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(April 9, 2024 / Newsweek) Israel’s parliament recently passed a law aiming to shut down Qatar’s quasi-state-run Al Jazeera Media Network.

The law that allows temporary shutdowns of foreign media that threaten national security was immediately met with White House criticism accusing Jerusalem of cracking down on freedom of the press. Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called the move “concerning,” while State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said even though the U.S. disagrees with much of Al Jazeera’s coverage, it respects its work.

But clamping down on the state-run media of an enemy autocracy is not a breach of freedom of the press. And when it comes to other allies, the Biden administration seems to understand this.

No U.S. official expressed concern when the European Union correctly opted to close Russia Today and other Russian state-owned media outlets following the invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this year, Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the EU‘s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said:

“The Kremlin regime transformed state-controlled media into instruments of information manipulation and information warfare. That is why the European Union banned [a] number of them, including Russia Today and Sputnik from EU media space.”

Israel has even more serious reasons to shut down Al Jazeera.

The Qatari network is an information arm of the government—an autocratic regime that has been one of the largest political and financial backers of the terrorist group, Hamas. The Qatari government also blamed the Oct. 7 massacre on Israel on the same day, given refuge to Hamas leaders in luxurious conditions in Doha and has generously supported groups with Israeli and American blood on their hands such as the Islamic StateTaliban and Al Qaeda.

While Qatar acts as an honest broker trying to negotiate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, Al Jazeera is at the front of the information war against Israel. The Qatari network has glorified the Oct. 7 massacre as “heroic,” cut off Gazans on air when criticizing Hamas and engaged in blood libels against the Jewish state. In fact, at least one Al Jazeera reporter actively participated in the Oct. 7 massacre, filming the infiltration into Israel from the Israeli border kibbutz Nir Oz and praising the Hamas militants.

But Al Jazeera’s activities go far beyond information warfare.

A week after the Oct. 7 massacre, the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, called on the Netanyahu government to close Al Jazeera for broadcasting the movement of Israeli troops. In February, Israeli intelligence exposed multiple Al Jazeera reporters as Hamas operatives. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, also found that Al Jazeera broadcasts endangered Israeli soldiers by revealing their locations.

That’s the prime reason why closing Al Jazeera is necessary and not a violation of freedom of press. And although Washington has been critical, the law itself takes clear steps to prevent such violations. Israeli security services must present “factual foundations” of a “real threat” to national security. A shutdown must be approved by a judicial review renewable after 45 days.

Such safeguards do not seem to matter to the White House. The irony is the Biden administration knows perfectly well that Al Jazeera is not just your average news organization.

In fact, in 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Al Jazeera’s U.S. affiliate AJ+ engaged in “political activities” on behalf of Qatar’s government and ordered it to register as a foreign agent. To date, AJ+ has ignored these calls without penalty. Last year, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) accused Qatar of “aggressively deploy[ing] [its] espionage forces” against the U.S. government. He also noted that 136 Al Jazeera journalists have been accredited by the House and Senate Media Galleries in contrast to just 82 from The New York Times.

In fact, both Israel and the United States have been slow to do what many other Middle East countries have done. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates all closed down local Al Jazeera offices for spreading extremism by supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

That’s because the countries who receive Al Jazeera’s Arabic language coverage are aware of the threat it poses and how it manipulates its audiences to spread extremism and accomplish Qatar’s foreign policy goals.

Between 2017 and 2021, a Saudi-led coalition of 13 nations severed relations with Qatar for its close ties with Iran and its backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition then implemented a de facto blockade of the country. A U.S.-Kuwait resolution ended the crisis in 2021.

During the Arab Spring’s anti-government protests in 2010, Al Jazeera not only supported the Muslim Brotherhood throughout their coverage, but even paid for its exiled leaders to stay at ritzy hotels in Doha.

Proponents of Al Jazeera argue that it is the only network in the region exposing corruption, abuses of power, and human rights violations—although naturally never in Qatar. However, like any autocratic state-funded media, the network never acts against Qatar’s interests or paints Doha in a bad light. That is why, when it comes to Israel, Al Jazeera acts as a Hamas mouthpiece.

Israel is currently fighting a multi-front hybrid war, in which a deliberate disinformation campaign seeks to demonize Jerusalem. Closing Al Jazeera, a channel that has spearheaded the fight, is a crucial step in battling such disinformation.

If the Biden administration truly wants to support Israel, it should applaud this law and force Al Jazeera to comply with U.S. law and register as a foreign agent.

Joseph Epstein is the director for legislative affairs at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) and a fellow at the Yorktown Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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About the Author

Joseph Epstein
Joseph Epstein is EMET’s Legislative Fellow. Prior to EMET, Joseph worked in Business Intelligence and Due Diligence for Kroll and Vcheck Global. He has additionally worked as a journalist, analyst, and consultant covering security and migration issues in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Central Africa. From 2017 to 2019, he served as a Lone Soldier in the Israeli Border Police. A graduate of Columbia University, where he studied Political Science and Soviet Studies, Joseph is fluent in Russian and Hebrew.

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