Israel shuts liberal radio station in attempt to silence criticism of right

Critics say action against broadcaster is a politically motivated attack on democracy

Jerusalem

Israel has closed down a dovish Israeli-Palestinian radio station in what its backers say is a politically-motivated decision to silence criticism of the Jewish state.

The Communications Ministry ordered the Kol Hashalom station, or All for Peace, to shut down earlier this month for broadcasting into Israel illegally. But Danny Danon, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish Likud party, boasted that he had instigated an investigation into the station for alleged incitement against Israel.

The attack on the radio station, which has broadcast for seven years, raises fresh concerns about press freedoms at a time when many of Israel's liberals view the country's democracy as under threat from the right wing.

Israel claims that All for Peace, established by Palestinian and Israeli activists, is a pirate radio station operating without a licence, but the station has countered that it has a licence from the Palestinian Authority, and does not require permission from Israel. The station has offices in East Jerusalem, but broadcasts from Ramallah in the West Bank.

Managers of the station, unique for its willingness to talk to far-right Israelis as much as to militant Palestinians, have been in regular contact with the Communications Ministry over the past seven years, said the Jewish co-director Mossi Raz, who insists that he has never in that time been told to seek an Israeli licence.

"It is a political decision," said Mr Raz, a former politician with the left-wing party Meretz. "I am very concerned. There is no democracy here. People think that democracy is only the right to vote, but it's not only that. You cannot have democracy without freedom of the press." He added that he is preparing to challenge the decision in court.

Mr Danon, an outspoken right-wing politician who complained about the station to the Attorney General two months ago, claimed credit for the station's demise. "A radical leftist station that becomes an instrument of incitement must not be allowed to broadcast to the public," Mr Danon said.

He reportedly objected to presenters encouraging Palestinians to demonstrate in support of an independent state. Mr Raz, who was unsure if the station's presenters had made such a call, challenged the view that there was anything wrong with it. "Is this incitement?" he said.

The decision to close the station comes as Israeli journalists grapple with what they perceive as intensifying efforts by the government to muzzle criticism, both in the media and more widely through proposals to broaden the libel law, limit foreign funding of left-wing NGOs, and move control of Supreme Court appointments from an independent panel to parliament.

On the media front, the focus has centred on independent television station Channel 10, which faces imminent closure. The state reportedly offered to allow the channel to delay payment of debts owed to it if it fired the reporter responsible for an investigation into the funding of private trips made by Benjamin Netanyahu before becoming premier. Critics say such moves are part of a wider trend to skew coverage more favourably towards Mr Netanyahu. The Channel 2 anchor Yair Lapid said, "An incontinent government is silencing dissenting voices."

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