Lev Topor

#Delete_Your Enemy: Delegitimization by hashtags

The recent Israeli-Gaza conflict has once again increased calls for boycotting the state of Israel and specifically any Israeli-related social media presence such as pages, posts or users. However, unlike previous boycotts which have targeted Israeli academics, initiatives or products, this boycott is far more aggressive and less palatable.

This time, anti-Zionist activists decided to introduce a very aggressive initiative to delete connections to Israeli social media. As Lt. Col (Res.) Tsachi Fenton brought to my attention, in the beginning of June 2021, promotion of the hashtag #Delete_Your Enemy began (#احذف_عدوك). Seemingly, this hashtag calls for users to unfollow and unlike Israeli social media pages which, as claimed, are ‘beautifying’ the image and perception of Israel and its alleged occupation. Promotion of values using social media is a fully legitimate strategy. Such online algorithmic struggle could indeed increase the presence of any party. However, the choice of the current hashtag is very worrisome and effectively delegitimizes Israel and promotes anti-Zionism and even antisemitism. That is, the #Delete_Your Enemy hashtag is not just about unfriending or unfollowing. It actually calls for the deletion of the state of Israel and significantly resembles the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ which intended to deal, once and for all, with the Jewish Question.

This hashtag can be interpreted in two ways — as a legitimate campaign against Israel or as an anti-Zionist antisemitic call to delegitimize Israel and deny its right of existence, which by international standards is anti-Semitic. However, the meaning which its promoters aimed for is not legitimate at all. If the actual intent was innocent why did the minds behind this campaign chose the word ‘delete’ and not ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow.’ Interestingly, the Arabic phrases are different from the English ones. The actual hashtag in Arabic reads #Delete_Your Enemy (#احذف_عدوك) but the English word in related pictures on social media is ‘Unfollow.’ As it seems, boycott promoters and anti-Israeli activists have once again chosen to follow their double-faced strategy of showing a legitimate façade while covering their core anti-Zionist and antisemitic extreme ideology. The legitimate façade in English is aimed at the moderate, mainly Western, pro-Palestinian activists. The actual call for deletion is aimed at the more extreme social media users in anti-Israeli regimes.

Why was this campaign initiated in the first place? Pro-Palestinian activists claim that Israel is about to significantly increase its social media campaigns. Therefore, the pro-Palestinian side should also invest and increase its promotion on social media. However, another question arises from this choice of words and this choice of campaign style — why have pro-Palestinian activists chose to delegitimize Israel and promote a very aggressive call instead of promoting their more traditional demands from previous boycott campaigns like the BDS campaign? The BDS movement and its activists used to promote allegedly non-violent topics; Ending the occupation and colonization and dismantling the security barrier, recognizing the rights of Israel’s Arab-Palestinians to full civil equality and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194. As one of my academic studies shows, the BDS campaign does promote antisemitism, yet it is far more palatable than a call for deleting the enemy.

Just a few weeks earlier one of the most prominent promoters of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, called for yet another boycott on Israel for the sake of the Palestinians. Furthermore, Hollywood groups, including 600 musicians, signed an open letter to boycott Israel as a mean to reach compromise and peace. Even though the BDS movement can promote antisemitism, it has built a number of boycott types; academic, cultural, economic, none of which call for the deletion of the state of Israel. Finally, words have meaning and significance. Words, even hashtags, can lead to very negative perceptions and insights. Algorithmic deletion, a computational process, can lead to actual delegitimization.

About the Author
Dr. Lev Topor is the co-author (w/ Prof. Jonathan Fox) of 'Why Do People Discriminate Against Jews?' Published by Oxford University Press in 2021 and the author of 'Phishing for Nazis: Conspiracies, Anonymous Communications and White Supremacy Networks on the Dark Web' Published by Routledge in 2023. Lev publishes scholarly works and reports on the topic of antisemitism, anti-Zionism, racism and cyber. Previously, Dr. Topor was a research fellow in ISGAP, in the Woolf Institute (Cambridge), in the CCLP (Haifa University) and in The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem).
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