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TikTok calls time on Israel's extremists (well, some of them)

TikTok - a social media video app on 21 February 2020 [Mustafa Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency]
TikTok - a social media video app on 21 February 2020 [Mustafa Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency]

Nothing irritates Israel's apologists more than to see it being described as an "Apartheid state" even though its Palestinian citizens will confirm their second class status to anyone who asks. There are dozens of laws on Israel's statute book which legitimise discrimination against non-Jews. The treatment of the Palestinians living under Israel's brutal military occupation elsewhere in occupied Palestine is even worse.

When the 39th President of America, Jimmy Carter, used the term in one of his book titles in 2006 there was predictable outrage and criticism from Zionists around the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. Absurdly, the Nobel Peace Laureate was even accused of being anti-Semitic.

However, if proof of Israel's Apartheid status is still needed by anyone, just take a look at the language used by the extremists in Lehava, a far-right organisation which is allowed to espouse all sorts of racist opinions inside Israel. While the Israeli government seems happy to put up with the hate-fuelled rhetoric spewing out of Lehava, the social network phenomenon known as TikTok is not. It took TikTok less than a week to block the group altogether after initially removing videos deemed to be offensive which had been posted by the Israeli extremists.

Founded in 2005 by Bentzi Gopstein, Lehava says that it is against the assimilation of Jews and relationships with non-Jews. Gopstein is a follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane who publicly, and frequently, called for the expulsion of "all Arabs from Israel". The group that Kahane founded, Kach, was so extreme that even the Israeli government declared it to be a terrorist organisation in 1994 after a member of the group murdered 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 others as they stood in prayer in Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque.

Lehava — which means "flame" in Hebrew — has called for the destruction of all Christian churches in Israel, declaring their presence to be "idolatrous" on the basis that the Torah demands an end to all forms of idolatry in the Holy Land. Even the ultra-Zionist Anti-Defamation League in America has called on Tel Aviv to take action against Lehava, but the group remains untouched by the Israeli authorities.

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When informed of the TikTok ban, Gopstein told Israeli journalists that he was shocked because Lehava had just launched its video channel to promote the movement. One series of its videos illustrates the lives of Jewish girls in relationships with Arab men; they end with the simulated "rescue" of the girls by Lehava. According to Gopstein, he chose the TikTok platform because he was told that it was the most effective way of connecting with young people. He has now changed his tune.

"You can find every evil on TikTok, but somebody who talks a little about Judaism and about not assimilating, this TikTok decided to close," he said. "The truth is that I was shocked by the amount of pornography that has its name and the amount of nonsense given to the youth. Full of Arabs laughing at Jews, really shocking. I went in there and went straight out, I could not even look at the movies."

The extremist leader explained that his group opened a page on TikTok a week ago on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. "We released humorous videos aimed at youth. All kinds of films aimed at this age of youth, which speaks to them. Thank God we received very good responses but we also saw responses from Arabs and leftists."

TikTok users generally watch and make short videos on their mobile phones about everything from mundane daily routines to more exciting and spontaneous events. The popular app blocked Lehava's account for violating its community standards.

As well as opposing intermarriage and assimilation of Jews, Lehava is against LGBT rights and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it as a terrorist group, and yet it remains free to spout bile at every opportunity… but not on TikTok.

Gopstein is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, and has also been blocked by Facebook for his anti-Arab statements considered by the social media giant to be incitement to racism. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have also blocked Lehava.

Israel claims that it is not an Apartheid state. If TikTok and other social media cannot tolerate the hate and division promoted by Lehava against Palestinians, why does it allow what is clearly an organisation which endorses Apartheid principles to operate freely within its jurisdiction? TikTok has called time on Israel's extremists (well, some of them); the clock must surely be ticking for the Israeli government to do the same.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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