The Intolerable Ease of Being Nasty on Social Media

Three right-wing Israelis talk about the abuse they hurled online during the war - and try to sound penitent.

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Sigalit Moshe.
Sigalit Moshe.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Alongside the addiction to news broadcasts and finding reinforced areas on the street in case of a rocket strike, the increase in defamatory speech on social networks was a characteristic of Operation Protective Edge. Calls for the destruction of Gaza with its inhabitants, together with wishes that left-wing activists would die in a rocket strike or from cancer, became a matter of daily routine. Notices of the deaths of Gazan children on B’Tselem’s Facebook page sometimes drew as many as 20,000 comments, many of them expressing hatred toward B’Tselem or pleasure at the death and devastation. Statements advocating the boycott of Arab markets were shared by thousands; left-wing activists and journalists who opposed the war received private messages of hate mail, and some went so far as to publish their hateful remarks for all to see.

It was interesting to contact the people who had posted the hateful messages on Facebook to find out who they were and whether they had any second thoughts about their statements. Most of them would not agree to be interviewed. Those who did, after a brief conversation in which their statements were read back to them, retracted their statements, at least partially, saying that they had gotten carried away in the heat of the moment, and offered a softer stance.

Three people agreed to speak about their days of rage on Facebook: a marketing specialist who moved to the United States, a security guard from Yeruham and a customer service employee in Be’er Sheva. Every one of them was likable and completely ordinary. Maybe that is what should be more worrisome – the possibility that such statements, which would be defined as anti-Semitism in Europe if they were directed against Jews, are already a matter of consensus in Israel.

Nessi Ziv Corali, 34, a salesman originally from Tel Aviv, now living in the U.S.

Statement: “Bibi should just send in the Air Force to kill any living, breathing person in the holocaust known as Gaza. The place ought to be smashed to smithereens.”

“During this war, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep, I spent 20 minutes of every hour on Facebook,” recalls Corali, a former marketing employee of City Mouse, by telephone from Ohio. “I wrote heaps of comments, at least 30 per day. Suddenly I felt like a Zionist. I spoke with more than ten Americans every day and would show them videos on YouTube. I missed a pro-Palestinian demonstration and the Israeli counter-demonstration when I was visiting Hawaii, because I went on to a different island.”

I asked him whether he grinned from ear to ear when he saw reports about the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza, and whether he would be happy if a rocket were to explode on people from B’Tselem, as he had written. “I had outbursts,” he admits, “and the way I wrote seems a bit childish. Of course I don’t want anyone to die in a rocket strike. I wrote that when I was upset and hurt.”

Still, he says that he does not regret what he said. “It’s an atrocious organization,” he says of B’Tselem. “This is not the right time to report things like that. There’s something known as timing. Soldiers who were killed – one cannot say that they were murderers.”

He explains his suggestion to kill every living man in Gaza as having been written in the heat of the moment. “Now, if I look at it, maybe I’d say that it wasn’t pertinent. It’s hard to believe that 100 percent of the people living in Gaza would be ready to blow themselves up. There’s definitely a certain percentage, even if it’s small, that thinks differently.”

Sometimes he makes statements during the conversation that are prevalent on the left. “If you take an Arab mother who never wanted to hurt us, then once her children have been killed, she will not want to live with us in peace and will become an enemy of the Jews. There’s no doubt that it’s a cycle. But we still need to make sure that the threat is removed. Like other people, I’m a slave to my emotions and speak from the heart. During the first days, I wrote posts in a strongly right-wing spirit. A week into the war, I started asking questions: What were the tycoons’ interests here? If the government could have eliminated the tunnels before, why didn’t they? But even if it’s obvious to me that there are political and financial interests, the threat to the communities in the south must be eliminated.”

Corali recalls that before he traveled to the U.S., he attended the social-justice demonstrations. Still, he says: “I was always very right-wing, not on the radical right. I don’t like the word ‘radical.’ If someone in my family were to be killed and then one of my friends came and talked to me about peace, I’d slap him.”

Corali drew a lot of protests for advocating war while he was on the beach in Honolulu, but he rebuts them. “In Israel, if you want to buy an apartment and a car here, the chances of that happening are low. It’s not right. It’s not right that you work 11 hours and have nothing left at the end of the month. It’s not right that there’s a defense establishment that doesn’t work the way it should. So why stay in Israel? For slogans? You can love the country from afar. You don’t have to live in poverty so that it will remain your country. If a student is living in a damp studio apartment in south Tel Aviv, in a place that is dangerous because of the Sudanese immigrants and has to work two jobs, he’s better off leaving.”

Dennis Kharkov, 22; a factory security guard from Yeruham who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine at age four

Statement: In response to a photograph of destroyed homes in Gaza on B’Tselem’s Facebook page, he wrote: “I am in favor of turning all of Gaza into one big parking lot.”

“There are things that can drive me mad, such as everything that has to do with [MK] Haneen Zoabi,” Kharkov admits. “During the military operation, it bothered me that the Israeli media gave too much weight to what was happening in Gaza. I don’t care what happens in Gaza, with all due respect. I care about our country and our troops. I don’t care that B’Tselem is taking photographs of dead children in Gaza.”

Today he distances himself from his remark about turning Gaza into a parking lot. “I have my own opinions,” he says, adding, “I didn’t mean it when I wrote that. It’s extremism, just like B’Tselem shows the most devastated neighborhoods in Gaza on its web page. When you turn on CNN, you see broadcasters in hotels that were not destroyed.”

Kharkov’s anger at B’Tselem also stems from his army service in the Border Police. “B’Tselem did everything it could to screw over every soldier. If you see their videos, you say that we were shown as unfair. But when I was in the Border Police, that’s not how it really was. People hate Israel because of them. In reality, we’re the most moral army.”

Kharkov says that he “supports this country first of all. They have training camps for children where they teach them to crawl and hold a gun. You see in the children’s eyes that they will do everything they can against Israel, as if Israel didn’t exist, and that bothers me. But the bastard hasn’t been born who is going to stop Israel.”

Sigalit Moshe, 40, from Be’er Sheva, a customer service employee in a high-tech company

Statement: “The King Messiah will conquer Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Italy. There will not be a single Arab left in the Land of Israel!”

“I was on Facebook a lot during the war. Every day, most of the day,” Moshe says, adding that when the military operation began, she changed her profile picture to the Israeli flag. “I had terrible arguments. One time, someone from Turkey wanted to friend me. I didn’t accept the request because I didn’t want to see curses against Israel. So he wrote to me that he also admired Israel a bit. Since then, whenever he saw photos on my page, he softened and started asking me, ‘What’s new over there?’”

Moshe is evasive at first about her statement, which called for leaving not a single Arab in the Land of Israel. Then she says: “The reason I wrote it is that our hope is lost. Not because of Hamas, but because of the opponents among us. Maybe the solution will come through religion. Maybe the King Messiah will solve the problem.”

She directs most of her criticism against the left wing, and her statements contain anger that has to do with the ethnic issue. Even though the leaders of the military operation – Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz – are of Ashkenazi origin, she says: “It bothers me that there are people of Ashkenazi origin on the left, and they let us, the Mizrahim, who did not go through the Holocaust, fight in the war to protect the Jewish homeland. Everything that happened was because of B’Tselem and the left-wing demonstrators. After every demonstration in Rabin Square, rockets fell on us. I say to the left wing: Sit down and be quiet. If there was no left wing, there would be peace. The Mizrahim understand Arabs better than the Ashkenazim do. I was invited to a Jewish-Arab seminar once when I was young. I was very frightened but I went, and at the end I was the one who had Arab friends. The people who were of European descent had nothing to say to them.”

Ironically, while Moshe was busy fighting against Gaza, her husband was working as a truck driver bringing goods to the Kerem Shalom border crossing, and was friendly with his coworkers on the other side. “They’re friends. They work together, and they’re really friends of my husband. He says that they’re very worried there, mainly about whether Kerem Shalom will be open. When they ask my husband why Israel is bombarding Gaza, it annoys me that my husband doesn’t answer them. I tell him, ‘Answer them so that they’ll know.’ But he’s not so interested in politics. My husband’s friends in Gaza just want to make a living.”

Nessi Ziv Corali.Credit: courtesy
Dennis Kharkov.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz