Free Press

Israel Raids the Associated Press and Seizes Equipment Over War Coverage

There's no justification for cracking down on news organizations for reporting the news during war.


The deadly war between Israel and Hamas, the political party that controls the Gaza Strip and which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization since 1997, has stretched into its seventh month. Over 1,000 Israelis and 10,000–35,000 Palestinians have lost their lives (though the death toll in Gaza has been a point of contention).

Ever since Hamas' October 7 surprise attack on Israel, in which raiders killed over 1,000 people and took another 240 hostage, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stated goal has been to "destroy Hamas." But Netanyahu's government has taken steps that contradict the principles of a free society and undercut its reputation as the Middle East's only true democracy.

"Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in southern Israel," the news organization reported on Tuesday, amid accusations of "violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera." The A.P.'s live feed of Gaza went dead after the seizure.

On April 1, Israeli lawmakers passed a law that would allow the government to shut down foreign news networks deemed a threat to national security. The Times of Israel reported that the law was specifically intended to target Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network that has often been accused of anti-Israel or pro-Hamas bias.

"The terrorist channel Al Jazeera will no longer broadcast from Israel," Netanyahu pledged in an April 1 post on X (formerly Twitter). "I intend to act immediately in accordance with the new law to stop the channel's activity." Netanyahu charged that the network had "harmed Israel's security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers."

The move was broadly denounced. "Such slanderous accusations will not deter us from continuing our bold and professional coverage," Al Jazeera said in a statement.

"We think the work that the independent free press does is important everywhere in the world, and much of what we know about what has happened in Gaza is because of reporters who are there doing their jobs, including reporters from Al Jazeera," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters after the law passed. "I think it's well known that we've not always agreed with all of Al Jazeera's coverage, but it's a media organization that we engage with."

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the move "concerning," adding that "the United States supports the critically important work journalists around the world do," including "those who are reporting [on] the conflict in Gaza."

On May 5, Israel forcibly closed Al Jazeera's satellite office in Tel Aviv, seized its broadcast equipment, and blocked access to its websites and broadcasts from within the country, after the government unanimously approved a proposal to do so.

Then on Tuesday, Israel did the same to the A.P.

The country's communications ministry had ordered the A.P. to cease its live broadcast of footage from Gaza last week, which the outlet refused to do. As a result, officials seized broadcast equipment, saying in a statement that "the communications ministry will continue to take whatever enforcement action is required to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state."

"The AP complies with Israel's military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers," the outlet noted. "Al Jazeera is one of thousands of AP customers, and it receives live video from AP and other news organizations."

"The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment," said A.P. Vice President of Corporate Communications Lauren Easton in an earlier version of the article. "The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country's new foreign broadcaster law."

Hours after the seizure, the A.P.'s story was updated to say that "Israel's communications minister ordered the government to return a camera and broadcasting equipment it had seized from The Associated Press, reversing course hours after blocking the news organization's live video of Gaza." It noted that this came after "the Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader condemned the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pressured it to reverse the decision."

While Israel has no constitution, its laws do recognize a general freedom of speech, including freedom of the press. Even if you fully support Israel's actions since October 7—and polls show fewer and fewer Americans do, even though they find its cause to be righteous—it's hard to justify such an egregious crackdown on a free press.

Unfortunately, there is a trend even among nominally free nations to crack down on dissent in wartime.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has shown admirable force of will since Russian forces invaded his country in 2022. But he has also enacted repressive measures, using Russian aggression as justification: In 2021, Zelenskyy's government shuttered three pro-Russia news networks. Even though this act predated the invasion, Zelenskyy defended the move as "by no means an attack on freedom of speech" but rather "a well-founded decision to protect national security."

The following year, after Russia's incursion into the country, Zelenskyy went even further: "With the declaration of martial law in February came a prohibition on male citizens aged 18–60 leaving the country," Reason's Stephanie Slade wrote in July 2022. "Then in March, the government combined the country's national TV stations into a single state-approved broadcast and suspended 11 opposition political parties it described as 'pro-Russian.'"

In fairness, during World War I, the U.S. prosecuted and convicted two socialists under the Espionage Act for handing out pamphlets that encouraged young men to oppose the draft. The Supreme Court later upheld the conviction in a unanimous decision that gave us the "fire in a crowded theater" canard.

Again, it is difficult to look at the facts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine—a large expansionist power undertaking a war of aggression against a nearby sovereign nation, with vague justifications like "de-Nazification"—and see Russia as anything other than an authoritarian aggressor. But that doesn't excuse Ukraine's repressive actions, even if they were nominally taken with the intent to counter Russia.

By the same token, even if you support Israel's conduct since October 7, there is no justification for cracking down on news organizations for doing nothing more than reporting the news.