Facebook suspended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s page for 24 hours after it sent a racist and vile message warning of Arabs who ‘want to exterminate us all.’ With the upcoming Israeli election polls on the 17th September, Netanyahu is seeking to attract the support of far-right voters who fear Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Facebook said, “After careful review of the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy. We also found that the bot was misusing the platform in the time period allowed to contact people. Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action.”
The Facebook page, which has 2.4 million followers, warned of the danger of any coalition “with Lapid and Odeh, Gantz and Lieberman, a secular, weak leftist government formed by Arabs who want to exterminate us all, children, women, and men. This government will allow Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb to destroy us all.”
During a radio interview with Kan Beshet Bet Radio, Netanyahu blamed an employee for writing the post, denying any involvement despite his previous hateful rhetoric towards Palestinians. He has also in the past repeatedly used scare tactics, warning that Arab-Israeli voters plan to commit fraud during upcoming polls, despite having no evidence at all.
On Election Day in 2015, with exit polls suggesting Netanyahu’s party might lose, he posted on social media that Arab voters are being “bussed to the polling places in droves.” Furthermore on Election Day in April 2019, the Likud party targeted Arab areas, putting 1300 cameras in polling stations to intimidate voters. This resulted in the lowest turnout of Palestinian voters in decades.
The suspension from Facebook comes after Netanyahu announced he would annex large areas of the occupied Palestinian territories if re-elected.
Before Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, the Russian foreign ministry condemned his Jordan Valley proposal:
“We share concerns about such plans from the Israeli leadership, the implementation of which could sharply escalate tensions in the region, undermine hope for establishing a long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.”
The head of the Arab Joint List party, Ayman Odeh, labelled Netanyahu a “psychopath”, and bought the racist post to Facebook’s attention:
We went directly to Facebook and demanded that they stop giving a platform to Netanyahu’s dangerous incitement, and today we are seeing the results.”
However Facebook suspended the automated chat bot for only 24 hours, which brings into question whether they are really taking the major breach to hate speech seriously enough.
Netanyahu has previously criticised corruption allegations against him as media-led ‘witch hunts’, and relies heavily and desperately on social media to garner support for his votes.
There has been an outcry with many accusing Netanyahu of inciting hatred including Yossi Verter, a columnist for Haaretz newspaper, who said the Facebook scandal, was the “nadir” of what was “the nastiest, most racist campaign ever”.
“The plunge to the bottom of the sewer, the dive into the depths of the morass that we’ve seen in the past few weeks – it has all come straight from the top,” wrote Yossi Verter.
There is an air of desperation with Netanyahu battling for political survival as analysts predict a low voter turnout. But the attacks could end up having the opposite effect, motivating the country’s 21% Arab minority to actually go to the polls.