Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the removal of Al Jazeera journalist Walid Al Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech. Picture: Abir Sultan, Pool via AP

Johannesburg – Israel is moving ahead with its plans to ban the Qatari TV network Al Jazeera from the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Government Press Office (GPO) to remove Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech planned for Thursday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

"The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel and to close their offices in Israel," the GPO announced in a Facebook post.

In August, the GPO said it was going to revoke the press accreditation of a Palestinian journalist, with Israeli citizenship, after he made comments that the Israeli authorities interpreted as being supportive of the Palestinian resistance.

Elias Karram had stated on a TV network affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood that he saw his work as a journalist partly contributing to the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

The Union of Journalists in Israel responded by blasting the GOP's intention to revoke Karram's press permit, calling it an "intolerable move in a democracy."

However, when Karram was brought before the GPO for a hearing recently he explained that he was an objective journalist and the revocation of his press accreditation was postponed for six months during which time the GPO will monitor his work.

Al Omari’s ban is part of a broader plan by the Israeli government to institute sanctions against Al Jazeera, which also has offices in Jerusalem and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

However, senior foreign ministry officials warned at a National Security Council (NSC) meeting in August that imposing sanctions on Al Jazeera would damage Israel's image overseas.

The NSC asked the foreign ministry to prepare an assessment of possible international responses to Israeli sanctions on the Qatari TV station.

The ministry’s assessment was that “there was no doubt that any infringement on activities by Al Jazeera and its reporters in Israel would cause public relations damage to Israel overseas."

Despite the warning, both Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara have continued to push for closing Al Jazeera.

Reporters Without Border ranked press freedom in Israel at 91 out of 180 countries in its 2017 ranking.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, said press freedom in Israel had declined from Free to Partly Free.
This was partly due to the growing impact of the daily Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidised business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content -some of it government funded -whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.