Opinion |

It’s Fun to Hate Al Jazeera

The network’s effectiveness is measured by the extent that most Arab leaders, and now Israel too, detest and fear it. The channel created a new Arab dialogue that also produced the ideas of the Arab Spring

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Employees at Al Jazeera in Jerusalem, August 8, 2017.
Employees at Al Jazeera in Jerusalem, August 8, 2017. Credit: Mahmoud Illean / AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“You’ve got a global — a set of global networks — that Al Jazeera has been the leader in, that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2, 2011. You may like the network or not, but it’s certainly effective, she added.

Al Jazeera’s real effectiveness isn’t measured by its ratings (its highest ratings have been about 70 percent of Arabic speakers), but by the extent that most Arab leaders, and now Israel too, detest and fear it. It damages national security, causes instability and supports terror — these are some of the complimentary descriptions that show its power and influence.

This week in Haaretz, Abed L. Azab went out of his way to prove the network’s treachery to the “Arab interest” because it didn’t cover the Shi’ite rioting in Saudi Arabia. He directly attacks harsh statements by Faisal al-Qassem about Syrian President Bashar Assad. “His statements and the words he chose do not conform to any code of journalistic ethics or modicum of self-respect,” Azab wrote. Good heavens, how terrible that a Syrian journalist dares express himself about a perpetrator of massacres like Assad.

Al-Qassem, among the network’s senior journalists, is Druze (like Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara), holding dual Syrian and British citizenship. His program “The Opposite Direction” is one of the most popular shows on Arabic- language TV because of its daring tone. Almost single-handedly, al-Qassem has generated a revolution in the way the Arab media addresses controversial issues, whether women’s rights, religious factions or murderous rulers.

Of all things, it’s Al Jazeera’s ethics code that bothers Azab. Al Jazeera exposed details of the war in Afghanistan when the Western media wasn’t allowed in, and it showed the rampaging of the coalition forces in Iraq when Western journalists were forced to stay close to American troops. (And an American aircraft bombed Al Jazeera people, killing a reporter.)

This “treacherous channel,” as Azab calls it, reported on the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia at the end of 2010. While the West was still treating the incident as a local criminal matter, Al Jazeera framed it as a pan-Arab issue. The network created a new Arab dialogue that also produced the ideas of the Arab Spring.

Yes, Al Jazeera generated a revolution in the media after generations in which Arab media outlets accompanied Arab leaders at ribbon-cuttings and heartrending speeches, sometimes without sound, for fear something improper might slip out of the leader’s mouth. That’s apparently what the Arab liberal longs for.

Al Jazeera uncovered corruption in Saudi Arabia, until the Saudis decided to shut it down and this year imposed a sweeping closure on Qatar mainly because of the network. The “lying” Al Jazeera is almost the only network that still reports on what’s happening in Gaza.

True, Al Jazeera isn’t objective, it’s funded by the family of the emir of Qatar, and it doesn’t criticize the corruption and evils of the emirate. Until recently, something similar could be said about the right-wing daily Israel Hayom, and Fox News doesn’t criticize its lords and masters.

And it wasn’t Yedioth Ahronoth that uncovered the connection between its owner and Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s too easy, very cowardly and as mendacious as it gets to join the Arab and Israeli tradition of tarring and feathering Al Jazeera as the enemy of the world.

Revoking the credentials of a senior Al Jazeera journalist in Jerusalem, Elias Karam, is a desperate move. With the stroke of a pen, one can invent a pretext that will shut down a few more media outlets — Israeli, Arab and Western. But at least Israelis will have Al Jazeera from which to learn about what’s going on in their country and the areas it occupies.

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