BY MILICA PESIC, The EUobserver, 06 June 202

LONDON - As military censorship and the targeted killing of media workers have cast a pall across Gaza, the silence of the EU’s vice-president for values and transparency Věra Jourová has become deafening.

Jourová is tasked with preserving press freedom and pluralism and she has repeatedly spoken out against threats to these in Ukraine, Georgia and Russia. She has posted about the “pure evil of the Kremlin which kills civilians, destroys cities and tries to kill information too.”

But where Gaza is concerned her defence of diversity has been muted, although she has pushed for censorship of pro-Hamas content on Facebook, and tweeted that “Democracies work together to address the pressing issues of our time. We stand with Israel and Ukraine.”

Jourová’s stance ignores the fact that “democracies” do not generally shut down news outlets – such as Al Jazeera – which are critical of them, or video feeds from news agencies like Associated Press, which they use.

They do not impose military censorship regimes that on average spike two stories per day and suppress information once an hour, forcing newspapers like Haaretz to run redacted copy. Nor do they ban journalistsfrom entering areas in which their soldiers have been accused of committing acts of genocide.

Democracies do not target journalists trying to bear witness to war crimes, killing more than 100 members of a pre-war Gaza press corps that numbered around 1,000. As Reporters Without Borders put it: “Israel is eradicating journalism in Gaza.”

So why is Jourova speechless?

We don’t know for sure but perhaps the EU is simply used to this state of affairs. After all, no one was ever held accountable for the 20 media workers who the Committee to Protect Journalists says were killed by Israeli military fire between 2001 and 7 October, 2023.

Maybe it’s also because, unlike with Russian propaganda, Israeli disinformation – such as fabricated phone calls, videos and Hamas HQs under hospitals – ceases to be “fake news” when it is credulously reported by major western news outlets, and then memory holed.

Could it be that the spread of censorship to these outlets - CNN, the New York Times, CBC and the BBC – has helped normalise an information war aimed less at Hamas than the civil society forces in Israel and abroad which could help bring the conflict to an end?

Of course, US backing for Israel complicates an independent EU stance. So does the blanket support for the carnage in Israel. But here, it is Israel’s domestic blackout of bad news from Gaza that has forged the war consensus.

Israeli reporters – who must submit Gaza stories to a censor before publication – say that their audience is simply unaware of Palestinian suffering
Speaking after a webinar organised by the Media Diversity Institute and the International Centre for Journalistsin May, Oren Persico, a writer for the investigative Israeli magazine The Seventh Eye, said: “The fact that Israeli media does not show dead or wounded Gazans causes a growing gap between the Israeli perception of reality and the international one, and as a result there is often anger at international officials who criticize Israel's conduct.”

Israel's military censors spiked a record 613 stories last year according to a recent survey by +972 magazine. Another MDI webinar speaker, +972’s editor Ghousoon Bisharat said: “Israeli law requires journalists to submit any article dealing with security issues to the Military Censor for review prior to publication; the definition of ‘security issues’ is very broad, detailed across six dense pages. The decision of what to send to the Censor is made daily in the media at the discretion of editors. No other country that defines itself as a ‘Western democracy’ operates a similar institution.”

Raed Othman, the director of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an News Agency said that the news stories which emerged from this process “incite the Israeli public to hatred, which is reflected in their attacks on journalists.” He pointed to Israel’s bombing of 86 press offices in Gaza – including Ma’an’s – and the closure or destruction of 24 radio stations as evidence for the targeting of media workers, many of whom have been killed in their homes and cars.

He said that of Ma’an’s four journalists in the Gaza Strip before the war, one was now missing, one was living in a camp after her apartment was destroyed, a third was only able to make intermittent contact, while Ma’an’s bureau chief had lost 28 members of his family and was now focused on trying to get his children out of Gaza.

Raed’s own safety in the West Bank was “a topic of constant concern,” he said, owing to the dangers of murder, arrest, imprisonment, or defamation. Some 44 Palestinian journalists arrested since 7 October are still in Israeli jails under administrative detention laws that deny them access to lawyers, Bisharat said.

Jourova should recognise the implications of all this. As she herself said in 2018: “If journalists risk their lives when doing their jobs, it is an alarm signal… Independent media play a crucial supervisory role in any democracy. Journalists are a key partner for justice and for upholding the rule of law.”

This is true, so true in fact that it should now be incumbent on all EU leaders - including Jourova - to explain how their silence in the face of this clarion alarm signal ringing out from Gaza differs from complicity.