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Israel’s War on Facts and the Infographic Intifada

Saturday 5 June 2021, by siawi3

Source: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/tech-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-israel-s-war-on-facts-and-the-infographic-intifada-1.9850492?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=daily-brief&utm_content=7e7f2600da

Israel’s War on Facts and the Infographic Intifada

From fake news by official Israeli spokespeople to misleading Instagram infographics by purported pro-Palestinians accounts, both sides weaponized facts in this round of Gaza fighting

Image: The key48 post, reposetd by Diet Prada on Instagram.

Omer Benjakob

May. 27, 2021

The Israel Defense Forces spokesperson lied to international media two weeks ago. In what it later described as a mistake, the IDF announced – in English only – that it had begun a ground offensive in Gaza. The land invasion was imaginary, but it was part of a ploy to get Hamas fighters to go underground ahead of a very real aerial attack that night on Gaza’s system of subterranean tunnels. Though the IDF apologized, the incident was only one example of how the Israeli army weaponizes facts – especially in English – as part of its strategy.

Indeed, it seems that as Israel and Hamas keep fighting the same conflict again and again, the only battle being fought with any real passion is over facts.

What was once called hasbara or public diplomacy (or propaganda, depending on your perspective) now has a clear name in the post-Trump age: Disinformation. Enlisting the truth and weaponizing facts have long been staples of warfare – and are certainly nothing new in the context of Israel and its war against so-called Palestinian “delegitimization.” However, this round of fighting has brought both sides and their mouthpieces to new lows in terms of flagrant disregard for veracity.

While official Twitter and Facebook pages belonging to Israel spread blatantly one-sided information online in English in the form of memes and emojis that inspired John Oliver’s wrath, others just flatly pushed out fake news.

LISTEN: Israel’s goalless war on Gaza and what John Oliver got right

For example, Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic spokesperson, published a video purporting to show “evidence” of Hamas war crimes. The video, which shows rockets being fired from within a residential area in Gaza, was actually an old clip most likely filmed in either Iraq or Syria, an AFP fact-check revealed.

Netanyahu’s son, Yair Netanyahu, a known firebrand, also posted a video that turned out to be false. The younger Netanyahu posted a clip on Instagram showing “dead bodies,” purportedly of Gazans killed by Israel, suddenly springing back to life. Proof, he said, of how Hamas’ lies and what he termed “Pallywood.” However, the video most likely came from Egypt in 2014. The irony of using a fake video to prove the other side is lying was lost on the prime minister’s son, but it does provide a rich example for how factuality is abandoned in the war of information between Israel, Palestinians and those claiming to speak in their names.

The video, by the way, is still up on the younger Netanyahu’s account.

LISTEN: Israel’s goalless war on Gaza and what John Oliver got right

‘Abandon Israel’: Network of fake accounts tries to demoralize Israelis during Gaza war
Facebook sets up Hebrew, Arabic center to fight incitement during Gaza flare-up

On the Palestinian side, resistance to Israel’s war of disinformation manifested as what can be termed as an infographic intifada – political memes and other visual attempts to counter the Israeli narrative with snappy and simplistic Instagram slideshows or decks.

Many of these infographics contained classic Palestinian talking points, while others veered into disinformation, if not actual propaganda for Hamas, the undemocratic ruler of Gaza which makes up only one half of the political parties within Palestinian politics.

The main image of this infographic resistance was the slideshow created by the Instagram page Key48 and shared by the likes of Bella Hadid and even the influential fashion page Diet Prada.

The image recasts the conflict in terms more palpable to young Americans, showing a young woman of color explaining the core issues of the conflict to her white female friend. However, alongside classic Palestinian talking points, the infographic actually puts forward clear falsehoods: For example, the claim that Palestine as such has always been a sovereign nation state is historically inaccurate regardless of your political sentiments, as is the claim that Israel expelled over 7 million Palestinians as part of the Nakba (the actual number is closer to 700,000).

It is unlikely that the operators of this page or those who shared the post have a full understanding of the conflict. However, it is important to note that spreading politically charged nonfactual claims only spurs nationalistic tension further. Politically, they may actually undermine the Palestinian Authority by enforcing the hardline, uncompromising and unrealistic positions used by Hamas in its internal battles against the PLO.

The biggest lie

Tellingly, Facebook set up a special command center to deal with “hate speech, threats of violence, incitement and graphic violence” around the conflict. The center is being manned by 80 native Hebrew and Arabic speakers – more than those used to fight coronavirus disinformation, which has been deemed a threat to public health.

Meanwhile, Israel has also made efforts to take down posts it saw as a threat to national security, asking Facebook to remove 600 posts and another 200 from Instagram. It is unclear how many of those requests were granted or for what reason Israel flagged those specific posts.

However, it is clear that disinformation was a key weapon in this round of fighting: Hamas, the watchdog Fake Reporter revealed, operated a network of over 200 accounts pretending to be Israelis. These accounts, which have also yet to be taken down, saw the purported Israelis lamenting about how bad life in Israel was due to the fighting and complaining that the IDF had lost control of the battle.

While a ceasefire has come into effect, these disinformation efforts continue: The Hamas network, it was revealed, was not intended to harm Israeli morale, but rather provide Hamas with screen captures its mouthpieces could share on social media to present the semblance of victory. Using fake accounts to support a fake victory is as ironic perhaps as the post by Yair Netanyahu.

While Facebook, Instagram and to some extent Twitter have methods to deal with such incidents, newer social networks, or at least those operating in a less public way, have turned into battlefields. On Telegram and WhatsApp, messaging services that host closed groups and whose content cannot be tracked, countless fake reports were spread about Jews and Arab mobs out for blood. Again, these baseless reports only helped stoke very real social tensions within Israel.

On Tiktok, videos of violence spread like wildfire. On Clubhouse, the audio-based social network, there were claims that groups hosting debates about Palestinians were rife with antisemitism. If Twitter can be trusted, there was even a rumor that Hamas’ Khaled Meshal was allowed to host a session on the app.

But perhaps the biggest lie of them all – the one posted by both sides and their proxies – is that this current round of fighting is between Israel and Palestine, and not between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas on the one hand, and those living under their reign of lies on the other. It’s not just the radicals on both sides we need to be wary of – it’s the liars.