Social media should be blocked when Arabs riot, says Israeli police chief

Minister nixes suggestion, puts onus on Knesset to stop incitement.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel nixed a suggestion made by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to shut down social media during times of internal conflict such as the Israeli Arab riots that occurred last year during Operation Guardian of the Walls.

“It’s impossible to close all the social networks with the touch of a button,” Hendel tweeted Wednesday.

“Over the last year, a comprehensive review of the relations between the state and networks took place in the Ministry of Communications,” he added. “It’s possible through agreements made in the Knesset – which do not exist today – to tighten regulations and legislation to prevent incitement and calls for violence, and to encourage transparency.”

Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday published a teaser for its upcoming weekend edition interview with Shabtai in which the police chief said he thought a shutdown would be a good idea when such violence was in the offing.

In absolving himself of any blame for the long delays in a proper police response during the riots that left three Jews dead, dozens injured and thousands traumatized, he said that “no one, not the police, not the Shabak, not the IDF – no one foresaw that there would be public disturbances in the mixed cities.”

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When asked how that could be, Shabtai blamed social media for fanning the flames that reportedly began with Hamas incitement.

“The Tiktok world exploded in an insane way, and with the combination of what happened in the Gaza Strip and the missiles shot at Jerusalem, it gave people legitimacy to engage in violence,” he said.

Hamas had launched several rockets at the Israeli capital last year in May after encouraging civil disturbances in the Sheikh Jarrah (Shimon HaTzaddik) neighborhood, where Arab families were resisting a court order to leave Jewish-owned homes they had been squatting in for decades.

“I’m of the opinion that in such situations, the networks should be blocked,” Shabtai told the Hebrew daily. “It’s war already. The social networks are the ones that bring people out to the streets. I’m talking about closing the networks in a wide-ranging manner. Turn it off, calm the field down, and when the situation is calm, turn it back on again.”

“We are a democratic country, but there is a limit,” he continued. “You cut it off broadly for a certain amount of time, of course with proper oversight, calm people down, and stabilize [the situation].”

He told the interviewer that he had also made this suggestion to the government during the height of the violence, in which Arab mobs ran amuck, stoning and firebombing Jewish apartments, synagogues, and cars in addition to fighting and hurting people, primarily on the streets of Lod, Ramle, Acre, Jerusalem and Haifa.

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Touching on a different topic, he noted that the police also use social media to their advantage.

When asked if the country is losing the south to criminals whose violence over recent years has caused residents of the area to lose their sense of personal security, he said, “The governance today is insufficiently enforced, but there is governance. No one does what they want and expects not to be caught the next day. In fact, when anyone uploads a video to Tiktok, it doesn’t take long before they find themselves behind bars.”