In just a few hours, more than 400 Facebook posts accused the community center of being “terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and liars.” Many of the posts came from Israel.
“It was very shocking because of the fact that it has nothing to do with the center. It was blatant that it was people who don’t know our center and have never been to our center writing these hateful comments. . . . It’s very clear that it’s hate speech. “It’s a group of people that don’t like the general idea of what we’re about and they’re being hateful for it.”
— Rania Mustafa, Executive Director of PACC
Hundreds of negative online messages flooded the Facebook pages of a community center in Clifton and a Rutgers student group over the weekend, in what appeared to be an organized effort targeting them for their support of Palestinian causes.
Some commenters accused the Palestinian American Community Center and the Rutgers chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine of being terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and liars — allegations the groups dismissed as politically motivated smears.
Rania Mustafa, executive director of the community center, said 400 posts were written on the center’s Facebook page over just a few hours on Sunday morning. The posts were attached to one-star reviews that drove the community center’s rating from a 4.8 out of five to a 1.8.
“It was very shocking because of the fact that it has nothing to do with the center,” Mustafa said. “It was blatant that it was people who don’t know our center and have never been to our center writing these hateful comments.”
The online attacks come as social media is emerging as a critical battlefront in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating springboards for activism but also forums for hate. But as in all political speech nowadays, there are few ways to curb online speech, even when it is extreme or harms the ratings and reputation of an organization.
Many of the comments on the center’s page were written by people who, according to their Facebook pages, live in Israel. In the reviews, some accused the center of being linked to terrorist groups or claimed that Palestine or the Palestinian people did not exist. The comments did not include threats of harm or violence.