When your racism goes viral on Facebook
No sooner did Miri Regev deny calling Sudanese migrants 'cancer' did a video go up on Facebook, since shared by thousands, interspersing clips of her denials with video of her making the very statements that she denies.
What do Knesset member Miri Regev and an unknown Israeli named Sagi have in common?
In both cases, their unvarnished hatred of African migrants is a matter of public record, thanks to the magic of Facebook and social media.
In Regev’s case, it was her statements at the rally in south Tel Aviv last Wednesday that that brought her several days of social media fame. She stood in front of the crowd and compared the African migrants to a ‘cancer’ that was spreading throughout the country. Later, when the crowds at that rally went on a violent rampage against Africans, she and other Knesset members who had spoken at the rally were blamed for the consequences.
At first, Regev tried to deny the statements. In the past, claiming her words were twisted and taken out of context might have worked. But in age of the Internet and social networks, attempting to deny saying something that you actually said is a recipe for failure.
No sooner did Regev deny it then a video went up on Facebook, since shared by thousands, interspersing clips of her denials with video of her making the very statements that she denies.
The video goes like this:
(Regev speaking to the media) “‘I compared the phenomenon to the phenomenon of cancer that spreads in the human body. Not for a moment did I call the Sudanese ‘cancer.’ “
(Cut to her speech at the rally) “The Sudanese are a cancer in our body!”
The fact that it was Regev - of all people - getting caught publicly in this blatant lie does double damage to Israel’s credibility.
It’s not just that a coalition Member of Knesset was captured indulging in Nazi-style racist speech. Regev isn’t just any MK, she is the former IDF spokesperson, and for a time, was the face of the nation’s military.
In the wake of this incident, it is all too easy to charge that, if Regev was caught lying, and she used to speak for the IDF, therefore the IDF lies.
After her denial was unsuccessful and she was called out as a liar across the Internet, Regev went the non-apology apology route, saying she was sorry if her words offended cancer patients or Holocaust survivors to whom her statements brought back memories of Nazi-era racism. She pointedly did not apologize to those whom she had compared to cancer, the Africans themselves.
Her latest strategy to deflect criticism and redeem herself unveiled today, is the old “out-victim the victim” move, often used in the Middle East. After her speech, some Facebookers created a Photoshop image of Regev with the Nazi salute.
She announced on her Facebook pagethat she has filed a complaintagainst them in the Knesset: “This picture is extreme incitement against me and crosses all [red] lines. It will be taken care of by the Knesset authority and the Israeli police.” Describing herself, after the events of the past few days, as the victim of extreme incitement is a case of extreme chutzpah.
Her counterpart, the mysterious Sagi, is likely to have far fewer sophisticated strategies to escape the consequences of his behavior.
This man - or boy - wasn’t satisfied with Regev-style verbal violence. He decided to throw an egg at an African migrant riding a bicycle and immortalize the act on video. A very short clip shows how he got out of the car and hurled the egg and the migrant’s stunned reaction. Afterwards, he or one of his friends posted it enthusiastically to Facebook and titled it “Sagi screws a Sudanese with an egg.”
The video quickly went viral, with reactions ranging from, embarrassingly, expressions of admiration, to thankfully, much condemnation.
One smart Facebooker took the intelligent step of posting the video to the Israeli police’s Facebook site. That’s a clever way of shaming the authorities into action.
The police posted on their wall that they are seeking both the boy who threw the eggs and whoever filmed and posted the video to contact them via Email.
The video has recently been pulled off from YouTube, but lives on in the social media, and has made the jump to the mainstream Israeli media, and is sure to cross over internationally by those for whom this reinforces negative views of all things Israeli.
Undeniably, the African migrants are a tremendous problem the country is struggling with, and the residents of south Tel Aviv are justifiably angry and their protests are legitimate. But neither verbal incitement nor physical violence against the Africans themselves do anything to solve the problem. They only make things worse.
It would be nice to think that this brave new world of technology will make people - whether or not they are public figures - think twice about how they behave when there is a chance a camera is rolling.
Instead of capturing their good side, Miri and Sagi are looking very, very ugly right now. And unless the rest of us do everything we can to condemn their expressions of hatred, so will the rest of us.