Mentions of Marwa Fatafta on Twitter were flooded.
As violence intensified in Israel and Palestine earlier this month, Fatafta, a Palestinian who works as a political analyst for the Palestinian Human Rights Internet think tank in Berlin, posted photos and stories of families killed in Gaza Strip. 14,000 followers. In response, it was held. Some of the hate speech, which called Palestinians similar to it “terrorists,” came from far-right Israeli accounts. But many seemed to be from India – Fatafta said that the names of the users have Indian names and an Indian flag.
“It seemed like all these ethno-nationalists from India and Israel were coming together,” Fatafta told BuzzFeed News. “It was a fascinating phenomenon. I have never been visited by people from India before. “
Like the deadly violence in which the Israeli military 248 Palestinians were killed and Hamas killed 13 Israelis ceased ceasefire, hate speech against Jews online roseas well as anti-Semitic violence.
But the conflict has also sparked a wave of hostility and misinformation online against Muslims around the world. Full-page advertising in the New York Times accused pop star Dua Lipa and models Gigi and Bella Hadid from Anti-Semitism. Last week, the American Public Relations Committee of Israel, a pro-Israel lobby group, launched an ad on Facebook who imposed the face of Ilhan Omar’s spokesman on the Hamas rocket actually inaccurate signature: “When Israel targets Hamas, a spokesman for Omar calls it a terrorist attack.” Israel’s official Arabic Twitter account angered the Muslims by tweeting verses from the Koran along with an image of an Israeli air strike on Gaza (this tweet has since been removed).
That conflict in the Middle East could spark waves of hatred and lies against Muslims. But what’s new is the source: India. In the world’s largest democracy, anti-Muslim hatred invariably becomes prevalent, both online and offline. Just a year ago, politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, as well as dozens of news channels accused the assembly Jamaat Tablighi, an international Islamic missionary group that deliberately distributes coronavirus in India after more than 4,000 cases were related to him. At the time, #CoronaJihad was one of the most popular Twitter topics in the region.
On Saturday, First Draft News, a British nonprofit disinformation research organization, published analysis of more than 300,000 tweets related to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. They found a company containing thousands of tweets and hashtags that appear to have been created in India, one of Twitter’s key markets.
“Analyzing the tweets, we noticed that the main hashtags always had some Indian links,” said Carlotta Dotto, senior data journalist at First Draft, BuzzFeed News. “It was weird.”
Dotto focused on #UnitedAgainstJehad, a deliberately misspelled hashtag that was mentioned more than 40,000 times by nearly 6,000 accounts between May 12 and 17. The analysis showed that the hashtag is the basis coordinated company aims to achieve the trend by following the paths of Muslims that Indian Hindu nationalists have spoken for years – e.g. love jihad, a baseless conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of converting Hindu women into marriage. Ten percent of the accounts using the hashtag were created in May.
“It was clear that they were using the Israel-Palestine conflict to promote their own stories on Twitter in India and around the world, given the amount of attention it receives online,” Dota said.
Although India has previously sought to avoid participation in the region, relations between India and Israel have improved dramatically under Modi, who became India’s first prime minister to visit the country in 2017. This is partly because the leaders of both countries are conservative nationalists . In addition, the right in India relies on its country’s long-standing rivalry with neighboring Pakistan.
“India’s right-wingers find Israel fascinating for several reasons,” said Jesse Jacob, editor-in-chief of Boom, India’s leading fact-finding organization, BuzzFeed News. “It’s a small country surrounded by Muslim neighbors fighting it. It has a strong leader who is focused on defending its borders.”
“Whenever tensions arise between an Islamic country and any other country, the far-right ecosystem tends to be on the side of the non-Muslim side,” Jacob added. “For them, it’s a natural aggression that reveals all their prejudices against Muslims in general.”
Members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party and its supporters have backed the conflict. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, BJP spokesman, called Islam is a “virus” that “generated terrorism in the world,” and said, “Israel is a vaccine against this virus, please support Israel.” He too claimed that Muslims believe that “religion is greater than nation”. Each buggy tweet received thousands of retweets and likes. Hundreds of messages disgracing Muslims were also sent via WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned instant messaging app used by hundreds of millions of Indians.
“Checked most of the handles of tweets #IndiaStandWithIsrael,” tweeted Rana Ayyub, a high-profile Indian journalist who is often targeted by far-right Modi supporters. “A common thread running through visceral hatred of Muslims and a thirst for blood to see Muslims straighten out and show their place.”
Like watch dogs in Israel tried his best not to lag behind with an oversaturation of hatred and lies by their counterparts outside the country it was also not easy. For example, “Boom” practically checked the facts two dozen stories, some of which portrayed the Palestinians as false disasters.
“It’s become one of our main topics,” Jacob told BuzzFeed News.
One part of the misinformation falsely depicted a fake funeral organized in 2020 by young Jordanians to avoid blocking the coronavirus when Palestinians pretend to be buried for “international sympathy”. Another viral clip tried to issue 2017 news report on Palestinian makeup artists as Palestinians forge injuries during the current conflict
“Repression is transnational,” Fatafta said. “Islamophobia is a common denominator here.”