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Repeal the Law Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Broadcasting Channels ("Al-Jazeera Law")

On April 4, 2024, we petitioned the High Court of Justice (Hebrew) to cancel the temporary order allowing sanctions to be imposed on foreign broadcasting channels from Israel. The law authorizes the Minister of Communication, with the consent of the Prime Minister and the Ministerial Committee on National Security, to stop the channel's broadcasts by Israeli content providers, restrict access to its website, shut down the channel's transmitters in Israel, and seize devices used to provide the channel's content, including mobile phones. The law prevents the court from overturning the decision, even if it believes it should be overturned.

ACRI argued that the law violates freedom of expression, the right to information and freedom of the press, and blocks citizens and residents from receiving a variety of information that does not fit the Israeli narrative or is not broadcast on Israeli media channels. It was also argued that the law tramples on the principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, since it includes an "override clause" that prevents the court from overturning an illegal decision.

In the petition, ACRI also insisted that the real purpose of the temporary order is to label and punish foreign media due to the content of their broadcasts. It was also emphasized that throughout the Knesset debates on the temporary order it was clear that the political echelon seeks to block are those broadcasting in Arabic, which is consumed mainly by the Arab public in Israel – and its legislation tarnishes an entire population, implying that its viewing habits are liable to endanger state security.

In the petition, ACRI referred to Al-Jazeera TV, which the law was named after, after political officials, including the Prime Minister, declared that they would use the law against Al Jazeera itself. ACRI stressed that the conduct of the state and its institutions shows that the main reason the law has now been passed is to exert pressure on the Qatari government, which owns Al-Jazeera TV; moreover, for political rather than security reasons. ACRI additionally noted that during the entire six months of the war thus far, the state could have imposed sanctions on the channel under existing law, if there was indeed concern that it harmed state security, but it chose not to do so.

On May 2, 2024, we filed a request for an interim injunction, following reports that the government intends to discuss imposing sanctions on Al-Jazeera that evening, after approval by the Attorney General, without prior right of plea and without effective judicial review of these orders. We asked the court to issue an interim injunction instructing the government to refrain from issuing orders to a foreign broadcaster under the law until the petition is decided, and at least until another decision is made. The court denied the request.

On May 5, 2024, the government decided to impose sanctions on Al-Jazeera TV in Israel. That same day, we filed another request for an interim injunction. We wrote that the government's decision was made and the orders to close the channel were issued even before the state submitted its response to the petition, and before a discussion of the constitutionality of the law was held. We asked the court to issue an interim injunction that would delay the implementation of the orders and the imposition of sanctions on the channel until the petition is decided, and at least until another decision is made. The court denied the request.

On May 6, 2024, we filed a request to join a separate proceeding in the Tel Aviv District Court, which deals with the sanctions imposed on Al-Jazeera TV. The aforementioned temporary order states that if the Minister of Communications orders sanctions against a foreign media channel, he will have to bring the instructions for judicial review before the president of the district court or his deputy within 24 hours. They in turn are required to decide the matter within three days,  and according to the language of the temporary order, they have no authority to cancel the sanctions. Accordingly, the state appealed to the District Court after the sanctions were imposed on Al-Jazeera, and we filed a request to join the proceedings. They argued that since the temporary order is unconstitutional, any provision issued pursuant to it is illegal. We also raised arguments regarding the propriety of the administrative procedure taken, in light of the NSC's opinion that raises a question regarding the existence of a real security risk, which exceeds the threshold set by law.

HCJ 2859/24 Association for Civil Rights in Israel v. Prime Minister

Attorney: Hagar Shechter, Gil Gan-Mor


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