Israel Fire Spreads to Social Media, Ignites Hate in Hashtag War

'Israel is burning' hashtag trends on Twitter with celebratory posts; Israelis and their sympathizers were quick to respond.

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The fires that have been engulfing parts of Israel over the past three days have quickly ignited social media and have been transformed into online flames on Twitter.

The hashtag “#Israelisburning” began trending in Arabic early on Thursday in Middle Eastern countries, with posts subsequently appearing in Twitter accounts in English internationally, as Twitter users hostile to Israel celebrated its misfortunes.

The disturbing trend was noted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, who called such posts examples of “despicable fanatic hatred.”

Some of the tweets attributed the fires to a bill recently introduced in the Israeli parliament that would ban the use of loudspeakers in mosques to call Muslims to prayers. The tweets suggested that the fires were a form of retribution against the “enemies of Islam” and inflicting the “Islamic wrath of God on the Jews.”

One celebratory tweet, retweeted more than 16,000 times and “liked” by 15,000 users was posted by a prominent Kuwaiti imam with more than 11 million followers. Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Kuwait, posted photos of the fires, wishing “All the best” to the fires, accompanied by a smiling emoji.

Israelis and their sympathizers quickly fired back online, pointing out what they viewed as the absurdity of celebrations of a natural disaster that was devastating Palestinians as well.

However, not all use of social media, or this particular hashtag in regard to the fires, was negative. There were grateful Israelis, both individuals and institutions who used Twitter to send their thanks to the foreign governments who were sending equipment to assist in the effort to fight the fires.