Israeli media demand that Facebook, Twitter tackle anti-press incitement

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More than a dozen Israeli media outlets have called on Facebook and Twitter officials to crack down on posts they say have helped fuel a wave of attacks and death threats against journalists in the country.

In letters sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, newspapers, websites, TV channels and radio stations have warned that in recent weeks journalists are “becoming a target. incitement, which put them in clear and current danger. “

“There have been countless [posts] calling on Israeli journalists to be physically injured or branding them traitors or enemies of the state in a way that encourages or justifies violent actions against them. In a number of cases the incitement even resulted in deliberate attacks on journalists and their staff while covering different events, ”the letters read.

The letters were supported by most of the major Israeli media, including the Times of Israel.

Since the beginning of the month, Israeli and foreign journalists have come under fire as they reported on the police crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem, mob violence between Jews and Arabs across the country and the conflict in 11 days between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. in the Gaza Strip.

Since the Gaza conflict erupted on May 10, the Union of Journalists in Israel said it has documented at least 20 cases of verbal and physical assaults against journalists. At least two people have been charged with assaulting journalists from the Kan public broadcaster in Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, police beat journalists or blocked access. Passers-by attacked journalists covering the unrest in Israeli towns, and presenters and reporters covering the fighting in Gaza have faced intense verbal attacks and death threats online.

The letters to the social media giants included examples of offensive posts and tweets, which included calls for sexual assault and murder against journalists, as well as charges of treason.

Channel 12 veteran journalist Rina Matsliah said in a televised monologue this month that while press criticism is necessary, “what is happening now is not a criticism … What is happening now is an assassination attempt “.

The station hired bodyguards to protect Matsliah and several other journalists after being threatened.

Last week, the journalists’ union and the Israel Institute of Democracy issued a similar call to action to the country’s attorney general and Facebook. They said the violent calls that started on social media have evolved into messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and private Facebook groups, resulting in physical attacks on journalists.

In a message shared on WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, ultranationalists were called to rally in Neve Ilan, the Jerusalem suburb where Channel 12 is based, with firebombs and other weapons.

“Today we are burning Neve Ilan. Today we are showing the traitors what we really think of them, ”the message read.

Israeli journalist Rina Matsliah pictured speaking at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Facebook and Twitter have said they are both determined to fight the incitement.

“While we allow criticism from public figures, such as journalists, we do not allow people to threaten or harass them, and we remove this content whenever we become aware of it,” Facebook said.

Twitter said it has a “clear policy in place that prohibits people from making violent threats against other people on the service.”

“When we identify clear violations, we will take vigorous enforcement action,” he said. “This work is constantly evolving as new challenges emerge and we recognize that we must work hard to stay ahead of those who intend to undermine the public conversation.”

Dozens of far-right Jewish activists in Israel, including the wife of lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, said on Tuesday they were barred from using Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app.

Opponents of Ben-Gvir accuse him and his allies of inciting his supporters to violence.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of a far-right party, stands alongside police guarding a Palestinian home claimed by right-wing Jews in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on May 6, 2021 (AP Photo / Maya Alleruzzo)

In its 2020 report, the Reporters Without Borders advocacy group said journalists in Israel “are exposed to open hostility” from politicians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on trial for corruption, regularly accuses the media of embarking on a “witch hunt” against him. Critics say he has done little to stop his supporters from harassing or threatening journalists.

His son Yair, known for his abrasive social media presence, regularly accuses the mainstream media of acting against the country’s interests.

Anat Saragusti, a union press freedom official, told The Associated Press that there has been a dizzying increase in online hate speech directed at journalists in Israel.

She said much of the atmosphere that allows hostility towards journalists is “generated by politicians,” including Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu has not explicitly encouraged violence against journalists, the longtime Israeli leader has repeatedly castigated what he calls biased media that distorts the facts.

Among the media supporting the petitions on Twitter and Facebook is Channel 20, a right-wing news channel believed to be close to Netanyahu. Shimon Riklin, a channel presenter, recently took to Twitter to call the Israeli media as “supporters of terrorism” and as the “root cause of lawlessness and riots across Israel”.

Communications Minister Eitan Ginzburg has asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to consider opening an investigation into Riklin for incitement against the media.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

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