An anti-Israel protest at Columbia University.

"Nobody in the Western world would normalize ISIS. Why should we do that to Hamas?"

The Israel-Gaza war is being fought on multiple battlegrounds - why have some become so sympathetic to terrorists online?

The ongoing coverage of the Israel-Gaza war has been frustrating to many, sad to most, and outright confusing to others. In the weeks following Hamas’ brutal attack on more than 1,200 Israelis and the country’s subsequent retaliation efforts, international mainstream media has been caught spreading misinformation, relying on terror groups as their sources, and choosing language that omits or diminishes the crimes being committed by terrorists against Israel.
It’s no wonder that people are moving away from traditional media outlets and turning instead to influencers and social media channels for their news - but the result has seen an increase in antisemitism, fake news, and outright pro-terrorist sympathies.
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הפגנה הפגנת תמיכה  פלסטינים ב קולומביה
הפגנה הפגנת תמיכה  פלסטינים ב קולומביה
An anti-Israel protest at Columbia University.
(Photo: AP)
“I don't even have a clear position on why [mainstream media outlets] assume that Hamas would be telling the truth and that the IDF spokesperson wouldn't,” said Professor Moran Yarchi. “I am also amazed by the fact they present the statements of IDF Spokesperson [Daniel Hagari] as a ‘claim’ as if it isn’t fact.”
Professor Moran Yarchi is a political communications professor who heads the public diplomacy program and is the Head of the Digital Influence and Perceptions specialization at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at Reichman University. Speaking to CTech about the international media’s response to the ongoing war, she stated how the initial coverage didn’t differ too much from previous conflicts, such as the Ukraine War, but the narrative quickly shifted as Israel shed its ‘victimhood’ status. Suddenly, Israel’s statements and evidence were treated with skepticism while announcements from the Hamas-run ‘Ministry of Health’ in Gaza were treated as gospel.
Famous examples so far include the BBC and the New York Times incorrectly reporting that Israel had bombed the Al-Ahli Hospital in October, the BBC refusing to call Hamas terrorists (but historically calling ISIS a ‘terror group’), and Sky News constantly reasoning that video evidence provided by the IDF ‘cannot be verified', or that the IDF merely ‘attempts to prove’ its claims. By the time the Israeli government has time to clarify or disprove these claims, the news cycle has already moved on to another topic and readers are left playing catchup with clarifications.
“Framing plays a significant role here, and the journalists have a lot of power,” she continued. “The fact that they choose to emphasize some aspects of reality while not presenting other aspects of reality is very meaningful and creates perceptions in people's minds, especially when we are talking about foreign news, and then the news coverage is the main source of information for most people.”
While it is true that many millions get their news from traditional media outlets, these channels have been widely criticized and challenged in recent years. According to Search Engine Journal, a general decline in trust in mainstream media outlets has caused many to favor influencers, celebrities, and other new media personalities as sources of information.
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Moran Yarchi Reichman
Moran Yarchi Reichman
Professor Moran Yarchi
(Photo: Reichman University)
Trends seen on platforms popular among young people like TikTok have seen some worrying results so far. Osama Bin Laden became somewhat of a Gen-Z hero for a few days after his ‘Letter to America’ went viral with many sympathizing with his sentiments against the U.S. and Jews. TikTok blocked the hashtag and The Guardian removed the letter from its site, but not before older generations expressed outrage at how young minds could be so easily manipulated.
Yet what happens in social media trends eventually bleeds into the real world, with real consequences. A Harvard poll last month showed that 51% of 18-24-year-olds believe that the actions of Hamas were justified, and President Biden now has a 70% disapproval rating among those aged 18-34 for his handling of the war due to his support of Israel, which is a demographic group essential to securing his reelection next year.
“The fact that we’re normalizing Hamas... no one in the Western world would normalize ISIS,” Professor Yarchi continued. “Nobody in the Western world would normalize Al Qaeda and treat their statements as truth. So why should we do that to Hamas?”
One suggestion is to educate young people on media literacy in schools to help people recognize when news (both from modern and traditional outlets) can be misleading or incorrect. This might also help them to spot fake news or biases from unverified accounts or even help to catch AI-generated content that is designed to sow confusion online.
More broadly speaking, Israel’s narrative shift from victim to oppressor in the media has caused many in the international community to oppose the IDF and its actions, making it harder for Israel to justify its ongoing attacks on terrorist-held buildings. Professor Yarchi urges Israel to continue to paint Hamas as the violent terrorists they are, even if foreign media won’t.
“[Hamas] are hurting their own people,” she said. “[People should] identify with the message of ‘Free Gaza’ - but from Hamas. Hamas is hurting not just Israelis but Palestinians as well… We need to be very straightforward about it.” The IDF has hosted private viewings of the uncensored attacks on October 7 to international journalists in the hope that sympathy can be regained by audiences who may be calling for ceasefires or the outright destruction of Israel if they hear firsthand accounts of the atrocities that took place.
“No one would choose to live three miles from terrorists who at any given moment could come into a community, slaughter their children, rape their wives, burn them alive, and kidnap their babies. That's something Israel and no other nation can tolerate and that’s why Israel needs to fight Hamas. But I guess this message doesn’t make its way enough across the ocean,” she concluded.