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Netanyahu bans head of Al Jazeera Israel from seminar on freedom of speech

Image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [MathKnight/Flickr]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the removal of the head of Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau, Walid Al-Omari, from a panel of speakers at a state-sponsored event on freedom of speech.

“The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes to all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel and to close their offices in Israel,” announced the Government Press Office (GPO) on Facebook yesterday.

Al-Omari is thus excluded from the seminar entitled, “Limits of free expression: the dilemma between national security and freedom of the press — Al Jazeera as a case study”. The move comes just a month after Netanyahu threatened to shut the Qatar-based outlet’s offices in Israel.

Read: Closing Al Jazeera is like shooting the messenger

Last month, the GPO also attempted to revoke the press credentials of Al Jazeera reporter Elias Karram after a 2016 interview surfaced in which he expressed support for Palestinian “resistance”. After Karram clarified that he does not support terrorism, the GPO announced that it may revisit the decision after six months.

Israel’s attempts to curb the operations of the international media outlet have drawn criticism from Palestinian journalists who staged protests across the occupied territories last month. They also condemned statements made by Netanyahu accusing Al Jazeera of inciting violence during its coverage of the crisis surrounding access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in late July.

Following an assessment report prepared by the Foreign Ministry, Israeli officials warned that imposing restrictions on Al Jazeera would have ramifications on the country’s public image overseas. Israel appeared to drop the decision, but the GPO’s latest statement posits that a closure may be considered again.

Al Jazeera has also recently been banned in numerous Arab countries following the boycott of Qatar by some Gulf States and Egypt, prompted by accusations that the government in Doha supports terrorism. Qatar has denied all such allegations.

Read: Israel is squeezing press freedoms, like Arab dictators do

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