A social media post inciting violence against Palestinians and Arabs was published every 64 seconds during the first two rounds of Israeli elections in 2019, a new report finds.
According to the latest annual “Index of Racism and Incitement in Israeli Social Media,” produced by the organization 7amleh – Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, 2019 saw a 14 percent increase from the previous year in violent or racist discourse against Palestinians and Arabs on Israeli social media. In 2017, such posts were made every 71 seconds; in 2018, every 66 seconds.
Election-related incitement accounted for more than half of the increase in 2019, the report reveals, with popular incitement running parallel to incitement by Israeli officials during the unprecedentedly long campaign season.
“Elections are used to galvanize the local population, and this contributes to misinformation online that affirms racist stereotypes Israelis have about Palestinians,” Alison Carmel, 7amleh’s international relations director, explains to +972 Magazine.
“Our study shows increases in hate speech online generally, but specifically attacks toward Palestinians on major social media platforms,” says Carmel. “When [Israeli] politicians engage in incitement, these attacks increase.”
7amleh’s analysis covers posts made in Hebrew across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others. It found that Facebook remains the most common host for inciting posts, despite a 15 percent decline from 2018. Twitter, on the other hand, saw a 14 percent rise in inciting posts from 2018.
Of some 5.4 million posts studied across platforms, about 495,000 (9 percent) featured violent or racist language directed at Palestinians and/or Arabs.
Additionally, one out of every 11 posts by Israeli users that mentioned Palestinians and Arabs featured inciting language. “Palestinian children must be killed too,” reads one post featured in the study.
The most prevalent terms in such posts were “Terrorist,” “Scum,” “Dog,” “Wipe out his name,” “Death,” and “Pig.”
“Terrorist” was by far the most common word used in these posts, reflecting a perception among the Israeli public of Palestinians and Arabs as innately violent. As one posts states: “[Arab MK Ayman] Odeh is a terrorist with a possibility to commit a terrorist act in the name of his brothers [the Palestinians].”
Israeli right-wing officials engaged in similar incitement against Palestinian lawmakers in Israel. According to 7amleh, these attacks were part of a larger effort to delegitimize the national identity of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the state’s population, while undermining their growing political representation.
The primary target of officials’ incitement was the Joint List, the Palestinian-led multi-party alliance that constitutes the third-largest slate in the Knesset.
The List’s most targeted members included its chairman MK Ayman Odeh; MK Ahmad Tibi; MK Aida Touma-Suleiman; and MK Heba Yazbak (Yazbak was also the target of motions in the Knesset to disqualify her from running in the third election round this month, which the Supreme Court narrowly overturned).
Unable to form a government for three consecutive elections, Netanyahu has tried to rally his supporters against the formation of what he describes as a “dangerous” minority government backed by the Joint List, accusing Palestinian lawmakers of supporting terror.
The Joint List released a statement in November condemning Netanyahu’s “wild incitement,” which they accused of inspiring “dozens of death threats” against MK Odeh and forcing him to request additional personal security from the Knesset Guard.
Two months earlier, Facebook suspended the Messenger chatbot of Netanyahu’s official page after users visiting the page were sent messages warning of a left-wing government comprised of “Arabs who want to destroy us all – women, children, and men – and allow a nuclear Iran that will kill us.”
Carmel tells +972 that government figures are also directing incitement across a network of unofficial social media accounts, all of which are engaging in a “coordinated effort to spread hatred online.”
“On the one hand you have the official pages of the parties and politicians, but there are also non-state actors. They are both bots and real people, and they are paid for by the parties,” she adds.
Since the chatbot incident, Carmel says Facebook has changed its engagement strategy for the better, with a new focus on incorporating local actors and perspectives into company policies. But such coordination is still in its early stages.
“Combating online incitement against Palestinians takes a lot of oversight from civil society organizations, digital activists, security researchers, as well as major and minor tech firms,” says Carmel. Social media giants therefore still have a long way to go in addressing the “ongoing smear campaign against Palestinians and the Palestinian cause.”