Influencers dodge backlash while speaking up about Israel and Gaza

Jeremy Jacobowitz, a food creator with more than 485,000 Instagram followers, held back from posting about the Israel-Hamas conflict, at least at first.

But in the last month, Jacobowitz, who is Jewish, has been flooded with aggressive messages from people wanting him to speak out about the war.

“Especially because I’m outspoken, but I choose my battles wisely, I don’t say things just to say things,” he said in an interview. “It took me maybe three or four days to post something, and by that point I was flooded with DMs accusing me, not in a nice way, of not saying anything.”

As the war between Israel and Hamas enters its second month, influencers and creators who make their careers online say that the conflict has become unavoidable, that they’re urged by their audiences and compelled by their own values and interests to post about it.

And when they do, there are ramifications. Four people with large social media followings spoke to NBC News about posting during the war and the backlash they’ve received. Some also said they have lost followers and income.

Jacobowitz did eventually post about the war and signed an open letter to TikTok alleging rising antisemitism on the platform. But posting is not something he sees as particularly productive.

“When horrific things are happening in the news, I would rather not post, so reliable things can be posted,” Jacobowitz said. “Me flooding stories with every last thought I have would take away from people finding actual news.”

Israel’s ongoing military operations in retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack have displaced more than 1.5 million people in Gaza, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Health officials in Gaza say more than 11,000 people have been killed. Israel says more than 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas surprise attack, with more than 200 still held hostage.

The Israeli military has resisted calls for a cease-fire but agreed on Thursday to daily four-hour pauses to allow for humanitarian aid.

Interest in posts about the conflict has remained high on social media, where trending topics often drop off after a few days or weeks. According to TikTok’s creative center, which offers publicly available statistics on what’s trending on the platform, content using the popular hashtags “#israel” and “#palestine” has been uploaded and viewed at a steady pace over the past 30 days.

Interest can translate into money for influencers, but that’s not always the case with the Israel-Gaza war.

Abby Govindan, a comedian with 178,000 followers on the social platform X, said she has lost sponsorships over the past month after sharing her pro-Palestinian views on social media. She said her management told her that sponsors didn’t want to work with people who were making any statements about the Middle East.

At the same time, Govindan, who has supported the Palestinian cause for years, said that she has seen more support for Palestinians online than ever before. 

“To me, being on the right side of history is much more important than having a few extra thousand dollars because a brand was like, ‘Oh, she’s neutral enough to work with,’” Govindan said in an interview.

Three Jewish influencers also told NBC News they’ve received backlash from followers and even seen their follower counts drop after posting about the conflict.

Morgan Raum, a food influencer with over 150,000 followers on Instagram, said she doesn’t think people should rely on lifestyle influencers for news or information about the war, but she felt compelled to post in support of Israel and raise money for Israeli causes over the past month because of her Jewish identity and personal relationships.

“I do think there are a lot of people who are expecting creators and influencers to speak about these issues, which in general I think is kind of foolish,” she said. “People who post about food and fashion and beauty, I don’t think people should be relying on these influencers for their information.”

Raum said responses to her posts have run the gamut: Some have offered praise, others have said she’s overreacting. Most troubling have been the threats of physical violence. Raum said she lost more than 1,000 followers after publishing a post about antisemitism (NBC News confirmed that claim through the social media analytics tracker SocialBlade).

“I feel a moral responsibility to speak about it, specifically because I don’t feel like anyone who is not Jewish does talk about it,” Raum said. “If I’m not talking about it, who is?”

Both Jewish and Palestinian creators have described posting as a moral responsibility. Saeed Awawdeh, a Palestinian Canadian comedian who has over 360,000 followers on X, has posted about growing up in the West Bank, having family in the region, and feeling a need to use his platform to defend Palestinian rights.

Awawdeh, who didn’t respond to an interview request, wrote in one post that he didn’t enjoy posting about Palestinian casualties, but that he refuses “to not use any platform to bring attention to what they go through.”

He has also posted screenshots of direct messages people have sent him that include derogatory and violent remarks about Palestinian people, as well as Muslim and Arab people.

Matt Bernstein, a queer Jewish creator with over 1.5 million Instagram followers, is known for distilling progressive U.S. issues into infographics, making him relatively accustomed to internet vitriol. But even he has been struck by some of the responses to his posts, most notably one that called for a cease-fire.

Numerous commenters, including some Jewish influencers and Jewish-run organizations with millions of followers, have told Bernstein he is no longer Jewish or that he’s “self-hating,” accused him of “blood libel,” or even included homophobic remarks about Bernstein’s appearance. He has also received numerous supportive comments from celebrities and influencers.

Despite the criticism he’s received, Bernstein described being compelled to post.

“I don’t think you just have to post for the sake of posting, but I was watching things get worse and worse,” he said. “And we’re still watching it.”


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