An official at Israel’s Population Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) committed suicide on Saturday after a Facebook post that accused him of racism — a claim which he disputed — became popular and was shared thousands of times.
Shortly before taking his own life, Ariel Ronis wrote in a Facebook post that he had been wronged by the masses, told his side of the story, and urged people to consider the effects of their actions and words on social media.
The incident shone a light on the problematic, sometimes devastating effects of social media “shaming.”
In a post that gained popularity last week, a black Israeli woman wrote of her experiences at a PIBA office in Tel Aviv, where she felt her treatment had been tinged with racism.
She recounted arriving at the office with her three young children to obtain a passport for her son, only to meet an incredibly long line of people waiting their turn. She was then told by a young couple of a second short queue for parents with young children. When she attempted to join this line, however, she was rebuffed by the clerk, who told her to go stand at the regular line.
The woman did so, but then looked on in shock as several other mothers with children — all of them white, she noted — were quickly served by the clerk. “I came to the counter and asked Eti (the clerk) how this could be. Her answer was ‘What you’re doing is improper, go back to the end of the line.'”
The woman then asked to speak with the manager, Ronis. “I told him exactly what happened, and that I felt I was being discriminated against due to my skin color… that all I ask is to be treated equally to all the other mothers who come in, no more but no less.
“He told me that if I was complaining of discrimination I should ‘get out of his sight,'” she said. The woman added that the incident caused her to cry and lamented what she said was an ongoing feeling of racist attitudes in society, and now by the state as well.
In his post to Facebook on Saturday shortly before his death, Ronis, a former high-ranking official in the Shin Bet internal security service, wrote that the accusations of racism had injured him deeply.
“Two days ago a woman came to the office to get service,” he recounted. “At the time I was assisting other people. She demanded the service immediately and instantly began shouting that not receiving it was racism.”
He had always espoused treating all people equally, regardless of religion or origin, he explained, even publishing a book on the subject and forming an organization dedicated to “equality between all citizens, especially minorities, and their integration into a homogenous Israeli society.
“And here this woman was accusing me of racism. I told her to stop right there. I would not have her take that route. Not in my office. There is a queue for mothers with small children and she must stand in that queue like all the other mothers. Not everything you want but don’t get is racism,” he said.
“From that moment on began a process that should be studied in every communications school,” Ronis wrote. “It was not long before I got a phone call from the public complaints division. After a few hours a (Facebook) post appeared as well as an article on (Israeli Facebook group) Mamazone, an interview (on Channel 10) and a whole media cricus. Not two days later the post had over 6,000 shares, each of them a sharpened arrow in my flesh. Me? A racist?” he wrote.
“All of my work over the course of my entire life was swept away instantly, ended momentarily by someone asked to stand in line like everyone else,” he said. “The sharers continued… to fire their arrows at me, not stopping for a moment to question (themselves).
“I hardly blame them. I too would have been appalled at such a post and perhaps would have clicked my tongue and shared (it) self-righteously, without considering the consequences,” he added.
Ronis said he could not stand the fact that his good name had been sullied, and was now “synonymous with the most terrible designation imaginable in my case — racism.”
He concluded that he was “not angry” at his accuser but said that while she may have gotten over her perceived ordeal, “I am not able to. Goodbye!”
After Ronis was found dead at his home, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin wrote on Facebook that he knew him well and that nothing could be more hurtful to him then accusations of racism.
“The personal and media attacks on him, without proper examination, are simply horrifying,” Diskin wrote. Ronis, he said “is entirely the wrong target for such an attack on the web and in the media.”
Diskin expressed hope that “when the facts are made clear, those same tongue waggers will do some deep soul searching.”
As for the woman, she wrote on Sunday: “This morning I woke up to one of the worst pieces of news I had ever heard. I am dreadfully sorry for the loss of life. For years I have experienced discrimination in Israel. On the only occasion in which I told my story a man was hurt. There is no one more sorry than me. If I could (go back), I would have remained silent this time as well.”