2021-05-25 01:50:29 Online Hate Becomes Real-World Violence In Israel–Palestine

Online Hate Becomes Real-World Violence In Israel–Palestine

As an uneasy ceasefire in Israel–Palestine takes hold, digital terror continues unabated. Online hatred, harassment, and the coordination of physical violence have proliferated on social media platforms. One Israeli organization that combats misinformation and hatred is working at breakneck speed.

FakeReporter has been sending reports of online threats to Israeli authorities from its offices in Israel, hoping to prevent them from becoming a reality. The watchdog group of about ten researchers, activists, and online investigators, all of whom are volunteers, investigates false information and fake accounts on the internet. They had previously concentrated on state-sponsored disinformation and were taken aback by the rise of digital hatred within Israel.

“We’re a disinformation watchdog group, so we weren’t quite prepared for this situation,” Executive Director Achiya Schatz told BuzzFeed News.

Only a portion of the ongoing violence is captured by online hatred. During the conflict, Israel’s rockets killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. Hamas-fired rockets killed thirteen Israelis, including two children. On May 21, a cease-fire was agreed upon.

However, for FakeReporter, the conflict demonstrated that divisions within Israeli society have resulted in online hatred and physical violence. Their team has been working long days and nights to catalog the violent messages, many of which have been crowdsourced via its website. Democratic Bloc, another organization, contributes to the research.

“Right now, we’re on a life-saving mission,” Schatz said.

They’ve been watching as hate speech has turned into street violence for the past two weeks. They monitor nearly 100 WhatsApp and Telegram channels, the majority of which are in Hebrew. There has been violence throughout Israel, including against Jewish residents, according to Schatz, but far-right Israeli extremists have been more organized.

“The ground was prepared for such violence because, in my opinion, the trend of racism in Israel has been increasing for years,” Schatz said.

A vicious mob attacked a man on May 12 in Bat Yam, a seaside town south of Tel Aviv. FakeReporter witnessed it live on television and in Telegram channels as the state broadcaster narrated what it called a lynching. The victim was on his way to spend the evening at the beach when a man asked him if he was Arab through his car window while it was stuck in traffic. When he said yes, he was dragged from his car and beaten while onlookers yelled and recorded the incident on their phones.

The father of four survived, but he was hospitalized and severely injured. “I was taking a break by going to the beach. “I had no idea I’d come back like this to my kids,” the victim told Channel 12 News, Israel’s leading news channel. “How come I’m to blame? What exactly did I do to deserve this? “Was it my fault that I was born Arab?”

Ori Kol, cofounder of FakeReporter, was watching the scene unfold on television as well as Telegram. “We were trying to figure out what they were doing because they were uploading pictures of what they saw, pictures of the violence, to Telegram groups.”

Schatz stated that FakeReporter filed reports with Israeli police prior to, on the day of, and after the attack, depicting extremists threatening to beat up people in Bat Yam. The messages seen by the watchdog group were explicit: “I hereby invite you to participate in a mass brawl on Arabs that will take place today at 6pm in the Bat Yam promenade.” Bring the necessary equipment, such as knives, swords, guns, rocks, wooden boards, and cars with bull bars,” one person advised.

Despite their warning, FakeReporter researchers could only stand by and watch the violence unfold. Schatz stated, “No one was sent to the ground.” “And then something terrible happened.”

Throughout Telegram and WhatsApp channels in the days following Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the storming of the al-Aqsa mosque, extremists gloated about weapons and offered advice on where to obtain them. According to screenshots obtained by BuzzFeed News, they posted photos of knives, guns, and batons, as well as racist slurs, incitement, false information, and coordination on when and where to meet.

“It’s been a truly lethal atmosphere on the streets.”

“It’s been really a deadly atmosphere in the streets,” Kol, who monitors some of the groups, said.

Right-wing influencers such as Yair Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s son, have exacerbated tensions. With nearly 130,000 Twitter followers, a Telegram channel that has gained 1,500 followers in the last two weeks, and a podcast, he has taken on a role in Israel similar to that of Donald Trump Jr. in the United States: rallying his father’s online supporters and spreading hatred against their opponents.

Yair Netanyahu escalated his attacks on the media after Israeli forces bombed a 12-story building in Gaza that the Israeli military claimed contained “Hamas military intelligence assets” (it did not respond to US officials requesting proof), destroying AP and Al Jazeera offices and residences. (In a statement issued following the incident, AP stated that there was “no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”)

On May 19, he tweeted a cartoon depicting a crowd gathered around a water cooler and a man holding a rocket launcher standing between them. “Sheila works for Al Jazeera, and I work for the Associated Press,” the woman tells the man wielding the rocket launcher. “What about you?”

Yair Netanyahu has also been retweeting content from popular American right-wing influencers such as Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, and Andy Ngo, as well as news outlets such as Breitbart and the Federalist.

“Yair Netanyahu uses his social media platform to provide an independent voice for millions of conservatives in Israel who are marginalized by the Israeli establishment media, which is heavily biased against the right,” a family spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Your article labeling his supporters as ‘far right’ is a perfect example of such media distortions in a country dominated by the right. And your smear campaign against Yair demonstrates why independent voices like his are so important.”

On the same day as the AP and Al Jazeera building bombings, Yair Netanyahu called for a protest in front of media executive Avi Weiss’s home. The prime minister’s son then distributed flyers outside media offices, declaring, “We say no more to the anti-zionist brainwashing of the media.”

The protest was called off due to the outpouring of support, but FakeReporter has seen people sharing screenshots of Yair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least one case, two people debate on video whether they should go to the executive’s home or the media offices. Yair Netanyahu called for protests against members of the media again on Sunday.

Members of the Israeli media have been the targets of violence in recent days. According to the Jerusalem Post, four journalists have been attacked, including one from the public broadcaster that covered the Bat Yam mobbing.

“When we’re done fucking Arabs, we’re going to fuck the media,” one message in a Telegram chat said. Others called for the studios to be destroyed and referred to Channel 12 as “Al Jazeera in Hebrew,” a term popularized by Yair Netanyahu that implies sympathy for Hamas.

According to Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, head of the Media Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute, who studies Israeli social media and consults with FakeReporter, Yair’s messages are frequently fodder for Israeli far-right groups.

“I’m worried, and I’m scared,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Because I believe it is a very delicate dog whistle, and right-wing extremists and right-wing activists understand exactly the messages that appear on Twitter. They take them to WhatsApp or Telegram, and then they become a call to action.”

While the building attack horrified international observers, it inspired Israeli extremists, who were aided by Yair Netanyahu’s tweets, which they screenshotted and circulated.

“His main contribution to these Telegram groups has been in the last few days, where right-wingers in these groups have really begun to point to the media for what they see as unpatriotic, treacherous [behavior],” Kol said.

According to Kol, the personal phone number of one prominent Channel 12 reporter and anchor, Dana Weiss, was posted on the groups alongside messages such as “congratulate her on a job well done.” Other texts refer to her as a “Jihadi spokesperson” and circulate photoshopped images of her wearing a hijab. As a result, she received a slew of violent threats, including one that resulted in her death.

Kol has seen online hatred lead to offline violence numerous times.

“The violence begins online and spreads to the streets.”

“The violence begins online and spreads to the streets,” he explained. “It’s something we’ve observed in our work at FakeReporter as the main lesson we’ve been attempting to impart. And, unfortunately, online-inspired lynchings are thriving all over the world.”

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Online Hate Becomes Real-World Violence In Israel–Palestine