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October 20, 2015

This Intifada is in Your Social Media Feed

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel Blog

The knife, brandished in the air and dripping with blood, is the icon of the current wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis. This visual is the new symbol celebrating the seemingly non-stop proliferation of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis – many of them stabbings – and incites more hate, more terror, more violence to an audience primed to act on it.

“The Social Media Intifada” is the title being used for the current spate of terror attacks, featured on Facebook and other social media platforms, where Palestinian attackers are celebrated as martyrs, heroes and even as victims of Israeli brutality. On Twitter, potential terrorists are exhorted to stab and kill Jews. Videos of Muslim preachers calling for attacks on Jews (one while holding a knife),even instructional videos on how to stab effectively, go viral. Proliferating on social media are cartoons of attacks on Israelis and allegations of a Jewish/Israeli conspiracy to take over the Al Aqsa mosque.

Palestinian incitement to violence isn’t new, but the medium and the method is. During previous periods of Palestinian violence – such as the Second Intifada – we saw calls for violence and widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Public squares, parks and schools were named in honor of those who perpetrated terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Popular songs celebrated the attackers. But behind most of the prior violent chapters of the conflict, it was the Palestinian leadership – the PLO, Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and others – who were promoting and enabling the hate-filled messages and the violent action. Last Autumn, while social media emerged as a means of celebrating and encouraging violence against Israelis, its impact was limited.

To be sure, in this current period, PA President Abbas and other leadership are poisoning the atmosphere with incendiary rhetoric. His fantastical allegation last week that Israel had “executed” a Palestinian boy – who was in reality being treated in an Israeli hospital after stabbing a 13-year-old riding his bicycle near his Jerusalem home – is only the most recent example.

However, at present, Israeli security experts say social media – not Palestinian leaders – is the primary force driving the violence. The incitement, the misinformation, and the hate that inspire the stabbings, shootings, rock throwing and car ramming attacks are spreading via smart phone — and constantly. Terrorists who were killed mid-attack are upheld as heroes and martyrs, their deadly actions ignored.

And, yes, there are also Israelis who are posting hate-filled incendiary messages, including calls for “death to Arabs” and a “second Nakba.” While there have been only a handful of violent attacks by Israelis against Arabs in recent weeks, the risk of more Israeli violence increases as this crisis goes on.

Social media can mobilize for good and for evil. Democratic forces in the Jasmine Revolution and Tahrir Square used Twitter and Facebook to organize against authoritarian rule in the Arab Spring. Viral videos of people dumping ice water on their heads raised millions to find a cure for ALS. Social media has raised public awareness of a plethora of social justice issues – from #BringBackOurGirls to #BlackLivesMatter. But social media has also enabled ISIS and other extremist terrorist groups and their supporters to recruit youth from around the world to join their violent cause. And on this side of the ledger, we can add the current wave of violence.

ADL promotes two approaches to address this problem: removing incendiary speech and challenging hate speech with good speech. For years, we have been working with social media companies to improve policies and protocols for the removal of content that incites violence or bigotry, content that is contrary to the companies’ terms of service. But we also promote counter-speech, where activists and all concerned people use social media to condemn violence, to urge moderation, and even to try to dissuade potential terrorists before they move to action.

The reality is, what happens online reflects what’s going on in society. In order for counter-speech to be an effective tool addressing the “social media Intifada,” those with influence, whether in the online world or in world capitols, need to condemn Palestinian incitement and terrorism clearly and unequivocally. Internet users who come across calls for violence online, should report it immediately to the internet provider (see our guide to learn how). In many cases, such content violates their terms of service and the page will be removed.

The social media companies we work with are making good faith efforts to enforce their policies, but the content that appears online cannot be divorced from real-world hate. It is still too early to know how this current chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will develop. Let’s hope responsible voices and action prevail.

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June 9, 2014

Hamas-Fatah Unity Deal Raises Many Questions

On Monday June 2nd, a transitional Palestinian unity government was sworn in based on an agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas. The government, which is headed by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, consists of representatives from Fatah and so-called independent “technocrats” who appear to be not directly affiliated with Hamas. The agreement requires elections to be held within six months.

Although the US administration rushed to publicly say it “would work with” the new government, even they have acknowledged there are many questions regarding the practical implications and viability of this unity government. After all, similar past reconciliations, including the 2011 Cairo Accord and 2012 Doha Declaration, both of which are cited as a basis for parts of the current agreement, quickly fell apart.

Hamas Flag

Hamas Flag

At this very early stage, it is foolish to predict how the arrangement will work in practice, and especially whether free and fair Palestinian elections will indeed be held in six months. In fact, in the days since the agreement was signed, there have been public disputes over financial issues between Hamas and Fatah, and security forces of both parties have detained and arrested officials from the other. Hamas retains its control over a highly trained and well-armed terrorist paramilitary force, and an arsenal of rockets and missiles which it has used to target Israeli civilians. Will the Palestinian Authority security forces be deployed in Gaza and will Hamas lay down its weapons? If not, how can the pledge by President Abbas to adhere to the Quartet conditions be taken seriously?

Middle East analyst Ehud Yaari argues that by entering into the unity agreement, Hamas is following the so-called Hezbollah model. Similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas gets political legitimacy and maintains its intimidating and brutally effective military force through their Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade. Indeed, Hamas’s security forces are larger and better equipped than the Palestinian Authority’s, and the unity agreement makes no mention of Hamas disarming the al-Qassam Brigade.

Other difficult questions about the unity agreement that remain murky include what role the so-called technocrats will play in setting policy for the new government, how much influence Hamas’s leadership will actually have in the Palestinian Authority’s policy making, and if or how financial support to the PA from the US and other international donors will be applied in Hamas’s stronghold over Gaza.

Regarding the independent technocrats, there are likely two reasons why Palestinian President Abbas decided to include them as opposed to actual Hamas officials. First, Abbas calculated that the US and others in the international community would almost certainly reject a Palestinian government which included Hamas, a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. And second, there are internal Fatah concerns about granting Hamas significant influence within the Palestinian Authority, and how it could undermine Abbas and Fatah’s standing among Palestinians.

Yet even without its direct participation, Hamas’s backing of the new government raises serious questions about President Abbas’s desire and ability to pursue a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite Palestinian Authority claims that Hamas’s acquiescence to the unity government is sufficient to establish its acceptance of the international community’s criteria for engagement – which includes renouncing terror against Israel, acknowledging Israel’s right to exist and accepting existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements – no senior Hamas official has ever made such a public pronouncement. In fact, when asked recently about the unity deal, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stated emphatically that Hamas would continue its “resistance” efforts against Israel, even in the face of an agreement.

Thus far, the US administration has little or nothing to say about all of these open questions.

One last big question remains – what if new elections are held in the next six months and Hamas wins again, just as it did in 2006?

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May 2, 2014

Iran Weekly: Selected News & Developments

The fol­low­ing is a selec­tion of news reports and com­men­tary from Iran­ian media and main­stream pub­li­ca­tions on devel­op­ments per­tain­ing to Iran. This weekly update includes a sam­pling of pub­lished reports from Iran’s Farsi-language media* as well as rel­e­vant arti­cles from the inter­na­tional press.

Iran­ian Media

The IRGC’s missiles are in desirable readiness*
(Fars News Agency – April 30, 2014)

In a meeting Wednesday with the IRGC Council of Ashura Commanders, IRGC Commander Mohammad Jafari said, “In terms of military and security readiness, our missiles are in very good shape; however, the IRGC’s primary objective is to be prepared in faith, and this factor makes the IRGC the superior among the world’s armies.”

P5+1 negotiations with Iran have been breathless*
(Fars News Agency – April 30, 2014)

Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi said during a press conference on the status of the nuclear negotiations that, “The future of the negotiations at present are heading toward the direction of a comprehensive [settlement], and talks are sensitive, because the primary issues have not yet been resolved. For now, we cannot directly assess the final outcome of the talks.”

Iran is not after creating tensions in the region*
(Fars News Agency – April 30, 2014)

Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani said during a speech marking National Persian Gulf Day, “The Persian Gulf is a very important issue, and if we and our neighboring countries have the correct approach, we could earn a lot of interest from it… Today, the presence of foreign ships [in the Gulf] have created implications.” Larijani added that Iran has “not been after any tensions in the region and we will not be. The security and calm of the region is of benefit for all, especially for Iran.”

ayatollah-noori-hamadani-iran

Ayatollah Noori Hamadani

America does not dare attack Iran due to its fear of the IRGC*
(Basij News Agency – April 30, 2014)

Ayatollah Noori Hamadani, a senior cleric from the city of Qom, said during a meeting with commanders and representatives of the Supreme Leader, that, “The policies of the IRGC have frightened America and the world, and we must promote the spirit of jihad and martyrdom-seeking in society, especially among the youth.”

September 11 was an excuse for America to get closer to the region*
(Mehr News Agency – April 30, 2014)

Nader Talebzadeh, secretary of Iran’s annual International Resistance Film Festival, praised the 2012 film “Operation Terror” by former California mayor Art Olivier, as presenting the “truth” about the 9/11 attacks. During a review panel of the film, Talebzadeh said, “In the first sequence of this film, the September 11th events [orchestrated] by the American government are disclosed…”

Iran welcomes Fatah-Hamas Deal
(Fars News Agency – April 26, 2014)

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham released the following statement on recent Palestinian reconciliation efforts: “The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes the Palestinian groups’ solidarity against the Zionist regime and any national reconciliation which leads to Palestinian unity and adoption of decisions in line with the materialization of that nation’s valuable causes against the expansionism and aggressions of the Quds Occupying Regime (Israel).”

Inter­na­tional Media

A bold move
(The Economist – April 30, 2014)

The long awaited second round of cuts to subsidies on gasoline and electricity have been implemented by President Hassan Rouhani. Gasoline prices were raised by 75%, from $0.16 to $0.28 per liter.

U.S. targets Chinese businessman, says he supplied parts for Iranian missiles
(CNN – April 29, 2014)

New sanctions and criminal charges were announced by the U.S. against a Chinese businessman accused of supplying the Iranian military with parts for ballistic missiles.

Tehran book fair to feature works by anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers
(Access ADL – April 29, 2014)

An annual book fair in Tehran will include domestic and foreign-published anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying books available to the public.

Iran to target decoy US aircraft in drills
(The Washington Post – April 27, 2014)

Admiral Ali Fadavi of the IRGC’s Naval Forces announced that Iranian forces should “target the [mock-up U.S. aircraft] carrier” in upcoming war games training. Fadavi added that the exercise will allow the IRGC to “learn about weaknesses and strengths of our enemy.”

Meaningful progress with Iran
(The New York Times, Editorial Board – April 26, 2014)

A look into the successes, and shortcomings, of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West as the July deadline for a final agreement approaches.

Iran general urges Tehran to make new UN pick
(The Washington Post – April 19, 2014)

Officials from the Iranian military have urged the foreign ministry to name a new envoy to the United Nations after the U.S. block granting a visa to the Islamic Republic’s original ambassador over alleged ties to the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.

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