I was attacked by Israel’s troll army

5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih recounts his experience of what he believes to be a coordinated attack against him by Israel’s army of online trolls.

Yesterday I tweeted something that I felt was in line with my long-standing decision to boycott Israel. Responding to an article which claimed that Israel had developed a vaccine for coronavirus, I said the following:

Now I realise that in life or death situations Muslims are allowed to eat pork. So I guess that would mean that we would also be allowed to take an Israeli vaccine if there was no other alternative.

So my tweet was more of a statement of opposition to Israel and a statement of solidarity with Palestine rather than a well thought-out argument.

I also realised that my tweet would anger Israel’s supporters and that is kind of why I tweeted it. But I must admit that I wasn’t expecting the full-frontal assault which ensued. It was like someone had flicked a switched and an avalanche came down on me. My phone was literally exploding with thousands of responses which have only begun to slow down 24 hours later.

The vast majority of tweets were from anonymous accounts and tended to repeat the same talking points: that I was an antisemite; that I hated Jews; that I was stupid; that it was good news that I would not take the vaccine because I would die; and that there was already Israeli technology in the phone or computer that I use. One prominent individual even, bizarrely, called me a homosexual.

As I said, most tweets were from anonymous pro-Israel accounts, but some were from genuine, and sometimes prominent, individuals. Here is a flavour of them for your delectation:

When you say something controversial on Twitter you expect to be called out for it. And occasionally people do pile in, as has happened to me in the past.

But the sheer amount of vitriol that I got – mostly from anonymous accounts and mostly repeating the same talking points – made me suspicious that I could have been the victim of a coordinated campaign.

A quick bit of research led me to this article which revealed the launch of the Israeli app Act.il which has mobilised thousands of Israel supporting volunteers to inundate social media sites with complaints about anti-Israel posts and to target anti-Israel activists.

According to the piece, Israel is weaponising social media in order to wage a propaganda war against BDS.

“With the mobile application and online platform Act.IL, Israel aims to recruit a mob of slacktivists and trolls to join their war against the most insidious forms of violence: pro-Palestinian tweets and Facebook posts,” the article said.

“Users of the app are presented with quick daily missions that they complete for points, earning their way up the leaderboards. Missions include ‘liking’ and commenting on specific Facebook posts, retweeting pro-Israel accounts, and signing petitions. It provides users with suggested comments that they can copy-and-paste to spam discussion boards, and satirical videos and cartoons that are shareable (if cringeworthy).”

Now I can’t be sure that Act.il, or another Israeli troll army, launched one of its “missions” against me but the circumstantial evidence seems pretty compelling.

And in fact I wouldn’t have a problem with this kind of lobbying effort if it weren’t for the fact that the tweets against me were abusive, threatening, Islamophobic and factually untrue.

To be called “anti-Jew” or “antisemitic” is particularly galling for me given my opposition to racism and my repeated statements differentiating between criticism of Israel (which is totally legitimate) and hatred of Judaism the religion or Jews as a race (which is clearly antisemitic).

But then again we all know that Israel deliberately seeks to conflate the two so that it can label anyone who harshly criticises Israel an antisemite.

Indeed, Israel’s supporters would love everyone to believe Israel’s critics are simply antisemitic. Our opposition to Israel has absolutely nothing to do with its theft of land, ethnic cleansing, dispossession of a people, wars, occupation, Apartheid. No, we are all just antisemitic. Simple as that.

Moreover, the widespread adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which condemns some anti-Israel rhetoric, has given Israel supporters the confidence to label pro-Palestinians “racist” without fear of legal retribution.

Lessons

So what lessons have I learned from this experience?

Well firstly it has made me even more determined to speak up for Palestine, and I don’t believe I would have been targeted like this had I not been making some impact in this regard. At the end of the day it is an honour to be attacked by the wicked.

Secondly, it is essential that we reveal the tactics Israel is using to silence pro-Palestine voices every chance we get.

And finally, it has left me wondering where Palestine’s troll army is? I really hope our side is mobilising information warfare to take on the Israelis like they take on us. Although we must do it with Islamic teachings in mind, of course, and in a way that exposes the truth about our cause and about our enemies rather than just heaping abuse on them.

But then again I suppose they need to resort to desperate measures because truth is not on their side, whereas it is on our’s.

You can follow Roshan on Twitter here.

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