Marwa Fatafta’s Twitter mentions were flooded.
When violence escalated in Israel-Palestine earlier this month, Fatafta, who is Palestinian and works as a policy analyst for an online think tank focused on Palestinian human rights in Berlin, had been posting photographs. and stories about families killed in the Gaza Strip 14,000 followers. In response, she was being trolled. Some of the hate speech, which the Palestinians described as their “terrorists,” came from far-right Israeli accounts. But many appeared to be from India: Fatafta said they had Indian names and the Indian flag on their usernames.
“It seemed like all these ethno-nationalists from India and Israel were coming together,” Fatafta told BuzzFeed News. “It was a fascinating phenomenon. The people of India had not trolled me before. “
As deadly violence in which the Israeli army killed 248 Palestinians and Hamas killed 13 Israelis and ended the ceasefire, hate speeches against Jews online has gone up, as has the anti-Semite violence.
But the conflict has also sparked a wave of hate speech and misinformation online against Muslims around the world. A full page ad in the New York Times accused pop star Dua Lipa and anti-Semitism models Gigi and Bella Hadid. Last week, the Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby, posted Facebook ads which superimposed the face of Representative Ilhan Omar on Hamas rockets, with the imprecise facts caption: “When Israel targets Hamas, Representative Omar calls it an act of terrorism.” Official Twitter account in Arabic language of Israel he angered the Muslims by tweeting verses from the Koran along with the image of an Israeli airstrike on Gaza (this tweet has since been deleted).
This conflict in the Middle East could provoke waves of hatred and lies against Muslims is not new. But what is new is the source: India. In the world’s largest democracy, anti-Muslim hatred has steadily become commonplace, both online and offline. Just a year ago, politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and dozens of news channels accused a concentration of the Tablighi Jamaat, an international Islamic missionary group, of deliberate diffusion of the coronavirus in India after more than 4,000 cases they were linked to this. At the time, #CoronaJihad was one of the most popular Twitter topics in the region.
On Saturday, First Draft News, a UK-based non-profit organization investigating misinformation, published an analysis of more than 300,000 tweets related to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. They found a campaign that contained thousands of tweets and hashtags that appeared to have been created in India, one of Twitter’s key markets.
“As we analyzed the tweets, we noticed that the main hashtags always had some Indian references,” Carlotta Dotto, chief data journalist for First Draft, told BuzzFeed News. “It caught my eye.”
Dotto focused on #UnitedAgainstJehad, an intentionally misspelled hashtag that was mentioned more than 40,000 times by nearly 6,000 accounts between May 12-17. The analysis showed that the hashtag was in the center of one coordinated campaign with the aim of making it fashionable, accompanied by troops on Muslims that Hindu Hindu nationalists have scattered for years, such as estimate jihad, an unfounded conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage. Ten percent of the accounts that used the tag were created in May.
“It was clear that they were using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to promote their own narratives on Twitter in India and around the world, given the amount of attention being put online,” Dotto said.
Although India had previously tended to avoid getting involved in the region, relations between India and Israel improved dramatically with Modi, who became the first Indian prime minister to visit the country in 2017. partly, this is because the leaders of both countries are conservative nationalists. In addition, India’s rights are based on its country’s long-standing rivalry with neighboring Pakistan.
“India’s right wing finds Israel fascinating for multiple reasons,” Jency Jacob, managing editor of Boom, a leading Indian fact-control organization, told BuzzFeed News. “It is a small country surrounded by Muslim neighbors that is fighting against it. It has a strong leader who is focused on protecting its borders.”
“Whenever there is tension between an Islamic country and any other country, the far-right ecosystem gravitates towards those on the non-Muslim side,” Jacob added. “For them, it is a natural aggression that reveals all their prejudices about Muslims in general.”
Members of India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata and his supporters have seized on the conflict. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, spokesman for the BJP, he called Islam was a “virus” that “generated terrorism in the world” and said, “Israel is the vaccine for this virus, please support Israel.” He too claimed that Muslims believe that “religion is greater than the nation.” Each of Bagga’s tweets got thousands of retweets and I like it. Hundreds of messages of denunciation against Muslims were also forwarded via WhatsApp, Facebook’s proprietary instant messaging app used by hundreds of millions of Indians.
“Most #IndiaStandWithIsrael tweet managers checked”, he tweeted Rana Ayyub, a high-profile Indian journalist often targeted by supporters of the far right Modi. “A common thread that runs through is visceral hatred of Muslims and a desire for blood to see how Muslims are massacred and show their place.”
As watch dogs in Israel he struggled to keep up with the huge hatred and lies, his counterparts outside the country didn’t find it easy either. Boom, for example, has almost verified the facts two dozen stories, some of whom painted the Palestinians as if they were feigning their anguish.
“It’s become one of our big topics,” Jacob told BuzzFeed News.
One of the pieces of misinformation falsely portrayed a funeral drill organized in 2020 by young Jordanians to evade the coronavirus closure while Palestinians feigned a funeral for “international sympathy.” Another viral clip he tried to let himself pass a 2017 report on Palestinian makeup artists as Palestinian residents simulating injuries during the current conflict.
“Repression is transnational,” Fatafta said. “Islamophobia is the common denominator here.”