Internet Incitement Against Arabs in Israel on the Rise

Experts note sharp rise in Facebook ‘likes’ for extremist right-wing positions since wave of terror began this month.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Oded Gelfand on Facebook, October 2015. 'Hate is not a value, racism is not the way.'
Oded Gelfand on Facebook, October 2015. 'Hate is not a value, racism is not the way.' Credit: Facebook
Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

Since the latest wave of violence began there has been a sharp rise in the number of statements inciting to violence against Arabs, and in the number of Facebook pages expressing extremist right-wing positions receiving ‘likes,’ according to experts on monitoring Internet discourse.

Hateful expressions appearing recently on the Web include calls for death to Arabs and terrorists, and calls for a second Nakba (“catastrophe”), referring to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from Palestine in 1948.

When MK Yinon Magal said on Channel 10 that one can count “not only intifadas but also Nakbas,” his comment went viral. In addition, the calls for boycotting Arab businesses as well as carrying guns and knives have increased, as has the appearance of pictures of terrorists who were killed.

Meirav Bornstein, strategic vice president at Buzzilla, which scans and maps Internet conversations, says that according to her research there were previously some 8,000 discussions containing language that incites against Arabs per week. That figure reached 10,000 during the final week of September and skyrocketed to 30,000 during the first week of October. There were 7,000 such conversations alone on the day of the terror attack in Tel Aviv last Thursday, almost twice as many as in the previous days.

Incitement was most prevalent on Facebook, accounting for 40 percent of the violent discourse, followed by Twitter (38 percent), readers’ comments (“talkbacks”) (12 percent), forums (8 percent) and blogs (1 percent). The Facebook page with the most incitement was the news site 0404, followed by Channel 2’s pages, Walla, Divuah Rishoni, Rotter and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s page.

One of the posts that resonated significantly in recent days was that of a female soldier, Eden Levy, who published a picture with the phrase “Hating Arabs isn’t racism, it reflects values” scrawled on her palm. The page received over 200 invective responses and Facebook complaints, which led to its blocking. The Meretz demonstration in front of the prime minister’s residence drew a similar response from party opponents, who flooded the page with pornographic pictures until Facebook removed it over complaints of inappropriate content.

Dr. Anat Ben-David, an Internet investigator and sociologist at the Open University, says that these examples illustrate how new patterns have developed on the Web to dodge control by Facebook, which removes inappropriate content. According to her, because of the many complaints of incitement, people have learned how to incite without inciting.

“They would never write about Arabs,” she explains. “You don’t write about Arabs these days, rather put pictures or a link or share something from someone else. It removes responsibility, but the audience does get the message and you see the incitement in the responses, which are much harder to monitor. They write ‘Balestinians’ rather than Palestinians. Some of them write “kill them” without saying who.

Perhaps this is the reason that Buzzilla’s research discovered that the most prominent expression in the conversations that including expressions inciting to violence against Arabs was “May it be his will,” which appears in prayers for erasing their name and memory, while the phrase “Death to Arabs” only came in fourth place.

“There are thousands of people who are fans of these pages, even if the don’t participate in them actively,” says Ben-David. “They consume this content, and there has also been a rise in the number of ‘likes’ that pages that incite have received in recent days.”

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