Al Jazeera coverage promotes Qatar’s view opposing UAE-Israel normalisation deal
Sep 4, 2020 | Judy Maynard
Surprise and a largely positive international reaction greeted the August 13 announcement of the Abraham Accord, the US-brokered normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE. Even many Arab states said positive things about the agreement, or at least did not oppose it.
Less surprising has been the negative coverage given to this historic development by the “independent” media organisation, Al Jazeera, the anti-Israel, anti-US and pro-Islamist propaganda outlet of the Qatari government – which founded, funds and controls it.
Al Jazeera’s role as a foreign agent of the undemocratic Qatari absolute monarchy is increasingly being recognised internationally.
The Muslim Brotherhood blog and the UAE deal
Qatar, Turkey, and Hamas in Gaza are aligned with the Sunni Islamist and antisemitic Muslim Brotherhood, whose agenda Al Jazeera has often served. A peace agreement that heralds increasing cooperation between Israel and a moderate Sunni state like the UAE is seen by all Muslim Brotherhood aligned states and organisations as an unwelcome development.
Relations between Qatar and the UAE had already broken down in 2017 when the latter, together with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, imposed an economic blockade of Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist terrorism.
Turkey has been vocal in its condemnation of the accord. Its foreign ministry stated that history would never forgive the UAE’s “hypocritical behaviour” in agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, a claim the UAE’s Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash dismissed as itself hypocritical given that Turkey has maintained diplomatic and trade relations with Israel since 1949.
Qatar, too, employs double standards, but more circumspectly. For example, no mention of the Israel-UAE agreement appears on the English version of the official Qatari Government media centre website, but Al Jazeera published an anodyne report of a meeting between Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and US Presidential adviser Jared Kushner following the announcement of the accord. Qatar has for many years maintained unofficial ties with Israel, but occasionally disavows doing so.
In 1996 Israel opened a trade mission in Doha which was supposedly closed in 2000 following pressure from Iran and Saudi Arabia. But Emirati news platform The National has reported Eli Avidar, a current Knesset member who represented Israel in Doha from 1999 to 2000, stating that Qatar deceived Arab countries by secretly maintaining the trade link at the same time as it spoke out against other countries forging ties with Israel and, according to the report, using “Al Jazeera news network to blast any such move.”
Al-Jazeera’s Coverage and Qatar’s Foreign Policy
A similar pattern is currently discernible in the wake of the Israel-UAE normalisation. The Qatari government ostensibly maintains a low profile, while unleashing Al Jazeera to attack those it regards as detracting from its policy preferences or disparaging Doha’s vision of its place in the world. Using the network’s various platforms as well as mainstream social media, Al Jazeera staff can be relied on to engage in overt disparagement of the accord and its partners, breaching journalistic norms of balance and objectivity, and will enjoy unspoken support for this behaviour by Al Jazeera editors and management.
In large part Al Jazeera’s coverage focuses on the “betrayal” of the Palestinians. Occasionally the network provides a façade of balance by seemingly reporting a range of reactions from nations, groups and individuals to the announcement; but even this is something of an illusion, with priority being accorded to the condemnations uttered by several prominent Palestinians: PA President Mahmoud Abbas, his senior advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh, PLO Executive member Hanan Ashrawi, and Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.
Most of its coverage, however, deploys Al Jazeera’s usual modus operandi, such as using the opinion pages to push views from which Al Jazeera can distance itself as being “the author’s own” – but including only views it wants to promote, and no others.
Marwan Bishara, an Arab Israeli journalist who is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, has authored a piece that does nothing to conceal his frequently expressed antipathy towards Israel. He refers to Israel as “a regime that occupies and oppresses Palestine”; while the UAE is “the most pro-war [regime] in the region, rivalled only by Israel.” Ludicrously, Iran barely rates a mention. It is unsurprising that Al Jazeera’s opinion page on the UAE-Israel accord drips venom when handed to the entirely predictable, reliably anti-Israel, Bishara.
Other opinion pieces on the same subject fail to provide readers with any different perspectives. That of Imad K Harb, for example, headed “The UAE-Israel agreement is for naught”, reveals a similar lack of interest in a wider perspective and merely adds to the cynical narrative promoted by Al Jazeera of the betrayal of the Palestinians for doomed short-term political advantage.
The Al Jazeera coverage simplistically treats Israel and the UAE as villains, while generally avoiding analysis which would place the making of the agreement within the wider geopolitical and national security context, such as the possible regional threats posed by the radical Islamists of either Iran or the Turkish-led Sunni axis.
For example, in her introduction, a presenter on an Al Jazeera English segment, accessible on YouTube under the telling heading “Hamas: Israel-UAE deal a ‘stab in back of Palestinians’”, misstates that part of the deal would involve Israel suspending plans to annex “Palestinian territory”. Later, while interviewing Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouti – who is given free rein to demonise Israel – the presenter interjects a political claim designed to both demonise Israel and disparage the UAE’s success in halting Israeli plans to extend sovereignty in the West Bank – “I think we should remind our international audience annexation is already happening, has already happened, as a reality on the ground.”
Recent Al Jazeera programs featured one analyst who pinned the motivation for the deal on the dispute between the UAE and Qatar. “The agreement with Israel increases the pressure on Qatar and may push the Trump Administration to sympathise with the UAE with this dispute,” he states. Another guest posits that the UAE’s goal of expanding its influence in the region is being hampered by supposed border issues between Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia, for which it needs Israeli assistance.
Al Jazeera has also provided platforms to senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, who states that the PA’s ambassador to the UAE had left and would never return, and to Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser on international relations, who calls the UAE’s actions “a betrayal of Arab decisions and the Arab League.”
On social media, Al Jazeera official accounts and those of staff regularly drop all pretence of impartiality. Al Jazeera English, for example, uploaded a video to both Facebook and Twitter to help explain normalisation, following the UAE-Israel deal. Titled “History of Arab-Israeli Ties Explained” and narrated by Al Jazeera English producer Linah Alsaafin, it commences:
What is Israeli normalisation? The term describes pursuing policies or actions that treat Israel and the Israeli people as a normal part of the Middle East without holding them accountable for the past and ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people.
Twitter yields more senior Al Jazeera staff airing their highly partisan views.
News anchor Jamal Rayyan, who has previously called for the ethnic cleansing of “Zionists”, posted a series of tweets on 13 August: “Freezing the annexation – lying excuses. Who are you laughing at?” and “Muhammad bin Zayed has sold Palestine for a pittance. The humiliating peace agreement between Israel and the UAE is aimed at rescuing Trump before the end of his term.” On a tweet of a photo of bin Zayed, he wrote: “This is the man who massacred the martyrs of Palestine again, in their graves. How will he be remembered by history?”
Al-Jazeera journalist Hathem Abu Salah tweeted: “Trump declared that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed had agreed on full normalisation of relations. I do not understand why the UAE is doing everything for normalisation with the occupying enemy who has killed hundreds in Palestine and Lebanon. In my opinion, self-respecting Arab countries must boycott the UAE and recall their ambassadors from it.”
Muna Hawwa produced a controversial AJ+ video in 2019 that was taken down because it questioned the Holocaust. In response to a tweet by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed about the normalisation agreement she tweeted, “There is a Palestinian saying, ‘even after the whore repents, she continues to stand in the doorway’ – that is, the doorway of the brothel. Bin Zayed’s tweet is like that whore, who is ashamed of herself. He is incapable of writing an open announcement about normalisation, and also of speaking without covering himself with the name of Palestine which he betrayed. Habibi [bin Zayed], you are like that whore. [Just] admit this, without an idiotic attempt to hide behind [talk] of suspending the annexation of the West Bank.”
Ghada Oueiss, an Al Jazeera presenter who has previously posted antisemitic comments, on September 1 tweeted a photo of the El Al plane – painted with the Arabic, English and Hebrew words for “peace” – that made the historic first flight from Israel to the UAE. She added the caption in English “Peace … of shit.”
Interestingly, the plane’s name, Kiryat Gat, a major Israeli city between Ashkelon and Jerusalem founded in 1954, was the subject of strikingly similar fake news posted on the Twitter accounts of both Al Jazeera English and the Hamas-linked Shehab News Agency. Both of these falsely described the city as a “Jewish settlement” built on the remains of an “ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village”. Al Jazeera later issued a “clarification” regarding the former issue but which repeated the latter slander.
Gaza coverage and promotion of Hamas
The links between Qatar and Hamas have been very evident recently due to the just-ended month-long terror campaign using missiles and incendiary balloons waged by the latter against Israel following a period of relative calm.
Throughout August, Al Jazeera charted daily the tit-for-tat conflict, headlines tending to focus on Israel’s strikes even though the body of the articles generally conceded that these were in response to Hamas-initiated attacks, although sometimes disingenuously referring to retaliation only in inverted commas.
While there may be several reasons for Hamas’ escalation of the conflict, the main one is likely linked to Qatar’s agreement dating back to November 2018 to provide ongoing cash assistance to impoverished Gazan families, and a recent slowdown in the provision of that aid.
Thankfully, as Al Jazeera was able to report, Hamas announced on 31 August that it had “reached a Qatari-mediated deal to end the latest escalation of violence with Israel.” This had occurred “amid a flurry [of] diplomatic activity from Qatar whose envoy delivered the latest tranche of $30m in aid [to] Gaza before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.”
While a long way from eclipsing the worldwide interest in the recently signed UAE-Israel accord, Al Jazeera’s efforts have again played their part in advancing Doha’s ambitions on the international stage.