Some Israeli journalists express fear of expressing dissenting views

Some Israeli journalists express fear of expressing dissenting views

Last weekend, at least a dozen people surrounded the home of a left-wing Israeli commentator who had expressed concern over the death of civilians in Gaza, shouting “traitor” and firing in his direction.

This week, a prominent right-wing activist posted a Video He himself was shouting at and threatening members of the TV crew filming the Israeli soldiers. Other journalists say that they are receiving threats and harassment on social media.

In Israel, many journalists covering the war consider their grief and shock over the surprise attacks by Hamas on October 7. Some have lost their relatives in the attacks.

But some Israeli journalists and press supporters say covering the war has become more difficult because of the bitterness they have faced from fellow Israelis who are troubled by questioning the country’s actions in response to Hamas attacks.

Expressing dissenting opinions has become even more difficult than in previous conflicts, said Anat Saragusti, a senior staff member at the 1,500-member Union of Journalists, an Israeli organization with 1,500 members.

“It has a chilling effect,” Ms. Saragusti said.

Journalists and media experts attributed this change to several factors: Hamas attacks have been particularly painful for Israelis. The media environment has become more polarized in recent years. And the spread of misinformation, particularly on WhatsApp and social media platforms like Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, has intensified existing attitudes.

“There are fewer people voicing opposition to the Israeli operation,” said Nathan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “There’s a lot of bitterness toward people who do this.”

Mr. Sachs said the polarized media environment is not unique to Israel, although it has increased in the country in recent years, partly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the press a focus of his energy. Two of the three criminal cases Mr Netanyahu has been involved in involve allegations of wrongdoing in pursuit of positive media coverage, which he has denied.

“The last time we had a major operation in Gaza, even the traditional media was not as polarized,” said Tahila Schwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan research group, referring to 2014. He said that people had hardened their views because they were often reading news that matched their views, especially online.

“This is the fourth dimension of war,” he said. “It is not just on land or by sea or air force. It has to do with the cyber-dimension which has different effects on our ability to understand reality.”

Dr. Schwartz Altshuler is one of those in Israel researching ways to make journalists feel safe when they are reporting information that is critical of government policies and Israel’s military. He helped start an organization that tracks attacks on journalists and protesters in Israel. There have been more than 1,000 attacks since March this year, he said.

Questions have swirled over a possible Israeli intelligence failure since the October 7 attacks. US and Israeli officials have said that no Israeli intelligence service had any specific warning that Hamas was preparing a sophisticated attack.

Tal Shalev, a political commentator and reporter for the Hebrew news site Walla, said she feels it is her duty to continue writing columns critical of the government and asking tough questions of officials, especially about missteps and misconduct by decision makers. , even though they get that sometimes. There is criticism on social media for doing this.

Ms Shalev said, “There is a feeling here that now is not the time to deal with misconduct and problems, and that we should wait until after the war because now is the time to unite and not criticize the government.” “I don’t completely agree with that.”

“Of course, this is the time to unite,” he said. “I am an Israeli citizen, and I am hurting my people and I want to win this war. I don’t think we should stop being vigilant and stop doing our jobs as journalists because of the war.”

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