US congress members ask to investigate Al Jazeera as ‘foreign agent’

The letter was signed by 18 members of the house of representatives – 15 Republicans and three Democrats – and by Republican senator Ted Cruz

Employees of Qatar based news network and TV channel Al-Jazeera are seen at their Jerusalem office on July 31, 2017,
Israel said on August 6, 2017 that it planned to close the offices of Al-Jazeera after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Arab satellite news broadcaster of incitement.
A statement from the communications ministry said it would demand the revocation of the credentials of journalists working for the channel and also cut its cable and satellite connections. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI

Nineteen US congress members finalised a formal letter to the US justice department on Tuesday, asking for an investigation to label Al Jazeera network as a "foreign agent", partly in response to an undercover documentary the station has conducted – but not yet aired – about the Israeli lobby and Jewish groups in the United States.

The letter was signed by 18 members of the house of representatives – 15 Republicans and three Democrats – and by Republican senator Ted Cruz.

The text, which was co-authored by congressmen Josh Gottheimer (Democrat) and Lee Zeldin (Republican), said congress needs clarification as to whether “Qatar’s Al Jazeera, which the US State Department has indicated is state-controlled” should also be required to register under Fara.

Fara is the Foreign Agents Registration Act enacted in 1938 and would require those designated to disclose publicly their relations with a foreign principal, as well as all receipts and disbursements. Last August, the Justice Department designated Russia Today as an organisation that needed to be registered under Fara.

The letter makes series of accusations against Al Jazeera. It said content produced by the Qatari owned network “often directly undermines American interests with favourable coverage of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organisations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.”

It also implicated it with a “record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts.”

A justice department spokesperson told The National that his office "is aware of the letter" but had no further comment at this time.

While the text makes no mention of the undercover documentary Al Jazeera is believed to have completed about the Israeli lobby, the news website Washington Free Beacon who first broke the story said the letter follows “a secret effort last year [by Al Jazeera] to spy on the American Jewish community as part of a documentary it claims will expose Jewish control of the media.”

It added that “Al Jazeera has been sending letters to a slew of Jewish organizations and pro-Israel individuals asking them to comment on what appears to be secret recordings” which provoked the letter.

“American citizens deserve to know whether the information and news media they consume is impartial, or if it is deceptive propaganda pushed by foreign nations” the letter said.

The Democrats who signed the letter are, in addition to Mr Gottheimer, congressmen Tom Suozzi , and Vicente Gonzalez. The Republican representatives are Mr Zeldin, Steve Chabot, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz ,Louie Gohmert, Darrell Issa, Mike Johnson, Peter King, Ted Poe,  John Ratcliffe, Tom Reed, Keith Rothfus, David Rouzer, Steve Stivers and Ted Cruz.

The justice department must now on whether to carry out an investigation. The letter comes ahead of an expected visit for Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad to Washington next month, where he is scheduled to meet with US President Donald Trump.