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Time to uphold the law on racism and hate speech in Israel

Scores of racist commenters rejoice at the sight of a news item about the tragic death of four young girls in the Hebron area. So why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?  

By Tomer Zeigerman

This past Thursday, Israel’s Channel 2 News posted on a news item on its Facebook page about a tragedy in Hebron: four Palestinians girls had died after they were forgotten in a car (actually, the girls accidentally locked themselves while playing, and this did not happen in Hebron but in a nearby town, Taqumiya).

Scores of Israelis responded with appalling comments. Here’s a small yet unpalatable selection:

“Why only 4, I would have preferred 8” said Naty Asulin; “I am going to unlike your page. Why is this a tragedy? They are not from my people” (Shalom Dror); “The more the merrier. Why does this not happen more often?” (David Hagege); “Could they not have forgotten 5 more?” (Avial Abutbul).

This goes on and on.

Posting revolting comments online is of course nothing new, and by no means is the practice limited to Israelis. Racism and hate speech transcends all cultures. What is noteworthy – and perhaps as troubling as the comments themselves – is the willingness of the people making them to identify by their real name. Posting anonymously online at least reflects (if not outright shame) a fear of retribution and an awareness that such comments are not acceptable by most, and would not be tolerated in real life. It seems that this however is no longer the case – in Israel hatred against Palestinians has gone mainstream, its perpetrators no longer feels a need to hide.

Israelis rejoice on Facebook upon hearing that four Palestinian girls died in Hebron. (screenshot: John Brown)

The original Channel 2 post and the comments were shared by an online activist who goes by the name ‘John Brown’. One sharp-eyed observer on Brown’s Facebook page pointed to a comment by Havazelet Ben Shlosh who wrote “what’s tragic about this story? Jubilation.” This is in line with the many other comments posted in response to the story, except that Havazelet works at a children’s events and entertainment company – ‘Child Star Moshiko-liko.” I rang Moshiko to ask him if he was aware of the comments made by Havazelet: “I am very angry at these comments. I do not distinguish between children of any nationality or religion. I spoke to Havazelet and made it clear she is not to post such things again. I find them extremely unacceptable.” He does not plan to dismiss her at this time.

Hate speech is illegal in this country, so one might expect Israeli police to display the same level of activism it did when arresting Palestinian-Israeli Razi Nabulsi for (alleged) posts he made on his Facebook page.

I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

Tomer Zeigerman is a PhD candidate in Political Theory at the New School for Social Research and is currently residing in Israel.

Read more:
Israeli police lock up Haifa activist for Facebook statuses
Jewish women can’t volunteer at night – to avoid ‘contact with Arabs’

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    1. Gearoid

      Why would they?

      Go to any English language site that’s centre-right and you’ll see racist posts and hatred constantly among comments. Jerusalem Post is a good example.

      It is fundamentally acceptable in Israel to say these things. That is completely and utterly disgusting.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      There is a new book out called “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” by Max Blumenthal, which discusses Israeli societal shift towards nationalistic racism. In his book, Blumenthal immerses himself in Israeli society and delves into its darkest recesses.

      This facebook post (and its ensuing comments) is one example of how racism has become mainstream in Israel. While there is racism in every country on Earth (some of which are far more racist than Israel), in no country that purports to be part of the civilized world is racism so accepted and even expected as in Israel.

      The thing that truly boils one’s blood about Israel is its hypocritical demand of Palestinian leaders that they fight incitement against Jews and educate their people towards peace and co-existence. If I were a Palestinian negotiator, I would demand exactly the same of Israel!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Being a First Amendment free speech American, I think the criminalization of hate speech a mistake. On the issue of charged Palestinian support for hate speech, usually PA sponsored broadcast programs are cited. Here, it will be said, Israeli speech, which of course is not a vile as theirs, occurs in free civil society.

      It would be useful to know how, and to what extent, such Israeli speech has intensified over the years (if at all). Did the suicide bombings of 2000-8 play a role? Has competition for votes to form various right coalitions lead to more public, acceptable, derogatory statements by political parties?

      I am amazed that someone who works in child entertainment would say “Jubilation” over these deaths using her own name. It seems a strong indicator that a zero sum racial calculus is entering the mainstream, or been there long. Why would Channel 2 allow these comments to persist? Could it not at least disassociate itself with such comments on broadcast news?

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        “I am amazed that someone who works in child entertainment…” I fully approve this as a rhetoric, but somehow I doubt that you are “amazed”, Greg.

        I recall fury heaped upon Lady Ashton for her anodyne comments that deaths of all children should be regretted, because she cited several examples including Belgium and Gaza. Not to mention that one can entertain children with war stories, tales of persecution etc.

        Reply to Comment
        • You’ve probably heard how intense things are over here in the US right now. Many lines of civility have been erased. But one remaining is harm to children. I don’t think over here someone in the child entertainment industry who used “jubilation” over these deaths would have her job for long. While the girls were in the West Bank, not Israel, and not Israeli citizens, 20% of that citizenry may take affront at that comment (well, not so high, but we say things like this), being of the same ethnicity.

          Gaza is territorial exclusive and lets us play or war word games. Everyone knows war is horrible and innocents are killed. But that is deemed unavoidable. So the equation of Belgium and Gazan children by Ashton denies the necessities of war, and is attacked. We will keep our tools clean, ready for next use. What the comments reported here do is assert “we are at total war.” That has been the long term cost of this conflict: children are just cells of the enemy’s body.

          Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        I think it is a mistake too, for three reasons. One, because as you say, we are supposed to have free speech. Two, the maker of the speech-inhibiting law gets to define what hate speech is, and we see it in practice means anything against Israel. Three, it demonstrates duplicity for Israel to define it in that way, always to their advantage, and that breeds distrust of them.

        Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      Once again we are being bombarded by the demand by “progressives” to silence their opponents, using the excuse that “hate speech” and “racism” must be banned. Who says? Is there freedom of speech or not? Who have the “progressives” the right to define what “hate speech” and “racism” really are. After all criticism of Haredim, rigth-wingers, settlers and the such they usually exclude from those categories and then they arrogate “freedom of speec” to themselves, and themselves alone.
      It seems to me that democracy and freedom of speech are in danger all around the world, including the US and Europe, due to this “progressive” onslaught.

      Reply to Comment
      • Your country has the hate speech laws, XYZ, although I think them misguided. What Zeigerman is calling for herein is equal application of such law across the political spectrum. The law is misguided in part because it will never be enforced neutrally, as we now see.

        As for selective “progressive” prosecution of right wing hate speech–there is no prosecution at all thereof that I know of presently in your State. So what exactly is your real point about the comments on the deaths of these four girls?

        Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      This is a link about a previous similar story:
      I wanted to give a link to JPost, but somehow the number of comments dropped to zero. Perhaps they reviewed if comments fit to their standards of “not containing racist or libelous content or incitement to violence” and they did not find any. Somehow I recall that initially there was quite a few comments.

      Anyway, the article cites the case of Rabulsi who is being prosecuted for posting heinous comments like “I hope that the nightmare will be over”. Apparently, nightmares are a protected category covered by the Israeli hate speech law and “enemy children” are not.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      I must admit that posting snide comments is somehow hard to resists. I just checked JP and MK Feilin injured his shoulder while bicycling “in the hills of Samaria”. I submitted a comment that he always seemed to lack the sense of balance. Let’s see if it will pass the muster.

      Reply to Comment
      • I always enjoy your comments, Piotr. Your sense of irony is wonderful.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Max

      The hearts of the Many Israeli jews’ hearts have hardened over the decades. With the growth of their military might,episodes of war and terrorism, Israelis are losing the important lessons of empathy and courtesy. The Holocaust has become a reflexive reasoning for aggressive military actions not only against enemy armies and terrorist but against civilian populations also. These actions do nothing but inflame and radicalize the palestinians and so perpetuate or increase the conflict.
      Ironically, Jews in the diaspora have been at leaders in Socialistic, civil Rights and Humanistic intellectual movements.
      The problems could stem from the fact that Israel is a young national entity (an ancient people or religion but a young nation-state). Or the problems could be that there is effectively no seperation of state and religion – in fact, your religious status dictates your citizenship. Or there is the notion that God has “chosen” you and your people and given you the land – and that religious traditions held that you are expected to evict or kill the inhabitants who are non-jews. And the fact that being a non-jewish resident or even non-jewish citizen makes you a 2nd or 3rd class citizen.
      Actually Israeli society goes like this, Askenazi jews, Sephardic jews, Persian/Mizrahim/Bukharan jews, Yemenite jews, Samaritan Jews, Russian partial-jews, Ethipian Jews, whatever else kinds of Jews, Israeli Druze, Israeli Bedouin, Israeli christian arabs, Israeli muslim arabs, Filipino giest workers, and then all palestinians regardless of religion and finally all african migrants.
      Israel is not the happy melting pot that zionist messages would have you believe. I hope that this is just friction due to being a young nation and it’s still developing a national and citizenship identity – in 50-100 years hopefully the populations will be more mixed and that will remove some of the ethnic prejudices.

      Reply to Comment