Photo: Flash90

Hate speech targets Israeli journalists

A rising tide of anti-Semitism in the wake of Operation Guardian of the Walls has targeted Jewish communities worldwide, including Israeli reporters and websites – including TV7.

A group of 14 top Israeli television stations, newspapers, radio channels and other news outlets are now calling that social media giants Facebook and Twitter take significant steps to counter increasing online threats and incitement to violence against journalists.

Hate speech, misinformation and calls for violence surged on social media platforms during about Israel’s 11-day retaliatory campaign against the firing of over 4,000 missiles by Palestinian terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip during the 10-21 May fighting.

Attorney Noga Rubinstein, who represents the Israeli media group, wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his Twitter counterpart Jack Dorsey, stressing that her clients “all share a sense of urgency regarding the level of danger posed by these tweets and posts and the need for all concerned to take a decisive action in this matter.”

Documentation of Facebook and Twitter feeds show calls advocating of physical assault of Israeli journalists, including deliberate attacks on staffers during the course of reporting.

The Israeli media outlets are demanding that both organizations “take appropriate and decisive steps to remove the posts, and do whatever else is necessary in order to prevent the incitement from spreading and intensifying,” wrote Rubinstein.

Facebook announced yesterday that it had established a special operations center earlier this month, assigned with dealing with content posted on its platform about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team includes real time response by Hebrew and Arabic speakers, who take swift action against inciteful activity and encourage users to report any harmful content.

“We don’t want anyone to feel threatened or harassed on our apps,” a spokesman for Facebook said, adding: “While we allow criticism of public figures, such as journalists, we don’t allow people to threaten or harass them, and we remove this content whenever we become aware of it.”

Twitter also issued a statement in support of journalists, while insisting that it enforces policies that bans users from issuing violent threats against others, engaging in abusive behavior or hateful conduct.

“Where we identify clear violations, we will take robust enforcement action,” said a Twitter spokesperson, adding that, “This work is constantly evolving as new challenges emerge and we recognize we have to work hard to stay ahead of those who intend to undermine the public conversation.”

The Israeli media outlets cited the 6 January storming of the United States Capitol as evidence that incitement to violence on social media can lead to physical violence and death.

“We are certain that Facebook and Twitter would prefer to take reasonable measures now in order to prevent further violence, rather than do nothing and allow for incitement to escalate and lead to physical harm,” Rubinstein wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded what it said was “a drastic surge” in anti-Semitic language in online comments, verbal confrontations, and physical assaults in the US. Pro-Palestinian individuals and mobs attacked Jews in New York City, Los Angeles and south Florida, and a synagogue was vandalized in Tucson, Arizona. The ADL also reported that 17,000 tweets between 7-14 May included variations of the words: “Hitler was right.”

US President Joe Biden denounced the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks as “despicable” acts that “must stop.” On Monday, the American leader tweeted, “I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”

Following a fivefold rise in anti-Jewish acts in London since 8 May, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday there is no place for anti-Semitism in society and that British Jews should not have to endure “shameful racism.”

After several pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Germany turned violent, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared during her weekly podcast that, “Those who bear hatred towards Jews in the street, those who incite racial hatred put themselves outside our Basic Law,” adding that “Such acts must be punished severely,” she insisted.

German police made some 60 arrests last Saturday while some 100 officers were injured during an anti-Israel rally in Berlin. More than a dozen men in three cities were detained on 12 May by German police on suspicion of damaging a synagogue, burning Israeli flags and starting a fire at a Jewish memorial site.

“Our democracy cannot tolerate such displays of anti-Semitism,” said Merkel.

During Operation Guardian of the Walls, official spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel’s government “condemns these incessant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli cities in the strongest terms” and that they “could not be justified.”

Israel has the right to self-defense against these attacks,” said the German spokesperson.