Selfies in the Service of Hate

Israeli millennials take to facebook to demand vengeance on Arabs. #Revenge is the new feel-good summer hit in the Middle East.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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Facebook screengrab: 'Hating Arabs isn't racism, it's values! #IsraelDemandsRevenge'
Facebook screengrab: 'Hating Arabs isn't racism, it's values! #IsraelDemandsRevenge'
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

Two Israeli girls embrace and pose for a selfie. Their hair is perfect, their makeup impeccable, and they’re smiling wide, squinting at the sun. In their done-up nails, they’re holding a sign that reads: “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values! #IsraelDemandsRevenge”.

In another photo, four young Israeli women stand in an office. Closets and folders behind them, they hold four simple paper signs that read: “The people of Israel demand revenge!!!”.

Other photos show soldiers in uniform. They're Israeli teenagers, 18-19 years old at the most. Being teenagers, many pose shirtless. One, for instance, holding his army-issued rifle, has his back turned to the camera, with the word “vengeance” written on his trapezius muscles. Another, showing a bespectacled soldier aiming a rifle at the camera, is captioned: “Let us just spray!!”. Bullets, that is.

These are just a few of the photos uploaded in the last 24 hours to the exponentially-viral Facebook page “The People of Israel Demand Revenge”, in which Israelis, mostly young, many of them soldiers on active duty, demand “revenge” for the slaying of the three Israeli teenage boys. In less than a day - since the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found - the page has amassed more than 37 thousand “likes”. As of writing on Wednesday night, the likes were burgeoning a rate of over a thousand per hour.

Another page named “Revenge on Arabs!”, likewise filled with Arab-hating selfies, has already thousands of likes. Some pictures show “revenge!” written on the palm of the hand, fingers, or other body parts. Some are captioning old selfies, instead of taking new ones.

Some are obviously written by school girls and boys in checkered notebooks, the cute lettering of the words “revenge”, “vengeance” and “justice” adorned by colorful little stars of David scribbled intently on the page.

Online hate, of course, is not confined to Israel’s Jewish millennials. A medical student at the Technion University in Haifa faces disciplinary action and possible expulsion after Facebooking the message, "The Palestine team won three goals today even though it isn't even in the World Cup” immediately after the three Israeli boys were found. Anti-Israeli Palestinian and Arab groups have been spewing online hatred towards anything Israeli (and often anything Jewish) for years now. Now, Israeli millennials - deeply and justifiably hurting from a senseless killing of innocent boys their own age - reciprocate in the medium they’re most comfortable with - the Facebook selfie.

Hate is viral. It often transcends national borders in a way that most things - empathy, for instance - can’t.

The feel-good hit of the summer in Israel, it seems, is hate.

Practicing with David the Nahlawi

Menwhile, Facebook has evidently taken down some of the pages, but the page "The People Demand Revenge" is alive and kicking.

Of course, this isn't the first social media protest by Israeli millennials. Just two months ago they took to Facebook to protest the arrest of David Abramov (aka “David the Nahlawi”), an Israeli soldier filmed cocking his rifle and pointing it at a Palestinian teenager in Hebron. The posts rebuked army superiors for the hypocrisy of sending them to hostile territory and then punishing them for protecting themselves.

But the “David the Nahlawi” upsurge – which was also characterized by selfies of sign-holding teens - was child’s play compared to the rage that has taken over social networks in Israel since the bodies of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel were found.

This is the point where self-love meets outrage. Where the notorious narcissism of millennials meets national trauma, and becomes self-celebrating nationalism. Where shirtless teens still take shirtless selfies, as they do every day - only this time it is to promote a cause.

Some photos have more elaborate messages, attacking Benjamin Netanyahu for his passivity, and Arab MK Haneen Zoabi for her mere existence. Some show small children, possibly the young brothers or sisters of whoever took the photos, holding up the “revenge!” signs. One uploader even used a picture of Dexter, the TV serial killer of serial killers. Most, however, include only the words “the people of Israel demand revenge”, remaining vague as to what “revenge” actually means.

Social media has made the expression of love and hate equally facile. One can join a lynch mob at the stroke of a key. Violence, on Facebook, is an abstraction. There’s no blood to an online lynch mob, no smothering density, no hair-raising screams. Just hashtag #Retaliation and you’re done.

What, us?

While Facebook groups demanding revenge multiply, official Israel feigns surprise. These, after all, are the young people entrusted with policing the Occupied Territories. Some of them, as this is written, are trotting around the West Bank with guns in their hands.

The army even went so far as to release a press statement in response to the burgeoning online vigilantism, describing it as “not in accord with what is expected of IDF soldiers”. Many others have taken to the airwaves, television studios and social media to express shock at the moral debasement of Israeli teenagers.

But why blame the kids and soldiers? Israel is awash in demands for vengeance by senior politicians and media pundits, and by actual acts of vigilante “justice”: a lynch mob attacking Arabs and Arab-owned businesses in the streets of Jerusalem, a possible revenge murder of an Arab teenager. Rabbi Noam Perel, head of the youth movement Bnei Akiva, called for an “army of avengers” on his Facebook page, “that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins”.

If only peace could ever compete with the utter virality of hate.

Facebook screengrab: 'Avenge the blood of our children'.
Facebook screengrab: Under a caption 'Death to Arabs' we find a nursing dog, and conveniently bilingual signs.
Facebook screengrab: Written on fingers - 'The people demand r-e-v-e-n-g-e'
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Facebook screengrab: 'Avenge the blood of our children'.Credit: Facebook screengrab
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Facebook screengrab: Under a caption 'Death to Arabs' we find a nursing dog, and conveniently bilingual signs.Credit: Facebook screengrab
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Facebook screengrab: Written on fingers - 'The people demand r-e-v-e-n-g-e'Credit: Facebook screengrab
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