I have often claimed here that the public atmosphere in Israel is becoming more and more racist towards Arabs. A good example of this can be found in the comments (“talkbacks”) on all major internet sites.
The use of online comments is considerably more widespread in Israel than in most western countries. All the major news sites in Israel allow online comments on the same page with their news articles. The common practice in the US, UK, France, Germany and many other countries is to allow a debate in a separate page, or not to allow comments at all.
There are arguments for and against both policies, and maybe I’ll discuss this issue here sometime. Now I’d like to make a different point. The Israeli law and recent court rulings hold the news sites responsible for the content of the comments. That means that you can sue the site for defamation or slander over the content of the comments as well. That’s why all sites have comments monitors, whose jobs are to prevent illegal or offensive comments from being published. These monitors are not legal experts, but usually low-paid kids, who are instructed not to take chances and delete all problematic material.
At the top of the comment window on the most popular news site in Israel, Ynet.co.il, appears the following warning:
And this is not allowed as well:
“Any content which exhibits or incites racism or discrimination based on ethnic or national origin, color, culture, religion, sex, occupation, sexual orientation, disease, physical or mental disability, belief, political view or socio-economical class”
This morning I decided to try and break Ynet’s laws. I found this short interview with MK Ahmed Tibi – taken from Yedioth Ahronoth’s magazine for men, “Blazer” – and I sent the following fascist comment (my Italic):
“Ahmed Tibi is a typical Arab. He might talk nicely, but that only makes him more dangerous. If he could, he would exterminate us all. The problem is that for now he can’t, so, with the help of the left, he uses Israeli Democracy to destroy us all. When will we understand that all the Arabs are a threat to the state of Israel and to the life of each and every one of us? This is a Jewish state – that means a state for Jews only. It is time we start to act to defend ourselves”.
Well guess what? My comment got published (no. 330, under the nick “Avner”), and I don’t think the police will be coming for me soon. If they do, they’ll need to locate the authors of most of the other 535 comments for this article (at the time of writing) – some of them make mine look extremely mild.
How can this be? It is clear that a similar comment against Jews, Blacks or Gays wouldn’t pass the monitor. Furthermore, I had my little experiment on Ynet not just because it is the most important news site in Israel, but also since it is known to have a very strict comments policy. Other sites will allow things which Ynet wouldn’t. And even on Ynet, one can describe all the Arabs as an existential threat to Jews, and to call for collective action against them – and pass for a legitimate side in a debate (and it wasn’t even a real debate, just a profile of an Arab MK in a men’s’ magazine). On other articles you can find worse examples – expressions of joy over the murder of civilians, specific calls for violence, etc.
What I write here is “a non-story” for most Israelis. We are used to this kind of talk, Same as the “death to all Arabs” graffiti around the country, or the army T-shirts Haartez reported about recently. This kind of hate-talk, which used to exist for years only in the ranks of the illegitimate extreme-right, is now well within the Israeli mainstream. And very few people seem to care. If you understand this, you understand how Liberman got to be our Foreign Minister. It wasn’t despite his racist talk, but rather because of it.
And there is another point I’d like to make: In the last few years, there is a growing industry aimed at exposing anti-Semitism and incitement in the Palestinian society. While I don’t deny this phenomena, it is important to appreciate – especially for Israel’s devoted supporters – that there is more than one side to this story.
UPDATE: following a comment from Peter (see below), I tried to send a similar comment to Ynet, targeting a different group. I found this article, presenting some of the New MKs in the Knesset, among them Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, who is openly gay (and a leftist). Under the nick Avner – who seems to becoming my racist alter-ego – I tried to post the following:
Nitzan Horowitz the Gay. All gays are perverts and a danger to the the people of Israel. If they could, they would make us all like them. Jews beware and watch for your kids. When will we understand that and start treat them?
As you can see, I tried to make the content of the comment as similar as possible to the one I sent to the article with Tibi. Naturally, gay-bashing does not legitimate racism against Arabs, but it doesn’t really matter, since up to now, my comment wasn’t published.
There is another thing worth noticing here: the number of the comments to the Tibi article is very high – 626 by now, with the absolute majority being explicitly racist or Anti-Arabs. This goes to show not only that racism against Arabs is fair game in Israel, but that there are many people eager to express such views.