Ever since the first protesters in Cairo and Tripoli used Facebook and Twitter to kick off the overthrow of their despotic regimes, the power of social media to effect change has been known and feted to no small degree. Now Israel has its own social media revolt, over a punishment apparently meted out to a soldier who threatened a West Bank Palestinian, and by Thursday the protest had migrated from the walls of Facebook to the front pages of Israel’s major dailies.
All three feature prominent stories on the protest, sparked when an IDF soldier was disciplined around the same time that video emerged of him threatening a Palestinian and a cameraman in Hebron. Despite the fact that it later emerged that the soldier was punished for an earlier, unrelated incident (threatening his commander), soldiers across the country rallied to his defense, posting pictures saying that they are with David the Nahalawi (a nickname for somebody from the Nahal Brigade).
Yedioth Ahronoth writes that the protest is an outgrowth of a larger feeling of frustration among soldiers in the territories that they have little legroom when dealing with rowdy Palestinians, and that they felt sold down the river when the video was aired on Israeli TV with the army spokesman taking a harsh stance against it.
“The essence of the criticism was directed at the behavior of the army’s media regime. Right after the video was aired on Channel 10, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit sent a message saying ‘the behavior of the soldier was out of line, did not meet our expectations of him.’ In the eyes of many Internet users, this stance showed a lack of support for soldiers in the field, and a day after the video was published, the Spokesman’s Unit changed its version of the incident several times.”
Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that the social media campaign in defense of the soldier shows just how much the Internet has changed the ability of the army to control the message, and brass in the Defense Headquarters may be falling behind.
“In this era there are almost no barriers between the soldier in the field and the expression of his opinions online. If once a soldier depended on a token for the public telephone and later needed his mother to call Israel Radio military correspondent Carmela Menashe, today it’s all a click away on the smartphone,” he writes. “Many soldiers are skilled enough to hide their identity, thus preventing the army from punishing them for making public statements breaching IDF regulations. This is a whole new ball park, whose rules the IDF is just beginning to learn. Meanwhile, it seems the soldiers are a few steps ahead of their commanders.”
Israel Hayom takes another tack, leading off with the IDF’s response to the whole hullabaloo, namely that military policy is not determined via status message or selfie. The paper, in a seeming effort to downplay the gravity of the protest, calls the campaign a “battle for the like,” referring to the Facebook button.
Yoav Limor, however, writing in those same august pages, says that instead of dismissing the protest the army would do well to pay attention and treat the campaign as a serious threat to its authority. “This was the army’s first Facebook protest. However, as opposed to past incidents over the web, such as videos of soldiers dancing uploaded to YouTube or pictures of female soldiers with their unit insignias over their privates, this time we are not talking about an amusing trifle, but an incident that can undermine the foundation of the military. If the IDF does not manage to deal with this trend, it will quickly grow and place the army in front of a real threat that will unsettle its foundations.”
Price tag freebies
Of course, real threats are already manifesting themselves, on real walls, in the form of racist “price tag” graffiti. The northern Arab town of Fureidis, which had its mosque vandalized on Tuesday, decided not to take the attack lying down. It organized protests and a general strike on Wednesday, which drew top politicians to express their regret.
But though platitudes against the phenomenon are great, the papers note Thursday that little has been done on the ground to combat the extremists carrying them out, or bring them to justice. Yedioth leads its coverage with an American report on worldwide terrorism, which it calls the “American price tag,” noting that the report includes the analysis that incidents have moved from the West Bank into Israel proper, and that attacks against Palestinians have gone largely unpunished.
The paper’s package includes a depressing timeline of all the incidents since November and a commentary from Zohir Bahlul, who notes, as a million have before him, that the extremists, even more than just taking petty revenge over whatever has their goat, are shooting for an endgame of open conflict between Jews and Arabs.
“An intifada is on the way, God forbid,” he writes. “It starts with a subliminal price tag attack, but it can continue to the murder of an Arab or the blowing up of a mosque. And then, like in a Greek tragedy, the victim will become the accused.”
In Haaretz, Jack Khoury accuses Israeli authorities of dragging their feet instead of going after perpetrators, which they very well could do, he says: “Instead of solved cases and severe sentences for the perpetrators, what we have is security camera footage showing more and more masked figures appearing in the dead of night, spraying graffiti, puncturing tires, setting fire and leaving in seconds. The police also have access to this footage, but so far without any results. … As long as no arrests are made and no suspects brought to trial, there’s no deterrence and no confidence.”
Israel Hayom: Isn’t Israel Hayom the best?
Israel Hayom, meanwhile, gives short shrift to the story, instead devoting two whole pages to what it says is the real threat to democracy: a lack of Israel Hayom. The paper musters all its forces against a proposed law that would prohibit free dailies (read: Israel Hayom), even hoping to set off its own viral campaign by noting that thousands and thousands have already liked Israel Hayom on Facebook and that you should too.
And in case you had any doubt about how popular the paper is (and unpopular the law, which it accuses Yedioth publisher Nuni Mozes of pulling the puppet strings on), it publishes an extra-long man-on-the-street survey in the settlement of Ariel. Not surprisingly, 12 out of 12 respondents express displeasure when asked the not-at-all leading question of “What do you think of the proposed law that will hurt Israel Hayom and return the monopoly to Yedioth Ahronoth?”
“Chutzpa. There’s no other word for it,” responds Sarit Shevach. “Israel Hayom is a quality paper that presents all viewpoints. It’s not too left and not too right.”
One man not afraid of being called too left, Gideon Levy, takes to Haaretz’s op-ed page to come to the defense of John Kerry and his Israel apartheid comment. Kerry was right to use the term and wrong to retract it, he says: “How unfriendly to Israel he is to retract his frank, genuine and friendly warning merely for fear of the lobby. Now millions of ignorant Americans, viewers of Fox News and its ilk, know that Israel is in no risk of becoming an apartheid state.”