Kol, who monitors some of the groups, said, “It’s been really a deadly atmosphere in the streets.”
Enflaming the tensions have been right-wing influencers like Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister. With just over 130,000 followers on Twitter, a Telegram channel that added 1,500 followers in the last two weeks, and a podcast, he has taken on a role in Israel similar to the one that Donald Trump Jr. plays in the United States: rallying his father’s online supporters and spreading hate against their opponents.
After Israeli forces bombed a 12-story building in Gaza that the Israeli military claimed contained “Hamas military intelligence assets” (it did not respond to US officials requesting proof), destroying AP and Al Jazeera offices and residences, Yair Netanyahu increased his attacks on the media. (In a statement after the incident, AP said there was “no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”)
On May 19, he tweeted a cartoon that showed a crowd of people gathered around a water cooler, with a man holding a rocket launcher standing between them. “Sheila works with Al Jazeera and I’m with the Associated Press,” the woman says to the man with the rocket launcher. “How about you?”
Yair Netanyahu has also been retweeting coverage from popular American right-wing influencers, including Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, and Andy Ngo, and news outlets like Breitbart and the Federalist.
“Yair Netanyahu uses his social media platform to provide an independent voice for millions of conservatives in Israel who are sidelined by the Israeli establishment media, which is highly biased against the right-wing,” a spokesperson for the family told BuzzFeed News. “Your article labeling his followers as ‘far right’ is a perfect example of such media distortions in a county that is majority right-wing. And your attempted smear job against Yair only shows why independent voices like his are necessary.”
On May 15, the same day as the AP and Al Jazeera building bombing, Yair Netanyahu tweeted a call for a protest in front of the house of media executive Avi Weiss. The prime minister’s son then posted flyers calling for protests outside media offices that said, “We say no more to the anti-zionist brainwashing of the media.”
The protest was canceled because of the subsequent outcry it received, but FakeReporter has noticed people sharing screenshots of Yair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least one instance, two people discuss on video whether it would be better to go to the executive’s home or media offices. On Sunday, Yair Netanyahu again called for protests against members of the media.
In recent days, members of the Israeli media have been the victims of violence. Four journalists have been attacked, according to the Jerusalem Post, including one from the public broadcaster that aired the Bat Yam mobbing.
“When we are done fucking Arabs we will go fuck the media,” said one message in a Telegram chat. Others called for a destruction of studios and called Channel 12 “Al Jazeera in Hebrew,” a term popularized by Yair Netanyahu implying sympathy for Hamas.
Yair’s messages are often fodder for the Israeli far-right groups, according to Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, head of the Media Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute, who studies Israeli social media and consults with FakeReporter.
“I’m concerned, I’m very scared,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Because I think to myself it’s a very delicate dog whistle and the right-wing extremists and the right-wing activists, they understand exactly the messages that appear on Twitter. They take them to WhatsApp or to Telegram and then all of a sudden they become a call for action.”
“His main contribution that we have seen to these Telegram groups has been in the past few days where right-wingers in these groups have really begun to point at the media for what they see as unpatriotic, treacherous [behavior],” Kol said.
The personal phone number of one prominent reporter and anchor for Channel 12, Dana Weiss, was posted on the groups alongside messages like “congratulate her on a job well done,” according to Kol. Other texts call her “a spokesperson for Jihad” and circulate badly photoshopped images of her wearing a hijab. As a result, she received scores of violent threats, including death threats.
Kol has seen online hate lead to offline violence over and over again.