Israeli government briefly confiscates Associated Press equipment under new press law


(JTA) — The Israeli government confiscated and then returned equipment belonging to the Associated Press under a new law that it recently used to shutter the offices of Al Jazeera.

Shlomo Karhi, the communications minister, said late on Tuesday that his ministry was returning the equipment, used to broadcast a live shot of the Gaza Strip, that officials had confiscated from the news agency earlier in the day.

He said he was deferring the decision to the Defense Ministry, which would assess whether the news agency was endangering Israeli troops fighting the war against Hamas.

Karhi had confiscated the equipment under a law passed earlier this year and employed this month to close the local offices of Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned news station.

Israeli leaders say the law is necessary to combat an organization they say aids and abets Hamas. Al Jazeera rejects the charge, and the news channel and other foreign press groups say the law is a blow to press freedom and a harbinger of authoritarian repression in Israel.

AP, an international news agency headquartered in New York, said Al Jazeera is one of thousands of clients. The confiscation of its equipment drew backlash internationally and from Yair Lapid, the Israeli opposition leader, who called it “madness.”

“This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzers,” he said on X.

The Biden administration objected to the law when it was used this month, and expressed concern on Tuesday at the confiscation of the AP equipment.

“We stand firm in our belief that journalists have the right to do their jobs,” Karine Jean Pierre, the White House spokeswoman, told reporters.

Karhi in his statement announcing the return of the equipment said AP violated the law because it provided live shots to Al Jazeera.

“It was broadcasting to Al Jazeera the placement of our forces in the north of the strip, endangering the lives of our soldiers in the field,” Karhi said on X.

AP ridiculed the notion that its live shot of the northern Gaza Strip, where Israel is waging war against Hamas, endangered soldiers. The shot was a general view taken from the Israeli town of Sderot, the agency said.

“The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troop movements that could endanger soldiers,” it said. “The live video has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.”

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