Israeli Government Seizes AP's Media Equipment In Latest Act Of Censorship

AP called it "an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law"

Israeli Government Seizes AP's Media Equipment In Latest Act Of Censorship
Screen shot from the Associated Press's report on Israeli officials seizing their equipment and a photo of an Israeli flag by Chenspec

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The Israeli government seized media equipment from the Associated Press after the news outlet refused to quit broadcasting a live shot of northern Gaza. 

Lauren Easton, who is the vice president of corporate communications for AP, condemned the Israeli government for its act of censorship.

“The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law,” Easton stated. “We urge the Israeli authorities to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”

On April 1, the Knesset passed a law which gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the authority to ban any media organization that the government designates as a “national security threat.”

Al Jazeera was banned from Israel on May 5. Israeli security forces raided the Arab news network’s offices and confiscated equipment. The Israeli government also blocked Al Jazeera’s website.

According to AP, Israeli officials accused the news organization of violating the country’s censorship law by providing footage to Al Jazeera. 

The AP is one of numerous news outlets that license or share footage with Al Jazeera. Israeli officials are demonstrating that they will shut down any media organization that has a business relationship with the news network. 

“This is the latest in [a] series of chilling steps by the Israeli government to stifle the media,” declared the Foreign Press Association, which represents working in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. “Israel could block other international news agencies from providing live footage of Gaza. It also could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds.”

The National Press Club denounced the Israeli government's actions. "The lengths to which Israel is willing to go to stop news coverage of the military action in Gaza must not be overlooked by the media still covering the conflict and the public at large. In particular we call on the Israeli press to emphasize these actions in their coverage so citizens of Israel are fully aware of what their government is doing in their name."

“All Americans should be outraged that Israel seized equipment from a U.S. news outlet and stopped it from broadcasting video footage of Gaza,” argued Caitlin Vogus, a deputy advocacy director for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Israel’s actions against the AP strip millions of people of a view into Gaza at a time of war and mass atrocities. President Joe Biden must condemn Israel’s seizure of the AP’s equipment and insist on its immediate return.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked if the Biden administration condemned Israel for seizing the AP’s equipment. The answer was far from an unequivocal denunciation.

“I mean, I want to be really, really mindful.  I’m going to—we’re going to—looking into it. And obviously, this is concerning.  And so, we want to look into it,” Jean-Pierre replied. 

AP indicated that Israeli officials verbally ordered the news organization on May 16 “to cease the live transmission.” The media outlet resisted the order, which resulted in officials from Israel's communications ministry arriving at the “AP location in the southern town of Sderot” to stop their broadcast.

After seven and a half months spent waging a war on Gaza, the Israeli government has killed at least 105 journalists. Several of these reporters were targeted for reporting on the relentless bombardment of Palestinians.

Israeli officials have barred international reporters from entering Gaza to report firsthand on the death and destruction. 

In 2021, as the AP noted, the Israeli military “destroyed the building housing AP’s Gaza office, claiming Hamas had used the building for military purposes. The AP denied any knowledge of a Hamas presence, and the army never provided any evidence to back up its claim.” (Al Jazeera also had an office in this building.)

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said at the time, “Deliberately targeting media outlets constitutes a war crime. “By intentionally destroying media outlets, the Israel Defense Forces are not only inflicting unacceptable material damage on news operations. They are also, more broadly, obstructing media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population.”

The Israeli government’s policy of targeting news media organizations did not begin in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on October 7. And the Israeli government will not stop targeting media outlets until the United States government and other Western governments quit arming and propping up a country with leaders, who trample over freedom of the press without hesitation while bodies keep piling up in Gaza.