Is selective coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza in the Czech Republic following or creating anti-Semitism?

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague November 1, 2023. Photo by Giuseppe Picheca, used with permission.

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague November 1, 2023. A poster in Czech translates to English as: ‘Stop half-truths, stop propaganda, the truth will win.’ Photo by Giuseppe Picheca, used with permission.

Since the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, the Czech government and mass media have consistently expressed unwavering support for Israel and the Israeli people. This support persists even through the Israeli response to Gaza, which is effectively decimating the civilian population.

Official Czech support is not merely declarative. Following Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s visit to Israel on October 25, the Czech Republic started supplying military equipment to Israel. Fiala even advocated for relocating the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He actively advocates for Israel’s right to self-defense internationally, including within the EU, the European Council, and the UN. Notably, the Czech Republic was one of 14 countries voting against the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israeli war on Palestine.

Fiala calls the country “the voice of Israel in Europe.” He has participated in pro-Israel demonstrations in Prague, condemning the October 7 attack as an assault on “humanity and our civilization.”

Other officials, including Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová, openly support Israel. She even called for the Czech Republic to withdraw from the UN in response to the ceasefire resolution. Černochová participated in Prague’s first pro-Palestinian demonstration organized by Not in Our Name! — Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Ne naším jménem! – Iniciativa za spravedlivý mír na Blízkém východě); however, her participation was to support Israel.

The pro-Israeli official stance frequently emphasizes the mischaracterization of the right to self-defense as oppression, aligning with sentiments articulated in a letter shared with the government by leaders of Israeli universities and research institutions.

President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel also expressed his support for Israel during the national Czech holiday on October 28. In his address, he acknowledged the threats facing the country, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the need for Israel to respond to Islamist terror.

Collusion of the media

Ranked 14th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 World Press Freedom Index, the Czech Republic faces growing political pressure on its public media. The index highlights that the pro-Israel stance of Czech officials is echoed by public media such as ČT24 or iRozhlas, along with mainstream channels such as Seznam Zprávy.

Seznam Zprávy and ČT24‘s official Instagram and Facebook pages lean pro-Israel, offering minimal coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Only one in 10 demonstrations organized by the Association of the Friends of Palestine receive attention from public media, leading activists to argue that mainstream media lacks objectivity.

In an email interview with Global Voices, Giuseppe Picheca, an Italian living in the Czech Republic with master's degrees in peace and conflict studies, and human rights and democracy, and a former academic tutor in political sciences, pointed out:

The more the protests persist, the less media coverage they receive, and the more police presence increases. During the last demonstration, we had a total of six police vans, including anti-riot equipment, closely following, […] filming and recording us, and some officials dressed in civilian clothes blending in with us and reporting afterward; they don’t try to hide it.

Media coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrations often incorporates comments on anti-Semitism, portrays demonstrators in a light linked to anti-Semitism, mentions aggressive attitudes towards pro-Israel groups (although both sides deny it on social media), or diminishes the number of demonstrators with a brief description lacking wider context.

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague November 5, 2023. Photo by Giuseppe Picheca, used with permission.

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague November 5, 2023. Photo by Giuseppe Picheca, used with permission.

In an email interview with Global Voices, Adam Šlerka, a Czech activist and participant in pro-Palestinian protests, emphasizes how “the media tends to label support for Palestine as an endorsement for Hamas and terrorism when it covers it.”

 Picheca suggests:

The language games have entered an Orwellian phase, where everything can be manipulated for someone’s gain. One day, even “Free Palestine” will be considered an insult. The exaggerated focus on the detail, […] its potential criminal connotations — is successfully hiding the factual, concrete, ongoing genocidal atrocities committed by the Israeli army in these very moments.

Navigating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Some of those who support the Palestinian people and those who participate in pro-Palestinian demonstrations find that their calls for a ceasefire are often misinterpreted as anti-Semitism by both officials and the media. Fortunately, the actual reports of anti-Semitism have not been as numerous as assumed. 

In a case in Plzeň involving a kebab shop, the Turkish owner displayed verses from the Quran out of context on wall posters, stating, “These Jews are the people who killed the prophets like sheep. For this reason, God cursed them.” Despite investigating the case for defamation based on nationality, race, or ethnicity, the prosecutor canceled the prosecution, citing a lack of substance.

Adam Šlerka asserts: “‘Anti-Semitism’ has become an empty slogan, detracting from addressing the actual anti-Semitism. It now serves to defend Israel and the West.”

According to the 2022 Reuters Institute of Journalism Digital News Report, the younger generation in the Czech Republic relies on social media and online media platforms for news. However, this trend also amplifies societal polarization, notably in the rise of Islamophobic views, where commenters often express unchecked aggression towards Muslims or Arabs.

In an email to Global Voices, a 22-year-old master's student in organic chemistry, choosing to remain anonymous, described herself as a digital activist. Frustrated by the limited coverage of the pro-Palestinian stance, she started operating an Instagram account where she translated news from English and Arabic to Czech. She shared:

They keep talking about anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic, but I would say that Islamophobia is much more rampant in the Czech society, especially online. It is absolutely wild. When I read such comments, I have no doubt that if these people met me in real life and had the opportunity, they would gas me or murder me in any other way.

The account is private because society here is very pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic and racist. I am afraid of receiving disgusting comments. I have already read several comments online coming from people of all age groups saying stuff like “a dead Muslim is a good Muslim” or “a dead Arab is a good Arab,” “kill them all,” “destroy their ID’s and expel them,” “deport all Muslims” etc.

Examining selective coverage in the Czech Republic

The Czech media ethic codes stress the importance of creating an open space for public debate by sharing confronting information, opinions, and attitudes. However, the context of Israel's war on Gaza may differ: ČT24 seems to interchangeably use Israel and Jerusalem. Additionally, the information presented is not always verified.

Details about tortured children or attacks from a hospital by Hamas were refuted by internationally recognized sources. On November 7, ČT24 published an interview with the Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, Karel Řehka, without a disclaimer on the aforementioned issues. This allowed him once again to share stories of beheaded children and newborns baked in the oven, calling the conflict a “fight with pure evil.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague November 5, 2023. The poster reading in Czech "Jews are against apartheid". Photo of Giuseppe Picheca speaking on demonstration, photo by Kristýna Kvasničková, used with permission.

Giuseppe Picheca addressing demonstrators at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Prague on November 5, 2023. The poster in Czech reads, ‘Jews are against apartheid.’ Photo by Kristýna Kvasničková, used with permission.

In another example, Yara Abu Aataya, a Czech designer with Palestinian roots, was invited for an interview on Czech Television — Česká televize 168 hodin. Despite the risks associated with the lack of electricity, internet, and other scarcities in Gaza, she was asked to connect by phone with her family in Gaza to evoke empathy and understanding from pro-Israeli viewers. However, the interview was cut out from the program, and Czech Television never mentioned it again.

Selective media coverage among the most-followed outlets polarizes society, fostering an environment conducive to aggression and hate speech. Picheca recalls:

I recently reported a post, shared by a Czech user, saying “This is what Free Palestine looks like,” over an illustration of men raping women and killing children. Racist remarks, unfortunately, are common, especially on social media, where people feel more protected in their exaggerations.

According to the Reuters report, only 30 percent of the population of the Czech Republic trusts the news most of the time. Selective coverage by public media may contribute to this relatively low trust. Objective coverage is crucial not only to keep society informed but also to prevent polarization and potential radicalization, leading to outcomes such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

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