There may be many reasons for this perception, some of which contain a grain of truth. But it is highly questionable that the events of the last summer actually brought Israeli society to new heights of racism. We point to two main contributing factors to the perceived spike in racism:
1. Increased use of the Internet and social media.
The Internet has in many senses changed the “rules of the game,” including the viral spread of ideas about racism and xenophobia. Some characteristics relevant to this discussion include:
- Reduction in costs and resources – both on the part of whoever is spreading the information and on the part of the consumer;
- Crossing borders of time and space (information diffusion) – speed, extent and breadth of dispersion;
- The possibility of remaining anonymous or changing identities;
- The ability to bypass accuracy supervision and enforcement mechanisms.
In the first years of the Internet, researchers thought that its inherent anonymity would conceal “race” or membership in a distinct group. In practice, anonymity has not made the phenomenon vanish, but has, rather, reinforced it. Virtual anonymity enables expressions and frictions from the real world to become exaggerated in the online world. Social network users do not have to take responsibility for their contributions (for example they can remain anonymous, use unclear or fictive online profiles, and single individuals can post under multiple online identities).
A systematic analysis of racism in social media is difficult or impossible, both because of the great dynamism that enables material to be uploaded and removed at the push of a button, and because of the vast quantity of information to be surveyed. Most reports and analyses on the subject of online racism, in Israel and throughout the world, do not present quantitative statistical analyses, but qualitative ones, i.e., specific examples cited in pointing out the phenomena. However, an increasing number of studies and papers indicate an increase of the phenomena and its consequences. Since 2013, the Coalition against Racism in Israel has published an annual report that includes examples of racism on the Internet. These examples are anecdotal and cannot reveal the true picture. In their report for 2014 (which does not relate to Operation Protective Edge), only ten salient examples were discussed.
The Ministry of Public Security does include racist offenses and hate crimes as part of the list of examples of common Internet crimes.23 However, at the time of this writing, the ministry has no specific program for uncovering or handling the problem of Internet racism, and does not provide data relating to the extent of the phenomenon.
Another possible means of assessing the incidence of racism in Israel is to examine the number of criminal indictments based on Internet publications and statements, mainly in social networks. For instance, regarding the events of the past year, Facebook postings were used by the police to reinforce evidence against suspects in the November 2014 arson attacks on the Bilingual School in Jerusalem.24 In January 2015, a charge was brought in the magistrates’ court in Jerusalem against a resident of the village of Aqab for incitement and support of violence and terror; this was mainly based on texts and photographs the accused posted on his Facebook page.25
2. The Transition from National-Republican Discourse to Universal-Liberal Discourse
Yoav Peled and Gershon Shafir, in their 2005 book, Being Israeli: the Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, distinguish between three citizenship discourses: republicanism, liberalism, and ethno-nationalism. The republican discourse gives moral preference to the group or society over the individual. According to the liberal view, the individual takes priority, and his or her interests are to be protected, mainly against injury by other individuals or the state. According to their analysis, the roots of the political culture and constitutional arrangements in Israel were republican – belonging to the Jewish national-ethnic group was an essential condition of membership in the political community, and the collective was central to it (though membership to one degree or another was also extended to non-Jewish groups who contributed to the collective good such as the Druze.) In recent decades, a significant trend of change has taken place, in Israel in particular, and in the Western world in general: neo-liberal economics and policy; becoming part of the global economy; and the sanctification of the rights of the individual.26 These important fluctuations in discourse and ideology challenge existing beliefs and worldviews. Beliefs, events, and behaviors, not thought of as discrimination or racism in the past, have come to be perceived in Israeli and global discourse as problematic. In addition, it can be maintained that to a certain degree, groups with post-Zionist agendas also take advantage of the liberal-universal discourse in order to attack the Jewish-national character of the State of Israel and its institutions, to present Israel as discriminatory and racist, and to advance an agenda of “a state of all its citizens” or a bi-national state.