Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) invalidated the press credentials of an Al-Jazeera reporter on Wednesday, August 16. Far-right Communications Minister Ayoub Kara demanded that the credentials of Elias Karram, a senior reporter at Al-Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau, be revoked as part of the minister’s efforts to shut down the Qatari-owned cable news channel in Israel. GPO Manager Nitzan Chen said that Kara asked him to revoke the credentials of all Al-Jazeera journalists.
Karram, 40, is an Arab-Palestinian and Israeli citizen who resides in Nazareth, and has had a GPO card as a reporter for Al-Jazeera since 2011. Al-Jazeera representatives told journalists that they would go to court to challenge moves to close their operation in Israel.
Hisham Nafa’h, a staff member of Al-Itichad, the daily Arabic-language newspaper of the Communist Party of Israel, called the move a blatant violation of freedom of the press. “This is a vengeful and anti-democratic step. This decision should be annulled and Elias Karam and his fellow journalists should be allowed to act freely,” Nafa’h said.
Earlier this month, Kara announced plans to close Al-Jazeera’s Jerusalem office and stop the channel from being broadcast in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on grounds of incitement. “I want to make it clear: Our citizens’ security and welfare takes precedence over democracy and freedom of expression,” Kara said at the time to Israeli radio, “Democracy has limits.” Kara also pointed to Saudi Arabia and other Arab regimes that called to shut down Al-Jazeera entirely as part of their pressure on the Qatari regime. The countries campaigning against Qatar are not democracies that purport to have a free press.
According to Haaretz, “Imposing sanctions on the Al-Jazeera television network would damage Israel’s image overseas,” senior Foreign Ministry officials warned at a National Security Council (NSC) meeting a few weeks ago. Sources briefed on the details of the meeting, who asked to remain anonymous, told Haaretz that before the meeting 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.” 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.