Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes Suppressing Press Freedom

NOTE: I just published a new piece at Middle East Eye on Israel’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war. I hope you’ll give it a read.

Tzipi Livni on Al Jazeera

As part of Bibi Netanyahu’s ongoing campaign to turn Israel into an authoritarian regime like those of his fellow Sunni Arab strongmen, he declared last week he would close Al Jazeera’s offices and end its broadcasts in Israel. To support his decision, he regurgitated the mindless talking points of the dictators of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the Gulf States. He spoke of AJ’s support of terrorism and its anti-Israel incitement. But what he really exploited was Israeli Jews’ deep mistrust of all things Arab. That includes Arab media. Especially independent Arab media.

Just as the Arab potentates hate media they can’t control, and which exposes their corruption and cruelty, so Bibi does the same. It’s why he and Sheldon Adelson worked so hard to create the Israel HaYom juggernaut, which swamped all independent Israeli media in its wake. It’s why Bibi connived to create a new State broadcaster that would be under his thumb and produce news that he wanted aired (his plan seemed to have gone off the rails, though).

Mordechai Kedar peddling hasbara on Al Jazeera

There are all sorts of ironies in Israel’s campaign against Al Jazeera. It is the first and only Arab media which offered Israelis interview time to express and explain their views. And it did this not just once in a while. It did it regularly. It even permitted Israeli “Arabists” like Mordechai Kedar to espouse hasbara talking points in Arabic! Where else could Israel reach the Arab masses free and unfettered? Through Egyptian media? Or Saudi Arabian? Don’t make me laugh.

Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld on AJ defending Israeli policy on the “Temple Mount”

Perhaps the worst irony of all is that in shuttering Al Jazeera, Israel shows itself to be no better than the other Arab kleptocracies with which it has aligned lately. Here is Israeli Druze MK and communications minister, Ayoob Kara:

“Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization,” Kara said. “And when we see that all these countries have determined as fact that Al-Jazeera is a tool of the Islamic State (group), Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and we are the only one who have not determined that then something delusional is happening here.”

Kara may not have passed his math exams in grade school, because those countries which banned Al Jazeera don’t amount to “most” in the region, nor even a majority. In fact, every country in the region except the ones I listed above still permit Al Jazeera to air its programming. That includes Turkey, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, etc.

Not to mention that Kara’s approving reference to the decision of autocratic Sunni states to stifle press freedom, reflects poorly on Israel. It is a nation that claims to value such rights. If so, why would it emulate the actions of Arab dictators who dislike unflattering portrayals on air?

Finally, while Kara notes that Al Jazeera gives air time to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, he neglects to mention air time it offers to Israel. And any one of the above groups or states might very well say the same thing about the media outlet being a tool of Israel.

So to Israelis I say: “something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you…?” What ‘it’ is is that Israel is finally ‘integrating into the region.’ But not in a good way. It’s becoming just as corrupt, just as intolerant, just as anti-democratic, just as theocratic as all those nations with whom it’s enjoying what I call a Sunni bromance.

Finally, I’ve reported annually on the international press freedom rankings of Israel. It’s usually in the lower-tier. In 2013, it’s ranking was 112 out of 179 (it has improved somewhat in more recent surveys). Undoubtedly, after this little escapade Israel’s ranking will sink even lower. The only thing holding this back would be the even more egregious violations of other countries like Poland, Hungary, etc. which also seem to be throwing freedom of the press to the winds.