethics and universal fairness regarding news reporting,” the statement quoted Chen as saying. “It would seem that an Al Jazeera correspondent, who serves as a senior field correspondent vis-à-vis news and security events, made the sharp and far-reaching comment that ‘any Palestinian journalist should see himself as an integral part of the resistance to the occupation.’ Whoever takes an active part in a political struggle should do so in the framework of the law, but without press credentials from the State of Israel.”