Online Hate Speech Targeting Israeli Military Chief Jumped 35 Percent in Past Year

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IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, December 23, 2018.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, December 23, 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Inflammatory comments by internet users about Israel military chief Gadi Eisenkot jumped by 35 percent last year, a new study has found.

In addition, since 2015, hate speech against Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has soared by 712 percent, the study added. In contrast, hate speech against the Israel Defense Forces in general dropped 19 percent last year.

The study, conducted by the Berl Katznelson Foundation and the Vigo research company covering the period from November 2017 to October 2018, found that 74 percent of online incitement against Eisenkot came from right-wing users, five percent from leftists and 21 percent from people whose political affiliation couldn’t be determined. Against the IDF in general, 41 percent of the online hate speech came from the right, five percent from leftists and 54 percent from people whose political views were unknown.

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The study examined comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as well as comments posted on internet news sites, blogs and forums.

The authors said the study didn’t count statements that were merely critical of Eisenkot, but only hate speech. It distinguished between attacks on him personally and reasoned criticism against a specific incident, though it found that hate speech often rose in the aftermath of specific incidents.

In December 2017, for instance, violent comments spiked after Eisenkot met with former Defense Minister Ehud Barak. At the time, Barak was harshly attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so the meeting infuriated many people on the right. That month, Eisenkot was mentioned 16,680 times, of which 3,250 comments, or about 20 percent, were dubbed hateful by the researchers.

On July 18, 2018, Eisenkot said that shooting Palestinians who launch incendiary kites “contradicts my moral and operational worldview.” That month, he was mentioned 16,107 times, and 20 percent of the comments were dubbed incitement by the researchers.

Anat Rosolio of the Berl Katznelson Foundation said the decline in hate speech against the IDF could be attributed to the timing of the study, which took place after the case of Elor Azaria, a soldier sentenced to jail for shooting a Palestinian assailant who was already lying on the ground wounded, compared with the previous year, when the case was still ongoing. The Azaria case generated significant hate speech. In March 2017, for instance, when Azaria appealed his sentence, 30 percent of that month’s comments about Eisenkot were found to be incitement.

Several ministers, Knesset members and journalists have also spoken harshly against Eisenkot over the last year. For instance, MK David Bitan (Likud) said in a radio interview that Eisenkot “is responsible for the fact that we’ve lost our deterrence in Gaza.”

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