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JERUSALEM: Major Israeli news outlets on Tuesday called on Facebook and Twitter to end what they called social media posts inciting violence against journalists after a series of attacks and death threats targeting journalists.

In letters sent to social media giants, more than a dozen newspapers, websites, TV and radio stations said that “journalists have become a target of incitement to hatred, which puts them at risk. clear and current ”.

Israel went through a tumultuous month that included harsh police crackdowns on Palestinian protesters throwing stones at a holy site in Jerusalem, mob violence between Jewish and Arab Israelis and an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Onlookers attacked journalists covering the unrest in Israeli cities, and news anchors and journalists covering the fighting in Gaza have faced intense verbal attacks and death threats online.

“There have been countless tweets calling for physical harm to Israeli journalists or calling them traitors or enemies of the state in a way that encourages or justifies violent action against them,” reads the letter. on behalf of 14 Israeli media.

Highlighted posts and tweets include calls for sexual assault and murder and accusations of treason.

Since the Gaza war erupted on May 10, the Union of Journalists of Israel said it has documented at least 14 cases of verbal and physical attacks on journalists by police, officials and members of the public. At least two people have been accused of assaulting television journalists in Tel Aviv.

Veteran Channel 12 journalist Rina Matsliah said in a televised monologue this month that while press criticism is needed, “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 Democracy Institute made a similar appeal to the country’s attorney general and Facebook. They said violent calls that started on social media had progressed to messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and private Facebook groups, resulting in physical attacks on journalists.

Earlier this month, a Telegram channel displaying the emblem of an ultra-nationalist Jewish group grew from a few hundred members to more than 6,000 in just a few days. It was used to mobilize crowds of Israeli Jews to flashpoints, including the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, where a mob pulled an Arab from his car and severely beat him.

Facebook and Twitter have said they are both committed to cracking down on hate speech.

“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 see it,” Facebook said.

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

“Where we identify clear violations, we will take robust 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 ultra-nationalist 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.

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 carrying out a “witch hunt” against him. Critics say he has done little to stop supporters from harassing or threatening journalists.

Anat Saragusti, a union press freedom official, told The Associated Press that there had been a precipitous 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 called for violence against journalists, the longtime Israeli leader has repeatedly castigated what he calls biased media that distorts the facts.

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