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Mideast’s ‘Only Democracy’ joins push to Silence Al Jazeera: Netanyahu

The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters)

Trump has his Twitter. Apparently far right wing Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has his Facebook. In a Facebook posting, Netanyahu vowed to close the Jerusalem office of the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera satellite news station. Failing that, he said, he would introduce legislation to ban Al Jazeera in Israel (presumably Israel/ Palestine, since Israel keeps 4.5 million Palestinians under siege or direct military rule).

Netanyahu accuses Al Jazeera of “incitement,” which in the right wing Israeli lexicon means reporting news about how the Israelis are militarily occupying and gradually expropriating the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is widely seen to be blaming Al Jazeera for his own poor judgment, inasmuch has he put metal detectors in the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, provoking demonstrations in Jerusalem and Jordan. Netanyahu was forced into a humiliating retreat, and the Israeli public thinks he should have had better sense in the first place.

Al Jazeera itself reported on this story, writing that Netanyahu held a cabinet meeting with high Israeli intelligence and security heads on June 12 to discuss shuttering Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office. The channel alleged that Netanyahu wanted to take advantage of the closing of Al Jazeera in Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf countries, as part of their campaign against Qatar for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and for various forms of political openness and free discussion.

It alleged that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Al Jazeera not only of instigation but also of being Nazis. Lieberman, a former club bouncer from Moldova, once spoke of how it would be possible for Israel to blow up Egypt’s Aswan Dam and wash 90 million Egyptians into the Mediterranean, so I don’t think he is exactly James Madison. Likewise Al Jazeera says that in June, far far right Israelis demonstrated against the channel, demanding it be closed in Israel just as it was being closed in Saudi Arabia.

The right wing of hard line Jewish nationalism (such as the Likud Party from which Neanyahu springs) has no respect whatsoever for freedom of speech or the free flow of information which is why an Israel under a Lukud government is not actually fully a democracy (there is military censorship and there is no freedom at all in the Occupied territories that comprise about 1/3 of the population ruled by the Israeli government).

In fact, they’re trying as hard as they can to have Congress get rid of the US First Amendment and make it a felony to criticize them and advocate boycotting them in the United States.

Al Jazeera has been banned from lots of countries. It deals with that problem by phoning interviewees in those countries. Unless Netanyahu wants to make phone calls illegal, too, he can’t stop Al Jazeera putting critical voices on the air.

Not sure it is a good look for Netanyahu to ape Saudi Arabia’s media and foreign policies.

Or for his agents in AIPAC on the Hill to try to turn America into Saudi Arabia, either.

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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