As Benjamin Netanyahu fights for his political survival, seeking a record 5th term as prime minister during the upcoming Sept. 17 elections, he and his Likud party have suffered a huge public embarrassment while attempting to out-hawk their political rivals.
In an unprecedented move Facebook said Thursday it suspended a key function of Netanyahu's official Facebook page due to "a violation of the company’s hate speech policy." The sanction will be in effect for 24 hours, according to a company statement.
The offending campaign message urged voters to avoid bringing into power a government composed of—
“Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.”
The page is considered a crucial part of his election campaign, given it has over 2.4 million followers and is his team's prime social media outreach tool.
The xenophobic post identifying "Arabs" as seeking to "destroy" all Israelis resulted in an immediate uproar and backlash among opposition politicians and supporters.
The message also said Netanyahu's opponents in the center-right Blue and White Party will "allow a nuclearized Iran that will annihilate us" if they win the crucial election.
Facebook ultimately agreed a chatbot operated by the official account of the Israeli prime minister had produced hate speech. The Hebrew language post appeared, ironically enough, on September 11.
"After careful review of the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy," the company said in a statement. "We also found that the bot was misusing the platform by contacting people outside the time period allowed. As a result, we temporarily suspended the bot for 24 hours. Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action."
The prime minister was quick to distance himself from it, saying on a local radio broadcast interview that a staffer wrote it and that his team has deleted it.
Screenshot of the offending Hebrew language message in question:
Netanyahu has aggressively sought to appeal to the far-right and nationalist voters by presenting himself as a hardliner on the Jewish state's security, which includes him days ago announcing a deeply controversial plan to annex large parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, if re-elected.
The Facebook page sanction immediately unleashed an avalanche of mockery and commentary on social media, where many pointed out the incident highlights Israel's 'apartheid policies' based on race and ethno-religious identity.