Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Israel Hamas WarFeatureIsrael

Netanyahu passes law to close down Al-Jazeera in Israel

Under the new law, passed this week, the government can shut a foreign outlet if it is deemed a security threat. The White House is among those who have voiced concern.
Ben Lynfield
Print this
Al Jazeera TV studio

Published: 4 April 2024

Last updated: 5 April 2024

Citing state security, Israel is poised to crack down on al-Jazeera, the media outlet that has provided the most challenging coverage of its military’s controversial and lethal war in Gaza.

To Israeli leaders al-Jazeera, the most viewed station in the Arab world, is itself a lethal tool for the propaganda of Hamas, the organisation committed to its destruction which started the war with cross border massacres on October 7, the deadliest day in Israeli history.

But with the IDF barring foreign media access to Gaza, the Qatari media giant also is a major obstacle to IDF control of information coming out of the heavily battered coastal enclave wracked by burgeoning famine and a humanitarian crisis that much of the world blames on Israel.

Al Jazeera covers Gaza with 22 local employees, by its own count, enabling it quick and wide reach even though critics raise questions about its journalistic standards, professionalism and accuracy.

Although Israel does not have the power to stop al-Jazeera’s reporting from Gaza, on Monday, by passing a law in the Knesset, it began the process of closing down its operations in Israel, a step cast as a blow against the station and Hamas in the name of Israeli security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took credit for the law as an essential security step that he would work to apply immediately. In an announcement, he termed al-Jazeera a “mouthpiece for Hamas” and alleged that it had “harmed Israeli security, actively participated in the October 7 [Hamas] massacre and incited against Israeli soldiers”. He provided no proof or examples.

An al-Jazeera source told The Jewish Independent in response that Netanyahu is turning the station’s employees into targets: “Of course he is putting us in danger when he is inciting against us and accusing us of false things.”

“We are just delivering the facts about what is happening in Gaza and everywhere,” the al-Jazeera source said. “We are only broadcasting what is happening on the ground.”

But it is easy to see why Israel considers al-Jazeera an enemy in the information war. Its coverage on Monday evening highlighted the aftermath of Israel’s two-week military operation in Shifa hospital that the IDF said was to combat Hamas fighters and gain information about the hostages the group are holding.

The coverage reported enormous civilian casualties and showed a corpse being dug out of the sandy soil and relatives seeking remains of loved ones. People were screaming, including an elderly woman who kept shouting “Ya Allah” Oh God”. Footage showed that the hospital, once Gaza’s primary medical complex, had been completely razed and burned by the IDF. The army “targeted medical staff and [civilian] evacuees,” al-Jazeera’s reporter said.

A military analyst speaking from Beirut, Elias Hanna, who appears frequently on al-Jazeera broadcasts, added that Israel is engaging in “geographic terrorism”.

There is no other source that shows in real time the war and where Israeli forces are, the targets and the human suffering.

Emeritus professor Menachem Klein

The station, as it very often does, has broadcast videos released by the media office of Hamas’s Izzedin al-Qasam armed wing and that of the Islamic Jihad. In one, a masked fighter recited a prayer and then fired a mortar.

A sense that al-Jazeera's war reporting aims to advance Hamas's agenda was reinforced in the minds of Israel's supporters by its coverage of the explosion at Ahli hospital on October 17 that killed and injured many civilians. Al Jazeera swiftly adopted Hamas's depiction of the blast as resulting from an Israeli airstrike and kept insisting that Israel's determination that a rocket fired by Palestinians caused the explosion was false.

Al-Jazeera's version became discredited upon subsequent investigations, including by Human Rights Watch, which found that the explosion "resulted from an apparent rocket propelled munition such as those used by Palestinian armed groups that hit the hospital grounds".

Menachem Klein, an emeritus professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, believes the real aim of the law is to shut down coverage of the war. “Generally, most of it is very reliable,” he says of al-Jazeera’s coverage. For example, he says, the Palestinian fatality count used by al-Jazeera and attributed to the Gaza health ministry was eventually recognised by Israeli authorities as being largely accurate. “This move will definitely have a big impact on what we know about Gaza,” said Klein.

“There is no other source that shows in real time the war and where Israeli forces are, the targets and the human suffering,” he said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said the newly-passed law harms freedom of expression and the White House made a similar criticism.  

The law, passed on Monday by a 71-10 vote, enables the minister of communication, with the backing of the prime minister, upon receiving information from security officials that a foreign outlet is substantively harming state security, to shut down its operations in Israel. The move needs cabinet endorsement and can be modified but not nullified by judicial review, according to legal experts.

In fact, there are already calls to apply the law beyond al-Jazeera. “The moment there is a [television] station whose role is to bring terrorism, educate for terrorism and give a platform for murderers, there is no reason to give it a right to exist,” Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Solomon, from the far-right Religious Zionism coalition partner, told TJI. “Any station that does this should have the law applied to it.”

The move could impact on the ability of people in Israel to access the station, although some observers believe ways can be found to get around strictures and keep watching. It is expected to halt coverage by al-Jazeera employees within Israel, although not in Gaza.

“I don’t think they can stop al-Jazeera reporting from Gaza unless they want to kill or bombard the journalists,” said Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Khatib, former minister of planning in the Palestinian Authority.

Two al-Jazeera journalists have been killed during the war. The IDF denies that it targets journalists. Al-Jazeera West Bank correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in May 2022 in what al-Jazeera charged was a deliberate execution by Israel. After blaming Palestinians, eventually the IDF admitted Israeli troops had probably killed her, but said this would have been by accident.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in a radio interview that his ministry would cancel accreditation of al-Jazeera journalists, confiscate its equipment, remove its broadcast platforms, and shut down its internet site in Israel. He said al-Jazeera journalists in Israel would have to leave. The closure will take place in about a week “if all goes as planned,” he said.

Debbie Gild-Hayo, a senior lawyer with ACRI, told TJI that the move is a blow to freedom of speech. Noting that the coalition is working on legislation that would boost Channel Fourteen, a pro-Netanyahu television station, she added: “What we are seeing is [the government] shutting down or helping outlets depending on whether they like them or not.”

This won’t have any effect on al-Jazeera except to make it more popular and give it further credibility.

Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Khatib

But Shuki Tausig, the head of a leading Israeli media watchdog, the Seventh Eye, discounted the idea that the step substantially alters freedom of information, claiming that social media and technology could enable people to continue accessing al-Jazeera. “This is declarative. In practical terms, the only thing it changes is that a station’s reporters and photographers won’t be able to work inside Israel.”

Khatib predicted the move will backfire on Israel: “This shows the Israelis are nervous and behaving in an irrational way. There are many ways to bypass these things. You no longer need permits and facilities. This won’t have any effect on al-Jazeera except to make it more popular and give it further credibility.”

The order lasts for 45 days with the possibility of an automatic extension. The law itself is in force until July 31 or the end of major military operations in Gaza. Communications minister Karhi said in the radio interview that during the interim, he plans to push for replacement legislation that would increase further the government’s powers against foreign outlets deemed to be security threats.

Khatib said that pro-Hamas Palestinians and Arabs believe al-Jazeera is contributing positively to the Palestinian cause and raising morale. But, he says, there are also those who view the station’s coverage in a less positive light.

“Some make the criticism that al-Jazeera exaggerates the strength of Hamas and its achievements in the war and therefore creates an illusion among the public that the war could have a positive outcome.”

About the author

Ben Lynfield

Ben Lynfield covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for The Independent and served as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post. He writes for publications in the region and has contributed to the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and the New Statesman.


  • Avatar of Ariel

    Ariel5 April at 01:05 am

    Al-jazeera is the spokesbody for the Muslim Brotherhood in general and Hamas in particular and should be shut down at least until the end of the war. They are so bad, that even PA President Mahmoud Abbas temporarily shut their offices in the West Bank in 2012: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8152418.stm

  • Avatar of Wesley Parish

    Wesley Parish4 April at 09:58 am

    Quote: “The moment there is a [television] station whose role is to bring terrorism, educate for terrorism and give a platform for murderers, there is no reason to give it a right to exist,” Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Solomon, from the far-right Religious Zionism coalition partner, told TJI. Unquote.

    I can see this being used against Israel, very easily. Israel’s UN Ambassador declared on Twitter, “Is the brutal murder of hundreds of civilians, not terror?” Israel defense force has committed the brutal murder of thousands of civilians, not hundreds. There is every reason to view Zionist organizations world-wide as implicated in terror and genocide. Ergo, according to Gilad Erdan’s argument, and according to the Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Solomon, any and every Zionist organization is giving a platform for murderers and educating for terrorism, and therefore should not exist.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site