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January 19, 2023 12:39 pm

Online Anti-Israel Bias Has Real-World Antisemitic Consequences

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avatar by Zara Nybo


Elon Musk at TED 2017, April 28, 2017. Photo: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons.

Social media platforms are undoubtedly a safe space where anti-Israel activists can propagate antisemitic opinions and falsified facts about Israel, with little to no consequences. The effect of this proliferation of anti-Jewish views online has led to the alarming erosion of Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage, in addition to having real-life consequences for Jewish communities worldwide.

But rather than examining the countless examples of anti-Israel bias and how they have spread online, it is more helpful to consider the ripple effect of this bias and how it potentially endangers the lives of Jews globally.

CyberWell, a recently launched non-profit initiative, is in the process of gathering data about antisemitic trends in its open database. CyberWell uses online research, media monitoring, and an alert center to track online Judeophobia across all social media platforms and in multiple languages.

Sadly, the organization’s work has never been more necessary: Data shows a 61 percent increase in hate speech directed at Jews on Twitter since Elon Musk purchased the platform, which has led to hashtags like “the Jews” becoming a trending topic.

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For online platforms to combat antisemitism, there should be a framework that defines hate speech. For instance, the widely-adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which CyberWell uses to judge whether content is antisemitic.

“Data must be the cornerstone of our fight for accountability on social media,” CyberWell founder and Executive Director Tal-Or Cohen has explained, adding: “Anecdotes are powerful but using hard numbers to demonstrate skyrocketing digital Jew-hatred makes it impossible for platforms like Twitter to ignore the crisis.”

With new initiatives such as CyberWell, the real-life impact that online anti-Israel media has on Jews worldwide can be tracked.

Dehumanization is defined as “the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities.” The process of dehumanizing a person or a population means that they are no longer treated humanely.

The Anti-Defamation League states: “From 2018 to 2020, between seven and nine percent of antisemitic incidents reported to ADL have explicitly incorporated anti-Israel or anti-Zionist elements. This includes Jewish people being told they should ‘go back to Israel’ [and] synagogues being vandalized with pro-Palestinian graffiti.”

Herd mentality is defined as “the tendency of the people in a group to think and behave in ways that conform with others in the group rather than as individuals.” This mentality can be witnessed in group activities such as voting, international sporting events, and protests.

The feeling of anonymity that comes with being part of a collective can lead to acts of violence spontaneously being committed. Such behavior can also be seen online.

Indeed, many individual social media users may or may not be openly antisemitic when they are not behind the computer or smartphone. However, when hashtags such as “#jewishmedia” go viral, they will be shared by some of these users because they do not fear any consequences — perhaps there is a kind of safety in numbers.

Then-Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in September of last year and stated: “The second threat [to Israel] is the demise of truth. Our democracies are slowly being poisoned by lies and fake news. Reckless politicians, totalitarian states and radical organizations are undermining our perception of reality.”

He added: “We should know, there is no country in the world that faces this phenomenon more than Israel. There is no country that has come under greater attack of lies, with such a vast amount of money and effort being invested in spreading disinformation about it.”

Lapid used an example in his speech about the terrorist organization Hamas’ use of disinformation. He told the story of “Malak al-Tanani” a three-year-old who Hamas claimed was Palestinian.

Hamas had alleged that the child was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza alongside her family during the May 2021 conflict. In reality, the photo of “al-Tanani” was actually of a Russian girl and was stolen from her mother’s Instagram page. Despite being completely untrue, the story was shared thousands of times online.

In essence, the libel that Israel murdered a young child went viral.

Lapid also discussed disinformation, commenting: “I can give you thousands more examples of similar fake news about Israel. The anti-Israel movement has been spreading these lies for years. In the media, college campuses, and on social media. The question is not why they do it, but why you are willing to listen.”

But why are people so willing to share false information?

As seen with the al-Tanani tale, anti-Israel libels are used to delegitimize Israel and challenge the Jewish state’s very right to exist. Moreover, I believe they aim to challenge the rights of the Jewish people to live in safety and security anywhere in the world.

Terrorist organizations who seek to destroy Israel will often spread fake news online. Terrorist groups rely on uninformed citizens to further spread these stories.

Patterns of herd mentality and dehumanization can be seen in the online anti-Israel agenda. The legitimacy of Israel and, therefore, the right of Jews to a safe homeland is being questioned.

Israel is facing a war that is being played out online — a virtual battlefield.

Zara Nybo is a university student living in British Columbia, Canada. She is currently studying for a degree in Anthropology & Political Science. Zara’s passion for advocacy and education surrounding Israel started when she met her partner, who is Jewish and served in the IDF. Zara has focused on learning about the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. She plans to use her writing and academic work to educate others about Israel, the Jewish diaspora, and the rise of antisemitism. The author is a guest contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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