Some Israeli journalists express fear of broadcasting dissenting opinions

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Last weekend, at least a dozen people surrounded the home of a left-wing Israeli commentator who had expressed concern about civilian deaths in Gaza, shouting “traitor” and shooting flares in his direction.

This week, a prominent right-wing activist published a video of himself shouting and threatening members of a television crew that was filming Israeli soldiers. Other journalists say they receive threats and harassment on social media.

In Israel, many journalists cover the war while processing their own grief and shock over Hamas’ surprise attacks on October 7. Some lost family members in the attacks.

But some Israeli journalists and media supporters say covering the war has become even more difficult because of the vitriol they have received from fellow Israelis who are upset by their questioning of the country’s actions in response to Hamas attacks.

Expressing dissenting opinions has become even more complicated than in previous conflicts, said Anat Saragusti, a senior official at the Journalists’ Union, an Israeli organization with 1,500 members.

“It has a paralyzing effect,” Saragusti said.

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

“There are fewer people expressing opposition to the Israeli operation,” said Natan Sachs, director of the Middle East Policy Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “There’s a lot more hostility toward those who do it.”

Sachs noted that the polarized media environment was not unique to Israel, although it has increased in the country in recent years, in part because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has focused his energy on the press. Two of three criminal cases that Mr. Netanyahu has been involved in high-profile allegations of wrongdoing in pursuit of positive media coverage, which he has denied.

“The last time we had a major operation in Gaza, the mainstream media was still not that polarized,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, referring to 2014. She said the People had hardened their views because they often consumed news that aligned with their views, particularly online.

“That is the fourth dimension of war,” he said. “It is not just by land, by sea or by the air force. It has to do with the cybernetic dimension that creates different influences on our ability to understand reality.”

Dr. Shwartz Altshuler is among those researching ways to make journalists in Israel feel safer while reporting critical information about Israeli government and military policies. He helped start an organization that tracks attacks on journalists and protesters in Israel. More than 1,000 attacks have been reported since March of this year, he said.

Questions have been raised about a possible Israeli intelligence failure since the October 7 attacks. American and Israeli officials have said that neither of Israel’s intelligence services had received specific warning that Hamas was preparing the sophisticated attack.

Tal Shalev, a political commentator and reporter for the Hebrew news site Walla, said she felt a duty to continue writing columns critical of the government and asking tough questions of officials, particularly about the mistakes and misdeeds of decision-makers, despite who sometimes receives Rejection on social media for doing so.

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

“Of course, this is the time to come together,” he added. “I am an Israeli citizen, I am suffering with my people and I want to win this war. “I just don’t think that because of the war we should stop being vigilant and stop doing our jobs as journalists.”

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