An Arab rights group has found ten of thousands of Israelis are publishing “widespread hatred and incitement against Arabs and Palestinians” on social media, and are often motivated to harass following charged statements by Israeli politicians.
The hate speech is going unnoticed by Israeli officials who are advancing a law to scrub similar content from Facebook, but only when it is made by Palestinians against Israelis, said the Haifa-based group 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, in a report published Tuesday.
7amleh focused on Hebrew social media posts. Along with the Israeli firm Vigo, it analyzed keywords used online during 2015 and 2016. The group said the results were “horrifying,” due to the sharp increase of incitements towards Arabs in the last year. The study showed slanderous, provocative, and threatening posts made by Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians more than doubled in 2016, reaching 675,000 posts made by 60,000 Hebrew-speaking Facebook users.
That number amounts to one inflammatory post every 46 seconds, with one in eight using derogatory terms or “incitement to violence,” 7amleh said.
This data is the first that examines Israelis abusing Palestinians online. It comes around two months after an Israeli legislative committee approved a draft of a bill that grants Israeli courts the authority to order Facebook to censor content it deems in violation of Israeli regulations over verbal threats.
Yet on a case by case basis, Israeli police already coordinate with Facebook and Google to block and remove offending online content. At a cyber security conference last week, the Israeli Knesset member who introduced the “Facebook law,” Ayelet Shaked, said Facebook complies with 78 percent of Israel’s requests to delete content or suspend accounts, the Israeli outlet NRG reported.
Israel began arresting Palestinians in large numbers in 2015 on incitement charges following a series of knife attacks against Israelis with a noticeable trend, some of the attackers had posted their deadly plans in advance on Facebook. Over the next year, tensions increased with Palestinians killing 36 Israelis, and Israeli forces killing more than 200 Palestinian. According to the Arab legal rights group Adalah, in this same period, Israeli police arrested more than 400 Palestinians because of content they produced or circulated online. Over 200 were citizens of Israel and at least 150 were from the West Bank, of whom 60 were convicted for “incitement” (the other 90 were released without charges).
Under Israeli law incitement is punishable by up to five years in prison, however, in the West Bank where Palestinians are subject to harsher military law, the same offense can come with a ten-year sentence. The kinds of comments that have landed Palestinians in jail have ranged from one poster stating he hoped to be a “martyr,” to journalists sharing newsworthy events.
Nadim Nashif, the Director of 7amleh said his group’s research confirms while Israel was arresting a record number Palestinians for social media posts, it was selectively enforcing policies against hate speech and online harassment when made by Israelis.
“This report contains a message to the decision makers on these social media networks to halt the biased and dual policies,” said Nashif, “The report also calls on social media networks to stand firm against the incitement and violations hosted on their sites against Arabs, and to deal with, on a serious level, risks induced as a result of this incitement.”
Of those targeted online, 7amleh said most are Palestinian politicians.
“The Knesset member, Haneen Zoabi, bore the brunt of insults and incitement to murder, with 60,000 posts being directed towards her. The Knesset member Ahmed Tibi was subjected to 40,000 posts, closely followed by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with 30,000 and Ayman Odeh with 25,000. Basil Ghattas was verbally abused in 15,000 posts each. Furthermore, Abnaa Sakhnin Football Club was singled out in 14,000 posts,” the group said.
7amleh discovered a correlation between these outbursts against Palestinians leaders, and speeches made by influential Israeli politicians, including a spike during the trial of Elor Azaria, “The incitement is seen in the content written on the internet seemed to rise as the Israeli leadership increased incitement and hatred in their public addresses,” 7amleh said.
“Israel has more than 200 criminal files against Arab and Palestinian activists charging them with incitement on the internet, while almost not a single case of incitement has been opened against Israeli instigators,” 7amleh said.