Instagram temporarily suspended the account of a Jewish Israeli tourist after his posts sparked an intifada of indignant comments from Muslim users of the popular photo-sharing service.
The source of vitriol was a series of photos posted by Ben Tzion on his Instagram. Tzion documented his travels through a myriad of Muslim nations, including Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Visiting renowned religious sites in these countries, Tzion posted photos himself with captions and messages calling for peace between the Muslim and Jewish communities.
One example, “With my dear Brother Nasser number 1 #Chief in #Medina #SaudiArabia. #Jewish and #Arab #People share common #History and #Blood lineage to Abraham/Ibrahim. With #Love and mutual #Respect, #Peace would come to the entire #MiddleEast”.
Fueled with outrage, a cadre of Muslims took to the comment section (generating over 3,000 comments, and 30,000 views) of Tzion’s Instagram posts, insisting that non-Muslims are barred and ought not to visit Islamic holy sites.
As reported by the BBC, Tzion’s posts blew up on Twitter, racking up more than 90,000 tweets in mere hours, with the hashtag “A Zionist at the Prophet’s Mosque” in Arabic.
Some of the backlash hurled at the Jewish tourist included a verified Twitter account tweeting:
Qataris are banned from performing the pilgrimage in the holy place (Mecca)! O immoral persons, For us Allah suffice, and He is the best disposer. Is this the moderate Islam you are promoting? May Allah ban those who banned us from (visiting) Mecca as the City has an odor of paradise. May Allah take revenge of you. #Zionist in the holy place of the Prophet." -- @ALthani 20 Nov 2017
In an interview with the Times of Israel, which reported the temporary suspension, Tzion explained that his overarching message was of peace and respect for other cultures and faiths. Tzion described the people he met and interacted with in cities including Tehran, Beirut, and Riyadh as being overwhelmingly friendly — even after discovering he was a Jew from Israel (take diligent notes here, college campuses).
“No one in the Arab world ever approached me with hostility,” he said.
“People know that I am different, they see that I wear a kippah or a different Arab garment. They come to me and ask me where I’m from. I tell them that I’m from Jerusalem, Israel. And their first reaction usually is: ‘Wow. Welcome.’"
Tzion went on to state that while traveling through the Muslim world, he made no effort to hide or conceal his Jewish lineage: “I carried these tefillin in my hands. I didn’t remove it from the box; it was in my hand when I entered the mosque. Wherever I go, I take this bag with me. I don’t have a wallet, so I carry some of my stuff in this bag. I wasn’t hiding anything. People knew I was Jewish.”
Concluding the interview, Tzion explained that throughout his travels, albeit not a political figure, he is always an ambassador for the Jewish state. He stated, “I am not a political figure, and I don’t work for any Israeli organization, neither for its security agencies or political establishments. I am an independent Jew, a private citizen of Israel. ... Everywhere I go, I am an ambassador for Israel — in my private capacity.”
Despite his blatantly clear message of peace (and the fact that his Instagram page was the one being targeted by bigots!), Ben Tzion’s Instagram account was the one suspended. Amid current efforts amongst social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to clamp down on harassment and “hate speech” on their platforms, the Israeli recipient of online bigotry has found himself suspended without explanation.