Why 36,000 Israelis joined Facebook campaign calling for revenge

Tens of thousands of Israelis joined a Facebook group that called for incitement against Palestinians, as part of a larger trend of right-wing Israeli and settler violence

An Israeli soldier holds up a sign in Hebrew reading: "The Israeli people demand revenge."

In light of Wednesday’s suspected retributive killing of a Palestinian teenager and Tuesday’s funeral for three kidnapped Israeli boys, Israelis turned to social media to advocate for conflicting responses. 

In two days, more than 36,000 Israelis joined a Facebook page entitled, “the Israeli people demand revenge,” in a call for military action and violence against Palestinians. The Facebook outpouring was troubling to some Israeli officials who see it as part of a growing groundswell of Israeli right-wing vandalism and incitement to violence in recent months.

The "revenge" Facebook group members took “selfies” of themselves displaying racist signs or appearing in Israeli Defense Forces uniform with TAR-21 assault rifles. Some scrawled vengeful mottos on their torsos and hands.

Many users uploading photos were teenagers and currently serving in the IDF. Two girls took a picture as they held a sign saying, “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.” Others posted messages threatening Arab members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Tuesday night, hundreds of Israelis staged a street march through Jerusalem, chanting "death to Arabs" as stunned bystanders looked on. 

This social media campaign resembled a similar demand in April, when thousands of Israelis supported a soldier who was disciplined for pointing his gun at a Palestinian teenager in Hebron.

The Facebook group comes on the heels of increasing vigilante violence against Palestinians, as part of the so-called price-tag movement. Last year, the United States Department of State classified such attacks as terrorist acts.

As The Christian Science Monitor has reported, the "nationalist vandalism, known as "price-tag” attacks, began about six years ago in an attempt to demonstrate that there would be a cost for Israeli government policies seen as undermining Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Young ideological settlers are widely believed to be the main perpetrators. Their formative years growing up in the West Bank were shaped by Israel’s 2005 evacuation of all 8,000-plus Israelis from the Gaza Strip – a deeply divisive move that eroded settlers’ faith in the government.

A year ago the police marshaled the resources of the 1,000-strong Lahav 433 unit, originally set up to deal with organized crime, to focus more specifically on price-tag incidents by tapping phones, collecting intelligence, and tracking suspects. They augmented that six months ago with special 30-man units in each of Israel’s seven police districts that deal exclusively with price-tag incidents.

But because the vandalism is classified as crime rather than terrorism, the bar for conducting searches and arrests is high, and evidence is hard to obtain because perpetrators often act alone.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the controversial "revenge" group was removed from Facebook.

Other Israelis set up a dueling Facebook page to call for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Arabs.  Event organizers held a rally “against violence and racism” in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square, then marched to the Prime Minister’s residence.

A few members of parliament addressed the 700-person crowd, according to Brian Reeves, a graduate student attending the protest. They included the head of the opposition Labor Party, Isaac Herzog.

According to Haaretz, the IDF released a statement condemning the social media campaign and promising to punish participating soldiers.

"If soldiers are involved in sending racist photographs and in calling on harming the innocent… every case made known to the commanders will be handled with utmost severity.”

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