Debate erupts over Al Jazeera operations in Israel

The Qatar-based network's Jerusalem bureau chief speaks to JPost's sister publication following reports that Israel was reviewing shuttering the cable station's office here.

The Al Jazeera logo seen in a studio [Illustrative] (photo credit: AFP / STAN HONDA)
The Al Jazeera logo seen in a studio [Illustrative]
(photo credit: AFP / STAN HONDA)
Al Jazeera fired back on Tuesday after it emerged that the government in Jerusalem was reviewing the Qatar-based network's operations in Israel.
"If they try to discontinue our activity in Israel and close our office here, we will petition the High Court of Justice," Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau chief Walid al-Omari told The Jerusalem Post's sister publication Maariv.
Al-Omari made the remarks following reports that the Israeli Prime Minister's Office had launched an initiative to study the possibility of shuttering the cable station's presence in Jerusalem.
Al Jazeera has come under fire in Israel on accusations of biased coverage. On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman blasted the broadcaster, charging that it produces Nazi- and Soviet-style propaganda.
Speaking to Maariv on Tuesday, al-Omari denied allegations that the network was used for incitement and propaganda, stating that the charges were part of a smear campaign against Al Jazeera.
A veteran journalist with Israeli citizenship, al-Omari stated that Al Jazeera has previously faced similar situations of attempts to close down its presence in Jerusalem.
"We not only have a right but a duty to petition the High Court of Justice," he said. "We reject all of the allegations and the incitement campaign against us."
"How can Israel continue to argue to the world that it is part of a democratic and universal dialogue if it behaves like a dark dictatorship," he charged.
Al Jazeera has found itself at the center of a recent dispute in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and Iran.
Founded in 1996 as part of Qatar's efforts to turn its economic power into political influence, Al Jazeera won millions of viewers across the Arab world by offering uncensored debate rarely seen on other local broadcasters in the region.
Al Jazeera lists the location of its office in Jerusalem as "Palestine." It also has regional branches in Gaza and Ramallah.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan have respectively closed down Al Jazeera offices in Riyadh and Amman as the network has caused suspicion among many governments over the air time it gave to Islamist groups in Syria, Libya and elsewhere.
Speaking to Maariv, al-Omari raised the question of whether Israel was following suit with those Arab countries that have already closed local Al Jazeera branches following the Qatar crisis for the purpose of bolstering regional ties.
"What's wrong with Al Jazeera?" he asked. "We are duly registered, law-abiding workers who pay taxes and behave according to journalistic ethics. From day one we have been registered. Everything is transparent, everything is coherent."
In a scathing verbal attack against the news organization on Monday, Defense Minister Liberman asserted that Al Jazeera “is not media” and “it’s not journalism.”
“It’s truly an instrument of incitement and propaganda in the disgraceful style of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union,” he said, noting that the organization, which has a cable new station in English and Arabic as well as a website, never writes or produces negative articles against Iran.
Al-Jazeera and the Foreign Press Association declined to respond to Liberman’s remarks.
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.