Arrest of Al-Jazeera Bureau Chief raises level of Anti-Israeli chatter on Social Media sites

By Heather C Thomson

Samer Allawi, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Afghanistan was detained by the Israeli military for 49 days after he visited his family in the West Bank. 

He was finally released on Sunday, 25 September, after a plea bargain that resulted in a suspended sentence and a fine of $1,600 (£900).

Within days of the arrest Facebook pages had been set up such as “Free Samer Allawi” and twitter accounts were established to continue the campaign for the journalist’s release.

 While the Jerusalem Post wrote a piece sympathetic to the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, the comments they allowed to be published were varied in political opinion.

 From “An Al Jazeera journalist a Hamas operative? Oh, I’m shocked – SHOCKED I tell you!!” to “He was tortured into admitting it.  They have no evidence.  The only reason he took the plea was to get out and clear his good name.  More Israeli shenanigans against an oppressed people of good intentions.”

But it was the Social Media sites that allowed comment and discussion that have proved most fertile for debate.

Huffington Post, the generally political liberal news site, posted a story on 26 September 2011 regarding Allawi’s arrest and release which quickly had over 100 comments.

 However, the discussion soon got off topic and descended into a debate on the nature, or not, of Israeli democracy.

 Commentator Charlietuna11 started with, “tell us again what a great democracy Israel is, we keep forgetting”

But soon there were spats within the Huffington Post community like the following exchange.

 NarcEdward “How Iran-like of Israel.  Imagine, a reporter trying to get the other side of the story – shocking!”

Bar Kokhba “He was/is a Hamas operative.  What part of threat do you not understand!”

Sirlarek “lol … which is why there was a plea allowed.  Look for the enemy elsewhere.”

SpoonieLuv  “That’s right – on the Bar Kokba Skin Color/Terrorism Likelihood Scale, Allawi raised the level to light brown”

 The Bar Kokba reference refers to the Third Jewish-Roman War or The Third Jewish Revolt in 132 – 136 CE.

 As is frequently the case on social media sites most contributors utilise an alias or ‘nom de guerre’ with which to debate, in the loosest sense of the word, the issue at hand.

 Or perhaps this anonymity allows an online bravery where everyone is an expert and needs no credentials.

 The reigniting of older and much discussed squabbles then began to be re-introduced.

 “Democracy in action, I take it!”

“Anyone know if gilad shalit has been released yet?”

“I don’t know how one can make a comparison between the wrongful imprisonment of a journalist and the detention of a militant”

“Giliad is a soldier, I guess there most [sic] be some legal stuff here for the Red Cross to see him.”

“Totally off topic.”

“I love it when someone brings up something the pro palis[tinians] don’t like, they throw the off topic line yet, they bring up Israel no matter how off topic the topic is.”

 It then descended into either trolling or supposed humour.  “OK – when’s Israle [sic] going to apologize for murdering Jesus?”  “off topic…. Lol”.

 It was at this point the moderators stepped in to hide some of the more meandering and off topic comment.

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