Anti-Palestinian posts sweep Israel social media

Sunday 12/03/2017
Arab Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi (C) scuffles with Israeli security forces during a demonstration in the city of Ashkelon. (AFP)

Taibeh, Israel - Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories say messages of incitement against them come from officials in the highest of­fice, not just average social media users.
7amleh — the Arab Centre for So­cial Media Advancement in Haifa — conducted research about anti- Arab social media posts written in Hebrew in response to “an Israeli campaign, which aimed to place the blame for incitement to hatred on Palestinians”.
The research shows an escalation in hate speech by senior Israeli offi­cials and the media, both of which they said influence public opinion and content on social media sites.
7amleh said the increase of “rac­ism and widespread hatred and in­citement against Arabs and Pales­tinians” coincides with government and media statements.
Conducted in 2016, the research said 60,000 Israeli internet users wrote posts in Hebrew on social media sites that were racist and in­cited hatred. A total of 675,000 an­ti-Arab posts were uploaded at the rate of one post every 46 seconds throughout 2016. In 2015, there were 280,000 similar posts.
Palestinian citizens of Israel num­ber 1.7 million, 20% of the popula­tion, and are subject to approxi­mately 60 discriminatory laws.
The most common terms of in­citement used against Arabs were: Killing, death, expulsion, deporta­tion, burning, elimination, rape and physical violence.
Most of the posts were directed at Arab politicians. Knesset mem­ber, Haneen Zoabi was the sub­ject of 60,000 posts; Ahmed Tibi 40,000 posts, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas 30,000 posts; Head of the Joint Arab Committee Ayman Odeh 25,000 posts; and Bas­il Ghattas 15,000 posts.
In September, 2016, the Israeli government and Facebook came to an agreement to work together to fight online incitement. Ten days following the agreement, Facebook disabled the accounts of editors at Quds and Shehab News Agency, two of the Palestinians’ most widely read online publications. They were later reinstated.
“This campaign has also led to enacting laws that force social me­dia companies to comply with Is­rael’s policies and interests, further discriminating against the digital rights of Palestinians,” 7amleh said.
“This policy appears to give a green light for Israeli social media users to continue and escalate their extremism in the virtual sphere, meaning that this phenomenon will only continue to aggravate.”
Although 87% of the anti-Arab posts were on Facebook, Adalah — the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — reported that Fa­cebook approved removal of 95% of the 158 requests submitted by Israel to remove content that was deemed incitement.
Police statistics indicate that in 2016, 82% of those arrested for in­citement were Palestinian citizens of Israel and 18% were Israeli Jews.
7amleh said that the digital rights of Palestinian users are being con­trolled and that Israel, “through these practices, has actually started extending its occupation not only over Palestinian land but across the digital world as well”.
7amleh Director Nadim Nashif said: “This report contains a mes­sage to the decision makers on these social media networks to halt the biased and dual policies. The report also calls on social media networks to stand firm against the incitement and violations hosted on their sites against Arabs and to deal with, on a serious level, risks induced as a re­sult of this incitement.”
In November, when fires burned in many parts of Israel and the West Bank during an unusually dry pe­riod, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, without evidence, ac­cused Arabs of arson.
Erdan, who supervises the police, commented in a Facebook post: “Is­rael has experienced arson terror­ism and I won’t let anyone sweep this fact under the rug. The problem with arson: Why does it seem unre­alistic that Arabs would attempt to harm Jews?”
The Israeli public showed great support for Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who killed Palestinian Abd Fatah al-Sharif as he lay on the ground motionless. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for Azaria to be pardoned. Others went further.
Ran Karmi Buzaglo, a leader of the public campaign in support of Azaria, started a costume com­petition for the upcoming Purim holiday. In an interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV, he said: “Elor Azaria is a soldier who was sent to defend us and I am proud to see children dressing up as him.”