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Israel police chief recommends shutting down social media to curb violence

‘We’re a democratic country, but there’s a limit’

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Yudi Sherman

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September 22, 2022

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10:31 AM

Israel police chief recommends shutting down social media to curb violence

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai Wednesday recommended the government shut down social media if tensions escalate between Jews and Muslims, blaming TikTok in particular for “legitimizing violence".

“The TikTok world burst onto the scene like crazy, and along with what was happening in the Gaza Strip and the missiles fired into Jerusalem, it gave people legitimacy for violence," Shabtai told Yediot Aharonoth. 

Shabtai says the entire Israeli government was caught off guard last year when violence erupted. 

“Not the police, not the Shin Bet, not the IDF — nobody expected there was going to be unrest in mixed cities,” said the police commissioner who oversaw a population debilitated by lockdowns. Shabtai, who assumed his post in January 2021 during Israel’s third lockdown, was responsible for enforcing heavy-handed mask and vaccine mandates that polarized the country. 

During a cabinet meeting last year, Shabtai recommended to officials that social media be shut down to temper the civil unrest. 

“I am of the opinion that in such situations, blocking the [social] networks is necessary. This is war,” Shabtai says. 

“The social networks are the ones that bring people out to the streets. I'm talking about a broad closure of the networks. Shut them down, let the situation simmer down, and when it does, release them. We are a democratic country, but there is a limit.” 

Last year, Shabtai did not deny allegations that Israel’s police were illegally spying on Right-wing Israelis, including anti-Netanyahu protesters and those opposed to the annual same-sex attraction parade in Tel Aviv. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Shabtai sent officers out in droves to enforce mandates seemingly with carte blanche. In keeping with their notorious reputation for brutality, Israeli police were filmed several times beating unarmed citizens mercilessly for not wearing masks or protesting mandates. 

In February, several male policemen were filmed assaulting multiple women at a protest against isolation mandates for children.  

Also in February, police raided the encampment of anti-mandate protesters, tearing down tents and destroying personal property, shoving those people who tried to protect their belongings. A video also shows policemen carrying a young woman away as the bewildered protesters ask what her charge is.

Another video that was circulated shows Israel police writing out a fine for a weeping 11-year-old Israeli girl who had removed her mask to sip on her slushy while walking her siblings down the street.

“Did they promise the policemen a vacation in Ashkelon for whoever brings in the most tickets?  A police car stops in the middle of the street, policemen approach a 10 year-old girl walking alone in the street and stress her out (she claims she took off the mask to drink a slushy, but it didn't matter) and they don't leave until they give her a ticket.  Her crying does not persuade them.”

 But those were only some of the incidents. 

“Another video of a violent and unnecessary arrest brought to you by the @IL_police.  The victim this time is a special-needs teenager.  The excuse - he was walking around without a mask.  What's gonna be?”

“An arrest in a mall in Tiberius today.  The reason apparently - face mask.  Once again it repeats itself, unnecessary for both sides.”

"Immediate arrest.  He wasn't wearing a face mask."

“More disturbing documentation of an arrest of a woman with children because of a face mask.  The girl is enraged and curses the cops.”

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