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Arab social media hyper-critical of normalization with Israel, ministry says

Nearly 90 percent of posts about Abraham Accords from the Arab world were negative, according to new report commissioned by Strategic Affairs Ministry

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A woman looks at a caricature by Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj depicting the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, holding a dove with Israel's flag on it, spitting in his face, with Arabic writing referring to Israel's opposition to the sale of US F-35 aircraft to the UAE, on August 27, 2020. (AFP)
A woman looks at a caricature by Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj depicting the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, holding a dove with Israel's flag on it, spitting in his face, with Arabic writing referring to Israel's opposition to the sale of US F-35 aircraft to the UAE, on August 27, 2020. (AFP)

An overwhelming majority of social media posts in the Arab world about Israel’s recent normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were negative, an Israeli government report published on Sunday found.

According to the nine-page report, based on a survey commissioned by the Strategic Affairs Ministry, 81 percent of Arab social media users had “negative” comments about the so-called Abraham Accords, while 8% had “very negative” views. Only 5% viewed them in a positive light.

The survey, conducted between mid-August and mid-September, showed that nearly half of the comments about the Israel-UAE agreement posted in the Arab world — 45% — considered them to be “treason.”

Twenty-seven percent lamented the country’s “interacting with Zionists,” 10% its “hypocrisy” and 5% saw the agreement as Abu Dhabi surrendering to American interests. “Arguments in favor of normalization, which were the minority, highlighted the deal’s advantages in the realms of security (61%), economic feasibility (33%), and the “whitening” of a de facto existing situation (6%),” the ministry said in a statement.

Outgoing Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Blue and White) said the survey’s results point to an “organized attempt to create a negative discourse against the agreements by the anti-peace camp in the Arab world.”

“We stand behind the idea that dialogue and partnership — rather than boycotts — are the means for reaching peace with our neighbors,” she added.

Orit Farkash-Hacohen. (Yanai Yechiel)

“Given the crucial importance of the normalization processes for the future of the Middle East, and in light of the hate speech attack against our recent Gulf partnerships, we will work to promote a long-term positive mindset in Arabic that will present the benefits of peace, while challenging the narrative against it.”

Most Arab social media users in favor of normalization with Israel hailed from Iraq and openly expressed their hope that their own country would follow in the UAE’s and Bahrain’s footsteps, according to the ministry.

“The main protagonists against normalization were found to be accounts associated with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, alongside a series of Palestinian NGOs that promote delegitimization against Israel.”

The hashtags “Normalization is treason” and “Bahrainis against normalization” together had a “potential exposure of over 100 million accounts,” the ministry said further. The use of these hashtags was a “coordinated campaign conducted to produce a semblance of widespread opposition in the Arab world to the agreements in an effort to deter more countries from embracing warmer ties with Israel.”

In response, the ministry has recommended launching an online campaign “to change Israel’s perception, with a focus on the Arab world” that would “provide more balanced and reliable information, including within the context of legitimization regarding Israel.”

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The UAE on August 13 surprisingly announced that it had agreed to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Jerusalem suspending its plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. Senior UAE officials have since stressed that the move enjoys great support among the country’s population, even saying that they were “enthusiastic” about peace with Israel.

The UAE-Israel peace agreement was signed on September 15 at the White House and is expected to be ratified by the Knesset later this week.

Bahrain, a small island nation traditionally close to the UAE, also announced that it was normalizing ties with Israel, though no formal peace treaty has been signed yet. However, given that the kingdom has a significant Shiite population, there has been some vehement public criticism about the Sunni rulers’ decision to normalize ties with the Jewish state.

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