July 18, 2019

GOP Members of Congress Call on DOJ to Designate Al Jazeera As Foreign Agent

Workers at the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on June 13. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Eight Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 18 urging for Al Jazeera to be designated as a foreign agent, the Washington Examiner reports.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) as well as Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) argued to Attorney General William Barr that “Al Jazeera is not only a foreign principal but it is also owned by a foreign principal – the government of Qatar. Several members of the ruling family of Qatar have held senior positions at Al Jazeera: Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, is the Chairman of Al Jazeera; Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani is the CEO of Qatar Media Corporation and a Board Member of Al Jazeera; Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani served as the Director General of Al Jazeera from 2011 until June 2013.”

The congressmen noted that Al Jazeera frequently promulgates viewpoints held by the Qatari government, such as the network putting the Muslim Brotherhood “in a moderate light” and hosting Hamas leaders; the Qatari government funds both organizations. Additionally, AJ+, Al Jazeera’s English channel, frequently appears “to support anti-Israeli and anti-American positions.”

Therefore, the congressmen argued, “It appears that Al Jazeera’s broadcasts, including AJ+, mirror the policies and preferences of the Qatari government, which, together with the state funding and other indicia of agency, demonstrate that Al Jazeera and its media subsidiaries act as alter egos of the Qatari government in ensuring dissemination of the government’s viewpoints.” Consequently, Al Jazeera should be required to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the congressmen wrote.

Al Jazeera disputed the congressmens’ assertions, telling The Washington Examiner that the Qatari government doesn’t influence its editorial content. Al Jazeera Media Network similarly said in a statement to the Journal that the fact it receives public funding makes it no different than outlets like the BBC and that “AJ+ English content, at times, runs counter to societal norms and policies of Qatar, or is critical of Qatar, precisely because the platform is independent and audience-driven.”

Security Studies Group Senior Vice President David Reaboi wrote in the May 24 cover story for the Journal that “Al-Jazeera is the world’s most successful and influential state-directed information operation,” pointing out how AJ+ brands itself as a progressive channel in English while Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel “pushes a stream of vile, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” Al Jazeera AT Arabic’s Twitter account tweeted out a Holocaust-denying video, which Reaboi wrote was an example of Al Jazeera’s mask slipping.

“The scandal did damage Qatar’s influence operation — but just how much damage is yet to be seen,” Reaboi wrote. “At the very least, more Americans know that the AJ+ social media content that’s targeted toward their children and young adults is actually Al-Jazeera, a foreign network owned and operated to advance the interests of the Qatari state. This kind of exposure is vital.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has also argued that Al Jazeera “routinely glorifies violence against Israeli Jews, regularly calling Palestinians killed in the act of trying to murder Israelis as ‘martyrs.’ The network also uses this term for any Palestinian operative of the armed wing of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad who is killed by Israeli forces, despite the fact that both of these groups avowedly seek to slaughter Israeli civilians.”

In August, President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which compelled all foreign media outlets, including Al Jazeera, to register as a foreign agent.