Families of hostages held by terror groups in the Gaza Strip say they are being subjected to relentless online abuse, with much of it coming from those who oppose a deal to free the captives.
Representatives of families reportedly described the harassment Monday during a meeting with war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz and war cabinet observers Gadi Eisenkot and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri.
“We receive quite a few curses on the networks, people who call us traitorous leftists and say ‘I hope they die there,'” a representative said during the meeting, according to Channel 12 news.
Deri told them to ignore the abuse and encouraged them to continue to speak up.
“Continue on your way. It’s background noise,” Deri said. “Speak to a broad consensus, to the Israeli public. The majority is with you.”
Israel says 130 hostages — not all of them alive — have been held captive in Gaza since they were kidnapped on October 7 during the Hamas terror group’s brutal onslaught on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were also killed. Another 110 hostages were released. 105 of them as part of a weeklong truce in November, and three have been rescued, including two extracted early Monday.
Families of hostages and their supporters have campaigned publicly for the government to prioritize freeing their loved ones even at the cost of ending the fighting, putting them at odds with government leaders and a large swath of the public who insist the war must continue until Hamas is destroyed. Some also oppose Hamas demands that Israel release a large number of Palestinian security prisoners, including terrorist murderers, in exchange for the hostages.
Families have for some time complained of online abuse they face from right-wing activists who accuse them of having ulterior political motives.
Earlier this week, Einav Mozes, daughter-in-law of hostage Gadi Mozes, told the Ynet outlet that incitement on social media had “gone wild.”
“They are scaring people with false data. They are turning us into enemies of the state,” she said.
Online activists, she said, were trying to paint the families as not caring about security concerns and only being interested in releasing the hostages.
“It’s a lie,” she said. “We’re just saying – first of all, bring the hostages home.”
Hagit Chen, the mother of 19-year-old hostage Itay Chen, told Ynet she has suffered abuse on a range of social media platforms, forcing her to make some of her accounts private.
During a meeting Thursday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, several relatives of the hostages in Gaza also lamented at what they described as a “terrible campaign” being advanced against them in Israel.
More than that, “the feeling is that those who are supposed to be overseeing the return of the hostages are not really interested in doing so,” one of the representatives told Blinken, according to Channel 12.
The Blinken meeting was held a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly rejected a truce proposal floated by Hamas that would have led to a long-term ceasefire and the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 500 serving life sentences, for the hostages’ freedom.
Netanyahu maintains that military pressure is necessary to force Hamas to the table and lower its demands, and has told the families that while his government is committed to returning the hostages, it will not agree to inflated terms for a deal.
The group presented Blinken with online materials showcasing what they said was a campaign against them.
“We feel dreadful. We feel that there’s a campaign designed to torpedo the deal and to create public opinion against it. We are told to use pressure abroad, but at home, where we ought to be embraced, there’s an effort to change the public perception at our expense,” a representative was quoted as saying.
Fake Reporter, an Israeli organization that investigates online disinformation, released a report last week alleging a deliberate campaign against the families by, among others, supporters of Netanyahu and his Likud party.
The analysis found that half of online discourse about the hostage situation put the families in a negative light, while 37% was positive toward them.
“The discourse analysis demonstrates how influential supporters of the prime minister, including media persons and Likud activists, work to frame the struggle of the families of the abductees as illegitimate and inauthentic,” the report stated.
Fake Reporter said the contours of online discourse were being systematically shaped by activists.
“It can be seen that a large part of the distributors cited in the report are known Likud activists,” Yotam Frost of Fake Reporter told Channel 12.
“One tactic is an attempt to portray the families’ struggle as inauthentic,” Frost said. “That is, to claim that it is a protest in disguise, that whoever is leading it is doing so for hidden, non-kosher political motives, in order to overthrow the government or harm Netanyahu.”
“A second tactic is to present the families as people who harm society, the country, the IDF, and national resilience during wartime, or as people who serve Hamas. This discourse slides into difficult and conspiratorial places while ignoring the fact that these are families who are actually victims of a terrible situation, which they did not choose.”
Despite efforts to remain nonpartisan, weekly rallies in Tel Aviv by the families and their supporters have taken on increasingly political overtones, largely due to criticism of the government.
At the Monday meeting, the war cabinet staff updated families about the operation to rescue two hostages from deep inside Gaza that had taken place hours earlier.
Eisenkot told the families that preparations for the rescue mission had been going on for a long time and that it was not always possible to carry out such operations.
“It was a bold operation that we have been preparing for weeks, but it must said it was a one-off operation… that requires intelligence [information] and operational capabilities that are not always possible. When there is a possibility, we do it,” Eisenkot said.
According to the report, the families said that despite the successful raid, they envision that most of the hostages will eventually be released in a deal.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant echoed that sentiment in comments Monday.
The network noted that families are worried that the success of the mission will encourage those in the government who are against a hostage deal to take a tougher stance in negotiations.