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Al-Aqsa attacks: UAE social media influencers jump on Israel's hasbara bandwagon
Published date: 12 May 2021 10:56 UTC|Last update: 2 days 20 hours ago
With the state's implicit support, Twitter users are twisting, selecting and reframing facts to serve Israel's cause at the expense of Palestinians
Israeli and UAE flags are seen at a tech conference in Dubai in October 2020 (AFP)
The gap between the reality on the ground in Jerusalem and how Israel spins it is widening by the day. To that end, Israel’s vast PR network is receiving support from what at first glance might seem an unconventional place: the United Arab Emirates.
Upon closer inspection, however, Emirati support for Israel’s excessive police violence against legitimate protesters is not coincidental. Even before the Abraham Accords, which formalised bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel, Abu Dhabi showed ideological synergies with Israel’s increasingly far-right positions and fear-based narratives, which aim to justify the suppression of Arab civil society.
Yet, while the UAE’s quietist approach to the Palestinian cause might have been deafening for years, the Abraham Accords may now be unleashing the Gulf state’s (dis)information networks to blindly support Israel’s long-standing tradition of selective storytelling.The Palestinian cause has been sacrificed on the altar of regime security
Under the banner of hasbara (from the Hebrew “to explain”), Israel has for decades successfully won over hearts and minds in the West for an occupation that has become harder and harder to justify. Israel declares activists to be “terrorists”, frames critics as “antisemites”, and labels evidence for Israeli violence against women and children as “fake news”.
Although Israel has at least since 1967 not been the David in this struggle against the oft-invoked “Arab Goliath”, excessive political, structural and security-sector violence against unprotected civilians is being justified in Israel through fear and self-victimisation.
Turning a blind eye
Hasbara has been primarily produced for western consumption, with the so-called Arab street declared unable to be won over - until recently. Israel’s official Twitter accounts, such as @IsraelArabic or @IsraelintheGulf, had mostly gone unnoticed in the Arab world, and the Palestinian cause had long been the only unifying element in the otherwise divided Arab world - until recently.
Few believed that the Abraham Accords would provide the Emirates with leverage over Israel to help the Palestinian cause. Most analysts expected that Abu Dhabi would continue to turn a blind eye to Palestinian suffering, but it still came as a surprise that the Emiratis would go so far as to jump on Israel’s hasbara bandwagon, twisting, selecting and reframing facts to serve Israel’s cause at the expense of Palestinians.
Israeli security forces raid Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque on 10 May 2021 (AFP)
What has been most remarkable is that UAE influencers - tweeting with the license of the UAE government - have opted to praise Israel’s behaviour at a time when armed Israeli police have besieged and stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, injuring peaceful worshippers inside Islam’s third-holiest site during the holy days of Ramadan.
Emirati influencer Hamad Alhosani chose to retweet @IsraelArabic’s video falsely accusing protesters of having been instrumentalised by Hamas, stating in his own words: “May God protect the Temple Mount from the tampering of terrorism.” Influencer Munther al-Shehhi also retweeted @IsraelArabic, saying: “Thank you, Israel in Arabic, for clarifying the truth.”
Another UAE influencer, Hassan Sajwani, responded to local Emirati tweets under the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah with whataboutism about a savage attack at a school in Afghanistan. He continued by asking cynically: “Why can’t the Palestinians [sic] protestors just vacate #AlAqsaMosque and simply go home?