Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns calls by Israeli politicians in the past 24 hours for journalists in Gaza to be killed. Prompted by unsubstantiated conjecture about the journalists’ integrity, the calls coincide with a disturbing amendment to Israel’s terrorism law. Targeting journalists is a war crime, RSF stresses.

An Israeli non-governmental organisation posted an undated photo 9 November showing a freelance photographer with a Hamas leader, and it accompanied the photo with an article questioning the photographer’s integrity and the integrity of five other reporters working for Reuters, the Associated Press, The New York Times and CNN. The article implied that journalists working in Gaza knew in advance about the Hamas attack on 7 October.

After several Israeli media outlets reported these speculations, for which there has so far been no investigation or substantiation, the story was picked up internationally and Israeli government officials began reacting. The Israeli Foreign Ministry shared a tweet repeating the accusations and publishing photos of the journalists involved, openly putting them in danger.

The National Public Diplomacy Directorate of the prime minister's office described the journalists as “accomplices to crimes against humanity” and demanded “that immediate action be taken,” while Defence Minister Benny Gantz, in a post on X (former Twitter), said that if the journalists knew in advance about the massacre, they were “no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.”

A more explicit call for the murder of reporters in Gaza came a few hours later from Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli parliament, who – in a post on X – called for the “elimination” of photo-journalists “who participated in covering the massacre.”

In subsequent statements on 9 November, leading Israeli public figures then fuelled a narrative likening journalists who cover the war from within Gaza to terrorists. These statements have come amid an online campaign raising suspicions about the affiliation of Gaza reporters to Hamas, or directly describing the journalists as “mouthpiece for the terrorist organization.

Reuters and the Associated Press denied being aware of the Hamas attacks before they took place while CNN’s management severed its ties with the freelance photographer concerned while stressing that it had no reason to doubt the integrity of his work as a journalist.

The New York Times said the claim that any of its staff had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks was “untrue and outrageous” and that there was “no evidence” for the Israeli NGO’s “insinuations” about the freelance photographer that the newspaper uses.

Ever since the start of the war triggered by the Hamas attacks, Israel has claimed that it does not target journalists. But 36 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza since 7 October, ten of them in the course of their work. The Israeli military recently told international news agencies that it “cannot guarantee the safety of their reporters in the Gaza Strip” – an admission that is a complete contradiction of the principles on protecting civilians as defined in international law.

“Israeli authorities have gone from claims that they cannot guarantee the protection of journalists in Gaza to death threats against reporters covering the conflict based on suspicions that are so far unsupported by arguments or evidence. Statements discrediting the integrity of an entire profession on this basis are unacceptable. They condone and incite the persecution of those who are risking their lives to report the news. We condemn these statements and reiterate that targeting journalists who cover conflicts is a war crime.

RSF’s Middle East desk

Terrorism law reinforced

Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament approved an amendment to the terrorism law on 7 November under which a sentence of up to a year in prison can be imposed on anyone who "systematically and continuously consumes terrorist publications,” which are defined as "a direct call to commit an act of terrorism" or "words of praise, sympathy or encouragement for an act of terrorism.”

Even if publications “providing information to the public” are specifically excluded, the amendment’s loose wording is open to broad interpretation and therefore poses a threat to press freedom.

A few days before the amendment was adopted, the Israeli information minister described the Qatari TV news channel Al Jazeera as a “propaganda” outlet for “terrorist organisations.” If that description becomes official, not only could Al Jazeera be banned but anyone viewing it could be prosecuted under the new amendment.

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