Israel mulls closure of Al-Jazeera office as Qatar dispute escalates
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is considering closing down the Israeli offices of Qatari TV network Al-Jazeera as a diplomatic dispute between a Saudi-led bloc and Qatar continues to escalate.
The prime minister held an initial discussion on the matter this week, Israeli news site Ynet reported Tuesday, with the foreign ministry, government press office, and Israel's Shin Bet security agency all studying the issue.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain led a string of countries that cut ties with Qatar on 5 June over what they claim is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.
Days later, Saudi Arabia closed Al-Jazeera's office in Riyadh and revoked its operating licence, while Jordan shut down the Amman office of the Doha-based television channel.
Al-Jazeera, one of the largest media outlets in the world, has long been a source of conflict between Qatar and its neighbours, who accuse the broadcaster of bias and fomenting trouble in the region.
Israel has long been frustrated by Al-Jazeera's coverage of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, accusing it of supporting Hamas and being allied with Iran.
Although not part of the Saudi-led rift with Qatar, in recent years Israel has emerged as a ally in a regional anti-Iran bloc.
"Al-Jazeera is not media, it's not journalism. It's an incitement machine," Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday during a Knesset meeting.
"It's pure propaganda, of the worst variety, in the style of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia," he said, according to the Times of Israel.
Earlier this week, members of the far-right Israeli political party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) protested outside the Jerusalem bureau of the TV channel demanding that it be closed.
"The amazing thing is that most of the Arab countries in the Middle East threw them out already. Only our government is hesitating," protest leader and far-right Israeli extremist Baruch Marzel told media.
"We have been campaigning already for two weeks to close this office. Netanyahu said he's going to close this office, but it's not enough. We need him to operate, to do," he told religious-nationalist news site Arutz Sheva.
A week earlier, protesters led by Marzel stormed the Al-Jazeera building and accused it of being allied to the Islamic State group, demanding it be closed.
The Qatari TV station employs around 34 people, mostly Palestinians, and has offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza.
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walid al-Omari said Tuesday that the network does not incite against Israel or anyone else, with talk of closing the network "unacceptable".
"In Israel, we put on air people from the government and the opposition, the right and the left, and even settlers," he told Ynet.
"I don't know why Israel needs to be dragged after everything that happens in the Arab world... Al Jazeera is a media body that operates lawfully and legally in Israel and in other country in the world," he added.
Al-Jazeera will petition Israel's Supreme Court if a closure order is issued, Omari added.