Lawmaker Osnat Mark of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party cited on Tuesday a fake Facebook post in which a prominent anti-corruption movement called on anti-government protests to equip themselves with pepper spray and stun guns against the police at demonstrations.
The post had originally been cited by the police, but major media outlets reported it was false. The police later admitted that they had erred. At first, Mark said that “it doesn’t matter if it’s false.” She later conceded that it was and retracted her statement, without offering an apology.
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Speaking at a Knesset Science and Technology Committee meeting that addressed the blocking of social media accounts of right-wingers, Mark cited a post that appeared on a Facebook page that falsely claimed it was produced by the anti-corruption movement Crime Minister. The page was created 10 days before the post appeared, and had only eight followers, compared to the 65,000 followers of the real Crime Minister's Facebook page.
The post stated: “Dear friends, at the central protest sites against the hated enemy from Balfour, we will hand out tear gas and stun guns to the heads of teams, and if someone feels threatened by obstinate civilians or police, it can be used and sprayed at them legally!!! Remember to wear a mask so as not to be hurt by this very strong gas.”
After Mark was informed that the post was indeed false, she said, “The issue is not the Crime Minister post but blocking the accounts of people on the right. Even if the post is fake, it's irrelevant to this debate.
“Couldn’t the great Facebook, which protects freedom of expression, have blocked Crime Minister?” Mark said. The committee’s chairman, Einav Kabla of Kahol Lavan, noted that the post was fake, triggering an aggressive response from the Likud lawmaker.
“As someone who’s been targeted by and fought against fake news, I’d like to clarify that the quote by this evil movement, which I read during today’s debate, is fake. I was unaware of it and quoted it without knowing it was false. After learning of the police’s position on this matter, I wish to retract my words. It doesn’t change anything in regard to the debate we were holding.”
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Two weeks ago, the police claimed that anti-Netanyahu protesters were calling to use pepper spray against officers at demonstrations, basing their information on a false Facebook post shared by right-wing activists.
A high-ranking police officer first made this claim on a live broadcast on Channel 13 News, followed by an official police statement, also mentioning as true what turned out to be a false report.
“As for Balfour,” Chief Superintendent Ziv Sagiv said, “a few minutes ago I received a screenshot of a message with a statement by the Crime Minister movement. They are asking protesters to bring pepper spray and taser guns to use against the police.”
Sagiv, who is chief of investigations in the police Investigations Branch, said in the interview that “this is inconceivable. We are facing a red line of what can and can’t be done at a protest. There are things we can’t allow.” An official police statement that ensued said: “Posts published on social media contained calls by various elements to bring tear gas by which to harm others, including the intent by protesters to use it against police.”
About an hour later the police published a clarification: “A short time ago a statement was issued by a spokesman for the Crime Minister movement clarifying that posts calling for people to bring tear gas and by this means to injure others, was not published by them and is fake news."
A day later, the police confirmed that the fake page was removed earlier in the day by its owner, not by Facebook or the police, adding that it was managed by an Israeli admin.
Crime Minister demanded that Mark apologize. “Osnat Mark is a senior member of Netanyahu’s criminal organization, not missing any opportunity to incite against demonstrators. Whether she knowingly lied or whether she was misled, her words attest to the level of her preparedness for a Knesset debate. We demand that Mark retract her spiteful and slanderous words and call on her, if she insists the post is real, to remove her immunity and face us in court,” the anti-corruption movement said in a statement.