LONDON: Ultranationalist Israelis in recent days have created secret online groups to hide their activities and to organize and spread hate against Arab Israelis.
News sites, including Sky News, have been monitoring the activities of Israeli ultranationalist social media accounts and have reported that the accounts are breeding grounds for hate speech and are being used to organize anti-Arab attacks in Israel.
While some of these groups are currently under review from Facebook, the encrypted messaging app Telegram previously took down a few of the channels, including one with “war group” in its title and another called “Death to Arabs.”
Reports indicated that the attack on an Arab man who was pulled from his car by a mob of right-wing Israelis and beaten in the streets of Bat Yam last week was coordinated on Telegram.
One of the groups shut down by Telegram boasted around 6,000 members who call themselves a civilian army. After it was deactivated, its members reportedly regrouped and formed a different channel that includes more than 400 users.
Usernames on these groups include “Death to Arabs,” “State of Israel,” and “Every Arab killed is a holiday for us.” One member carrying the username “State of Israel” shared an image of a man who had been shot in the head, captioned “Father of all Arabs.”
Another group, called La Familia-Death to Arabs, was linked to La Familia, the far-right, football supporter group of the Israeli Premier League club Beitar Jerusalem. The group was also shut down by Telegram for encouraging members to take to the streets to “bring order” and for inciting violence.
Facebook and WhatsApp groups are also vehicles for inciting violence, with some appearing to be connected to far-right Israeli political party Otzma Yehudit, meaning “Jewish Strength.”
A post on one of these groups reads: “In Lod there is a call for all those who carry a weapon to come asap to Lod to help save Jewish lives. Yes, it’s that bad. I emphasize: ONLY those with weapons!” The page was recently deleted by Facebook.
Most of these groups cannot be accessed without the admin’s approval and require a comprehensive set of security questions to verify prospective users. First, they must offer a photo of themselves with proof of the date and time it was taken and a link to their personal social media.
Then, they must produce a video and a written message in Hebrew vowing support for Israel and affirming a willingness to give their life for the cause. This evidence is then sent to an admin who will invite the user to the private chat.
A spokesperson for Facebook stated that the platform has dedicated teams, comprised of native Arabic and Hebrew speakers, that are “closely monitoring the situation on the ground” and “removing content and accounts that break our rules as quickly as possible.”
“We’re reviewing the accounts shared by Sky News and have already removed one Facebook Group for breaking our rules,” the spokesperson said.