The approval of the "Al Jazeera law” is primarily a PR stunt, despite the fact that it’s a dangerous precedent.

The law, officially intended to prevent foreign media outlets from "endangering national security", is redundant. Israel already has sufficient checks and balances to safeguard national security from journalists and media outlets. A journalist who reports on or off camera in a way that endangers Israeli troops, as alleged against Al Jazeera, can be arrested and prosecuted under the espionage chapter of the penal code for providing information to the enemy or other relevant offenses.

Even before this law was passed, we lived in a country that extensively uses anti-democratic tools like administrative detention. This means that even if there isn't enough evidence for the crimes of this hypothetical journalist, or if exposing the source of the information about their actions could in itself endanger national security, the suspected journalist can be detained indefinitely without being brought to trial.

Furthermore, Israel's legal framework includes the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Shin Bet, and emergency regulations (dating back to 1948, not related to the current conflict). These provisions grant military censorship draconian authority to shut down media outlets that threaten national security

In other words, despite the ongoing declarations by Media Minister Shlomo Karhi from the Likud party, if Al Jazeera or any other foreign channel genuinely endangers national security, it can be halted with minimal effort. Most importantly, this can be done directly without needing to shut down the entire channel.

Therefore, the current law appears to be primarily a political stunt, allowing Prime Minister Netanyahu to claim a hollow victory against an imaginary enemy and potentially apply international pressure on Qatar.

The Israeli bluff

Not only is this law redundant, but it is also ineffective. The government already possesses sufficient legal mechanisms to address any media outlet endangering national security. Moreover, even in the absence of such tools, the "Al Jazeera law" would still be ineffective. The legislation passed by the Knesset does not offer effective measures to prevent the broadcast of a foreign channel in Israel.

The Media Minister might have the authority to order the removal of a channel endangering national security from HOT and YES broadcasting bundles, as well as block access to the channel's website. However, the majority of Israelis who watch Al Jazeera or Lebanese Al Mayadeen do so via private satellite. Moreover, blocking a channel's website can be easily circumvented and does not address mirror sites or its broadcast on social media platforms like YouTube.

The media minister can order the closure of foreign channel offices and the seizure of their equipment, but Al Mayadeen does not have offices or equipment in Israel. While Al-Jazeera's offices are indeed located in Jerusalem, journalists can operate from abroad using satellite offices. The law allows for the confiscation of a journalist's personal cellphone if used for recording and broadcasting channel content, but the journalists themselves face no sanctions and can purchase a new device the same day.

It's not surprising that right-wing members of the Knesset, whether in opposition or coalition, strongly voiced their disapproval of the wording of the law that has been proposed. it indeed offers very partial solutions to a problem that, as mentioned, doesn't truly exist.

A slippery slope

However, to understand where the danger lies in the law, it is advisable to listen to the explanations of its proponents on the need to approve it in its current wording.

Media Minister Karhi explained to the National Security Committee that he supports passing the current draft of the law proposal because that week marked the final opportunity for legislation in the Knesset's winter session. He argued that insisting on changing its wording would delay the law's passage by at least two months.

Minister Karhi urged right-wing members of the Knesset, who sought a stricter law, to take action before the opening of the next Knesset session to propose their own legislation, granting broader authority. "I will support it whole heartedly”, he promised.

The chairman of the National Security Committee, coalition member Tzvika Fogel from Otzma Yehudit, concluded the committee's deliberations on the law by thanking National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir "for standing by me, even with this law." Earlier, Coalition member Fogel emphasized, "This law is not perfect, I understand that, but it's a start. We got a foot in the door, and now we need to take responsibility. I intend to do so by presenting a personal legislative proposal to amend this law."

The most significant achievement of this law, from the perspective of Israel's authoritarian government, is indeed gaining a foothold. It marks the first instance where a minister can directly enforce restrictions on a channel's broadcast.

While the current wording of the law does attempt to balance this anti-democratic authority with various safeguards, the precedent has already been set. In the next Knesset session, the battle over freedom of speech will start from this point, and it will be very difficult to reverse course. Members of the fascist right-wing in the Knesset have already announced their intention to expand the law's scope so that it does not include judicial review, include Israeli channels, and empower the minister to direct the cyber agency to shut down the channel's broadcast by any means necessary.

If democratic forces do not remain vigilant, they will find themselves acting against a government wielding a deadly sword over media outlets that do not portray reality as it desires.