Racist and inciting Facebook statuses by Israeli Jews have become commonplace on the Internet. Yet not a single Israeli has ever been sent to prison for publishing a status on social media.
By John Brown* and Noam Rotem
We do not live in a state where people are equal before the law. This is a fact that shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Internet, on the other hand, has maintained a kind of facade where freedom and equality are set in stone. But no more. This week, 23-year-old Uday Biyumi from Jerusalem was sentenced to 17 months in prison for publishing Facebook posts “systematically and widely.”
The sentence is not something out of the ordinary. Sami Da’is received eight months for his posts on social media; Omar Shalbi was sentenced to nine months; and many others are still being held until the end of legal proceedings, waiting for a decision on their case. All of them for publishing statuses on Facebook.
Perhaps you have noticed that there is not a single Jewish person among those arrested—this isn’t a coincidence. The following article will compare some of these remarks to those made by Jews, who were never forced to spend seven months in jail. Not a single Jewish citizen of Israel has ever been sent to prison for publishing a status on social media.
These social media users are usually accused of the following clauses in Israeli law: “incitement to racism,” “incitement to violence or terrorism,” and sometimes “support for a terrorist organization.” The first clause is simple: anyone who publishes remarks “for the purpose of inciting to racism,” regardless of the probability that the remarks will lead to violence—is guilty. According to the second clause, incitement to violence or terrorism—or praising an act of violence or terror—is forbidden only if the content of the remarks and the circumstances in which they were published include a a real possibility to lead to an act of violence or terrorism. This requires finding out whether anyone who read the status was inspired to commit an act of terrorism or violence. As for the third clause, anyone who expresses support for a terrorist organization is guilty.
Eight months for 14 ‘likes’
The court takes into account how much exposure these statuses receive when determining the defendant’s sentence. Sometimes they have over 200 likes, other times they are far less popular. Such is the case of Sami Da’is, who received five likes for one of the status mentioned in his indictment, and nine likes in another. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.
After Facebook user Arkadi Yakobov wrote, “there is no shame in burning an Arab, it is a great mitzvah to burn Arabs,” armed men did not barge into his house and detain him for several months. When Galit Elmaliach agreed and added “may all the Muhammads burn, amen,” and when Hovav Yossi Mattuf swore that “the next time they kidnap, I hope he is not unconscious and is burned alive and made to run around burning” no one raised an eyebrow. Their lives went on without any interference by the Israeli justice system.
When Ibrahim Abadin changed his profile photo to that of Mutaz Hijazi, the Palestinian who attempted to assassinate far-right Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick in October of last year, it was enough to be considered a crime.
When Jews such as Mor Hajaj look forward to the day that the Knesset passes a law to allow the massacre of “infiltrators,” or when Avi Swissa and Etzion Shchori expressed support for ISIS—no one broke down their doors in an overnight raid. When Naor Elmaliach and Leroy Kaufman expressed support for the Nazi regime, while lamenting the fact that Adolf Hitler didn’t massacre more of their own people—no one in the State Attorney’s Office or the police even considered serving them with an indictment.
Sami Da’is, on the other hand, published the logo of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 2014—a political party that was elected in the last Palestinian elections—as a status on his Facebook feed, adding the words “The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” This received six likes, and was mentioned in his indictment.
Mahmoud Asila, who presents himself as a Palestinian comedian, wrote “I opened a tourist agency for cars that run people over, meaning that every day a driver or two comes to me before a vehicular attack and then come back.” He also wrote: “Leave us and Al-Aqsa alone, and we will stop the vehicular attacks… we have a solution for the concrete blocks you have erected: we will stop using cars and start using motorcycles.” The honorable Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman read out the translation of his remarks, and agreed with the state that he could not be left under house arrest because of the danger he posed. Instead he would have to remain in prison until the end of his legal proceedings.
Shlomi Avraham, the leader of the “Al-Yahud Gang,” which sent an incited mob to attack people simply because they are not Jewish, was sentenced to house arrest and did not have to wait months in jail for a decision on his case.
It is impossible to describe how far this kind of incitement reaches. But those who are interested can find support for military operations, such as the racist celebration following the killing of four boys on the Gaza beach last summer, or a worker in the Finance Ministry who calls for the murder of Arabs. Other users did not refrain from expressing support for the Nazi regime when replying to a Holocaust survivor who criticized Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Even soldiers didn’t refrain from taking part in the incitement to murder Arabs. Neither did police officers.
Incitement from above
One may claim that because these are private individuals, there is a small chance that their incitement will be translated into violence. But the discrimination doesn’t end with them. At 10 a.m. on July 1, 2014, while gangs of racist, right-wingers roamed the streets of Jerusalem looking to attack Arabs, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, then an MK, published a call to murder Palestinians, specifically Arab mothers, because:
“They need to go the way of their sons. There is nothing more true than that. They must go, same as the house in which they raised the snake. Otherwise they will raise other little snakes there.”
The post received over 4,900 likes and more than 1,200 shares, as well as many racist, murderous replies. Eighteen hours later, Muhammad Abu-Khdeir was kidnapped from his neighborhood in East Jerusalem and burned alive. Shaked quickly removed the status. She was never interrogated for her blatant and extreme incitement, and less than a year later she was appointed as Israel’s justice minister.
On the same day, the secretary-general of World Bnei Akiva (the largest religious Zionist youth movement in the world) called for the murder of at least 300 Palestinians, as well as to cut off their “Philistine foreskins.” A few hours earlier, Jerusalem City Council member Aryeh King openly called to commit an “act of Pinchass,” a religious code word for murder.
On July 10, 2014 Shaked once again used her Facebook page for incitement, and lied about who was behind a fire that erupted at a Jewish cemetery. Like the previous post, she received a great deal of racist, blood-thirsty replies.
This post was also later erased. Neither Shaked nor any those who replied to her were even interrogated. Neither was King or the secretary-general of Bnei Akiva. No one was indicted, convicted or jailed.
Not only on social media
The problem goes far beyond social media outlets. On July 23, 2012, MKs Miri Regev (Israel’s current minister of culture and sport), Danny Danon, and Yariv Levin incited against asylum seekers during a protest in south Tel Aviv. Standing in front of the crowd, Regev called asylum seekers a “cancer in our body.” She later lied and claimed that she meant that the phenomenon of asylum seekers is akin to cancer. Minutes after the rally ended, a mob set out to attack asylum seekers and their property. Neither of the three members of Knesset were taken in for questioning. On the other hand, the court had no problem sending Sheikh Raed Salah to prison for incitement during one of his sermons.
I write this not out of support for any of the things that were published. I can find hundreds of additional examples of inciting, racist and disgraceful statuses written by Jews. I can also quote more indictments of Palestinians for their statuses. But there is no point; we do not live in a state where citizens are equal before the law.
*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.