During Israeli military offensives in the Occupied Territories, it is common for the Israeli government and its supporters to claim media are biased in favor the Palestinians, often by invoking that there is “no moral equivalence” between the Israeli government and Palestinian militant organizations like Hamas (American Jewish Committee, 10/17/23). Akin to Alex Jones falsely smearing grieving parents of school shooting victims as “crisis actors,” pro-Israel advocates sometimes dismiss media images of Palestinian suffering as staged fakery they call “Pallywood” (France24, 10/27/23).
Now Israeli government officials are accusing major news media of coordinating with Hamas, essentially painting Palestinian stringers as terrorist operatives. At least one Israeli official threatened to “eliminate” anyone involved in the October 7 attacks, and indicated that some journalists were included included on that list.
The pro-Israel media advocacy organization HonestReporting (11/8/23) raised questions about the presence of AP, Reuters, New York Times and CNN photographers near the sites Hamas attacked in southern Israel on October 7:
What were they doing there so early on what would ordinarily have been a quiet Saturday morning? Was it coordinated with Hamas? Did the respectable wire services, which published their photos, approve of their presence inside enemy territory, together with the terrorist infiltrators? Did the photojournalists who freelance for other media, like CNN and the New York Times, notify these outlets?
‘No different than terrorists’
Israeli officials are taking the group’s words seriously, going hard against these news agencies and individual Palestinian stringers. These accusations were featured throughout the corporate media.
The Financial Times (11/10/23) reported that Benny Gantz, who has held numerous Israeli military and ministerial roles, said “journalists found to have known about the massacre, and [who] still chose to stand as idle bystanders while children were slaughtered, are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.” Knesset member Danny Danon (Twitter, 11/9/23), Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, said that Israel would “eliminate all participants of the October 7 massacre,” adding that “the ‘photojournalists’ who took part in recording the assault will be added to that list.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called these journalists “accomplices in crimes against humanity” (New York Post, 11/9/23).
Politico (11/9/23) reported that Israel’s “Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accused the foreign media of employing contributors who were tipped off on the Hamas attacks.” It added that Nitzan Chen, director of Israel’s government press office, had asked the four media outlets “for clarifications regarding the behavior” of their photographers.
‘Mobilized by Hamas’
The affair was covered in many other outlets, including the New York Times (11/9/23), The Hill (11/9/23), Newsweek (11/9/23) and the Daily Beast (11/9/23). The Jerusalem Post (11/10/23) took the government and watchdog’s allegations as fact and said in an editorial:
These so-called photojournalists made no effort to stop or distance themselves from the barbaric events. On the contrary: They were mobilized by the Hamas terrorists to glorify their acts, help promote their terrorism and spread fear among their enemies—Israel and the West. In this way, too, Hamas recalls ISIS, which deliberately recorded its beheadings and other barbaric murders.
In a statement, Reuters (11/9/23) “categorically denies that it had prior knowledge of the attack or that we embedded journalists with Hamas on October 7.” Al Jazeera (11/9/23) reported that “AP also rejected allegations that its newsroom had prior knowledge of the attacks”; the agency said in a statement that the
first pictures AP received from any freelancer show they were taken more than an hour after the attacks began…. No AP staff were at the border at the time of the attacks, nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time.
Neither HonestReporting nor Israeli officials raising a stink about this have provided any evidence of unethical behavior by these media outlets or their stringers (Reuters, 11/11/23). HonestReporting has shrouded its rhetoric with the disclaimer of “just asking questions.” The AP (11/9/23) reported that “Gil Hoffman, executive director of HonestReporting and a former reporter for the Jerusalem Post, admitted…the group had no evidence to back up” its suggestion that the photographers had “prior coordination with the terrorists.” Hoffman “said he was satisfied with subsequent explanations from several of these journalists that they did not know.”
Nevertheless, CNN and the AP stopped working with Hassan Eslaiah, one of the freelancers mentioned in the HonestReporting report, who in fact “got extra emphasis in the HonestReporting story, which resurfaced a several-years-old photo of him posing with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar,” according to the Washington Post (11/9/23).
Deadly time for journalists
Any journalist who read HonestReporting’s questions had to smirk a bit. Journalists all over the world are tipped off by all sorts of sources to get somewhere at a certain time, with the undetailed promise of some hot footage. This is just the nature of the job, and doesn’t mean that a journalist’s relationship with a source is the same as working together on a common message.
I have already written at FAIR (10/19/23) that Israel’s killings of journalists in Gaza, combined with legal attempts to silence media critics within Israel, are a threat to the public’s ability to know about the nature of the ongoing violence, which is financed with US tax dollars. The Committee to Protect Journalists (11/15/23) said that 42 journalists have been killed in the month since fighting broke out, making that period “the deadliest for journalists since it began gathering data in 1992” (UPI, 11/8/23).
Now Israeli officials have insinuated that if you are too physically close to a Palestinian fighter and get a good photo in the process, their government may consider you an enemy combatant. That is another chilling escalation of a troubling trend in Israel’s relationship with the press.
It’s all part of the Israeli government’s attempt to keep a tight stranglehold on information coming out in the press. Recently, the government used the tried and true method of embedding journalists within military units; in exchange for on-the-ground access, the military gets to review the footage journalists’ obtain (New Arab, 11/8/23). Israel also moved to criminalize the “consumption of terrorist materials” (Al Jazeera, 11/8/23) and to shut down media deemed a threat to national security (International Federation of Journalists, 10/20/23). NBC (11/11/23) reported that the Israeli government has “cracked down on broadcasts, reports and social media posts that” are deemed “a threat to national security or in support of terror organizations since Hamas’ October 7 assault.”
As the Israeli publication +972 (9/18/23) pointed out, before the outbreak of the current war, Israeli government censorship had actually declined, but it still found that in 2022, the
Israeli military censor blocked the publication of 159 articles across various Israeli media outlets, and censored parts of a further 990. In all, the military prevented information from being made public an average of three times a day—on top of the chilling effect that the very existence of censorship imposes on independent journalism that seeks to uncover government failings.
While Israel likes to think of itself as a bastion of Western enlightenment in a sea of backward nations, this anti-media trend in the country makes it more like its neighbors than its supporters would like to believe.
In the case of the death of famous British correspondent Marie Colvin, a judge ruled that she was intentionally targeted by the Assad regime for giving a voice to opposition factions (BBC, 1/31/19). Egypt frequently detains journalists for the supposed crime of collaboration with subversive organizations and foreign powers (Reporters Without Borders, 6/30/23). The rate of the Turkish government’s jailing of journalists has accelerated (Voice of America, 12/15/22), and last year the government “detained 11 journalists affiliated with pro-Kurdish media for their alleged links to Kurdish militants” (AP, 10/25/22).
This is the club Israel belongs to. And such hostility toward the free press makes it harder for journalists to deliver clear, fair reporting about the Middle East conflict. And that’s the point. The insinuation that media organizations who report freely on the Israel/Palestine conflict are anti-Zionist agents is meant to keep the situation shrouded in haze.
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