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Following pressure, Israel halts decision to revoke Al Jazeera reporter's credentials

The government sought to revoke Elias Karram’s press accreditation after he expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. The decision was reversed following pressure by the Union of Journalists in Israel.

By +972 Magazine Staff

The head of the GPO Nitzan Chen attends the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee meeting on the, February 9, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The head of the GPO Nitzan Chen attends the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee meeting, February 9, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two weeks after announcing it would revoke the press credentials of senior Al Jazeera reporter Elias Karram, Israel’s Government Press Office said Wednesday that it had decided to freeze the decision.

At a hearing on his case held Wednesday, Karram, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Nazareth, told GPO Director Nitzan Chen that despite accusations leveled against him, he does not view himself as part of Palestinian resistance against Israel. Chen then decided to halt the decision to revoke the credentials for six months, during which he will closely monitor Karram’s coverage.

The Union of Journalists in Israel condemned the initial decision to revoke Karram’s press card and put pressure on the the government to change course, saying it is “inconceivable that the state would impede a journalist’s ability to report simply because of his agenda, regardless of how critical it is of the state.”

“The summons to a hearing was baseless from the very beginning,” says Yair Tarchitsky, who heads the union. “That the GPO decided to drop it is a good thing.”

The GPO previously cited a statement Karram allegedly made over a year ago as its reason for revoking the credentials: “As a Palestinian journalist in an occupied area or in a conflict zone, media work is an integral part of the resistance and its educational political activity,” Karram said in an Arabic-language May 2016 interview. “The journalist fulfills his role in the opposition with the pen, voice or camera because he is part of this people and he carries out resistance in his unique way.”

During his hearing, Karram was asked, among other things, about his thoughts on Palestinian resistance — political questions that should have nothing to do with the GPO’s final decision.

In his initial statement announcing the revocation of Karram’s credentials, Chen asserted that journalists with a GPO card are required to follow the “rules of ethics and universal fairness regarding news reporting,” and that “whoever takes an active part in a political struggle” must do so without a GPO card.

Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara holds a press conference declaring his intention to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel, Jerusalem, August 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara holds a press conference declaring his intention to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel, Jerusalem, August 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A review of the GPO’s own rules for the provision of press cards, however, makes no mention of ethics or fairness.

The GPO has publicly tied the campaign against Karram to recent attempts by Communications Ministry Ayoub Kara to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel entirely — an attempt that was also roundly criticized by the Union of Journalists in Israel.

In a statement released Wednesday, Chen called freedom of the press “one of the foundations upon which the GPO works,” adding that the GPO “will not accept a situation in which a an official press card issued by the State of Israel will be used by those who exploit it for a public struggle against the state.” According to Chen, over the coming months the GPO will monitor Al Jazeera’s Arabic- and English-language reports in Israel, and “will not hesitate, after consulting with legal and security sources, to come to the necessary conclusions.”

The GPO’s attempts to discredit Karram must be seen in the context of a well-orchestrated assault on freedom of the press in Israel. Over the past few years, the government has shut down Palestinian news outlets on both sides of the Green Line and imprisoned journalists without charge or trial. In addition, Israeli police and soldiers regularly assault,shoot at, and detain journalists working in the field.

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