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China’s social media pushes back on Israel’s online appeals

The Israeli embassy in China froze the comments section on its social media posts over the weekend after its appeals against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas were met with indifference and schadenfreude by Chinese netizens, and one researcher told Newsweek he thinks China’s online discourse has become a “cesspool” for that type of activity.

Saturday was the start of large attacks against Israel, with Hamas firing thousands of rockets and conducting raids across the border, taking more than 100 hostages. At least 1,300 have died, including nine Americans, between Hamas’ strikes and the Israeli military’s counteroffensive.

Young adults partying at the Tribe of Nova “peace” music festival were taken unaware. Their attackers killed over 260 at the event and took many others captive. Disturbing footage shows one attendee, identified as 25-year-old Noa Argamani, being dragged from her boyfriend and forced onto the back of a motorcycle.

As the attacks continued over the weekend and Israel launched retaliatory strikes, the Israeli Embassy in China began posting on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in solidarity with the victims. The diplomatic mission shared the video of Argamani, writing that she is of mixed Chinese and Israeli descent. “She is a daughter, a sister, and a friend,” the post said.

Posts surfaced showing comments, now hidden, from Chinese netizens responding to the post. While some expressed sympathy with the victims of the attack, others ranged from unfazed to outright hateful:

“Hamas must be totally destroyed this time. They cannot be given the slightest chance [to regroup]”

“If you support the Ukrainians, you have to support the Palestinians too!”

“The Jewish Nazis massacre Palestinians every day. Let’s go, Hamas—fellow countrymen—kill Jewish Nazis for your country!”

Yet another Chinese netizen remarked that Israel was getting its just deserts, as the country has not yet apologized for the death of Du Zhaoyu, a Chinese member of a UN peacekeeping post mistakenly bombed during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in 2006.

As of Monday, the Israeli embassy had disabled comments on its Weibo posts, in some cases leaving either no or only a handful of supportive comments visible out of the hundreds that had been posted, an indication of the extent of the backlash.

Chinese media has become “a cesspool of racism, xenophobia, and toxic nationalism,” said Tuvia Gering, researcher at Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies. The Chinese authorities use their cutting-edge surveillance tech to constantly monitor and censor their citizens, but when it comes to racist and xenophobic remarks—there is freedom of speech, especially when they match the Chinese Communist Party’s official viewpoint, he told Newsweek.

Age-old antisemitic tropes, such as a Jewish conspiracy pulling the strings of Western governments, have found a new audience on the Chinese internet, in what Gering has called “antisemitism with Chinese characteristics,” amid the rising tide of Chinese nationalism and Beijing’s geopolitical competition with the U.S., he said.

China has called on both sides of the conflict to de-escalate and avoid civilian casualties and has warned Chinese nationals to avoid travel to Israel amid the hostilities.

During his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday afternoon, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed disappointment with what he said was a muted response from China. He appealed to Xi to “condemn these cowardly and vicious acts.”

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