Julie Sandorf

Safeguarding Israeli journalists

Among the first to view Hamas's October 7 atrocities, reporters and photographers are now dealing with the trauma; Shomrim has a fund to help
Foreign and Israeli journalists stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, October 19, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Foreign and Israeli journalists stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, October 19, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Startled by the predawn hour of his editor’s phone call, the journalist raced his car southward to capture events he never fathomed he would be telling the world. “In the excruciating long hours of October 7th, when terrorists were shooting at us from all directions, the personal and professional were intertwined. This is my job, the profession I chose, bringing the news to the public as it happens.” Upon arriving in Sderot, a photojournalist saw bodies strewn on the street and in cars and took pictures without stopping, “as if the camera is some kind of protection against these gruesome images.”

Israel’s journalists, photographers, videographers, and sound technicians were among the first to arrive on the scene on October 7th. Without hesitation, these men and women carried out their essential duty to report the facts on the ground and tell the terrible truths of that day. They are part of Israel’s singularly robust and politically diverse news ecosystem. Their work documents truths that the international press seems reluctant to report, like the sexual assaults committed by Hamas on October 7, while also holding the Israeli government accountable.

In the hours, days, weeks, and months after Hamas’ terror attacks, Israeli journalists have served as the “eyes and ears” of news outlets around the globe, acting courageously as “first responders,” and coping with the endless hours of work, stress and trauma that comes with the job. Recognizing this essential public service and the toll it takes, Shomrim, a nonprofit media organization that works in collaboration with for-profit media outlets, established the Emergency Fund for Israel’s Frontline Journalists. The Fund set a modest goal of raising $200,000 (728,410 NIS) to provide grants of 8,000 NIS (some $2,197) to approximately 80 journalists, with the aim of providing direct financial assistance to meet immediate needs.

The response was overwhelming.  Within a couple of weeks, 10 philanthropies, including the Gary and Laura Lauder, Charles H. Revson, Leon Levy, A.Z. and Ruth Fleishman and Knight Foundations, UJA Federation, JFNA and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, among others, contributed over $400,000, enabling the distribution of funds to 164 journalists.

According to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma’s Covering Trauma: Impact on Journalists report, between 19.7-28.6% of war correspondents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So it is no surprise that many Israeli journalists who received these grants used the money to pay for mental health services.

As one veteran journalist said, “I have covered many previous conflicts, including the Second Lebanon War and the Second Intifada. But nothing was like this. Nothing prepared me for what I saw. I am overwhelmed and am now able to reach out for much needed emotional support.” Another wrote, “I began therapy to help me acquire the tools to deal with the trauma that I, and many of my peers, were exposed to.”

Others spoke of how moved they were to be recognized and validated for their service. As one journalist noted, “At the beginning, some of my fellow journalists and I didn’t think that this Emergency Fund was real. We didn’t believe that someone saw us. We usually are the ones reporting the story, not part of it.” Another wrote, “I am trying to hold back the tears.  Your encouragement and support acknowledge our mission and responsibility as journalists to the public…it gives us so much strength.”

Among Jewish philanthropies in the US, there has been much discussion and focus on “strategic media” as a way of countering the staggering volume of misinformation, bias and antisemitic rhetoric promoted on social media and college campuses. That these distortions increasingly find their way into mainstream media at home and abroad is cause for alarm, and should indeed be countered, called out and corrected.

But it is also critical that we support a vibrant Israeli press already in the business of collecting the facts that rebut misinformation with accurate reporting informed by   experience, expertise and understanding of historical context.

As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel’s free press – which includes public media, commercial print, digital and broadcast news, and an emerging nonprofit media – is unparalleled in the region. Its journalists collectively represent a broad diversity of voices, possess an understanding of complexity and nuance, and play a critical role as the country’s watchdog, ensuring accountability to the public.

With this terrible moment of reckoning, as befits a resilient democracy, everything but the fundamental unity of Israel will be questioned and debated. The country will need then what it needs now in the darkness of war: a strong and independent press to report and verify the facts, hold to account the institutions of power on behalf of the people, and both accurately inform and correct misinformation reported by the global press.

The future of Israel will be hard won, at a cost that is tragically incalculable. The Diaspora stands at the ready to help rebuild and the Emergency Fund is one of many examples of our close connections. But the soul of the country rests in abiding by democratic norms, which includes support for the very institutions that protect these norms – an independent press powered by journalists who have the strength and resiliency to inform their fellow citizens and the world at large.

This piece was co-authored by Alona Vinograd, CEO of Shomrim.

About the Author
Julie Sandorf is the President of the Charles H. Revson Foundation. The ideas expressed in this post are her own.
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