Social Media

Fridays for Future’s Tweets against Israel

Foto: Getty Images / Screenshot

The tweet goes viral. On 23 January 2023, the Twitter account run by Fridays for Future International (FFF) accuses Israel of »neo-colonialism and apartheid«. The climate movement stands »united on the side of Palestinians and the Palestinian Resistance«, it says. »Yallah Intifada!«, the tweet reads.

The post is shared by several accounts, including »Anne Frank Would Have Hated Zionists«, »GazaResistance« and the anti-Zionist German rapper Hanybal. BDS groups cheer. But there also is outrage. Armin Laschet, an MP of the conservative Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), even called on the prominent German FFF activist Luisa Neubauer by name, to distance herself from the tweet. »What do calls for violence against Jews have to do with climate protection?«, he asked.

Accusations It is not the first time that FFF International has stood out with tweets hostile to Israel. Before and after the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in 2022, the Twitter account spoke out almost as often about the Middle East conflict as it did about the world’s most important climate summit. As early as May 2021, a series of slides by the group on Twitter and Instagram caused controversy, glorifying Palestinian terrorists as »martyrs« and promoting the BDS boycott campaign against Israel. Israel, on the other hand, they accused of »settler colonialism« and »imperialism«.

FFF Germany distanced itself from the statements at the time and spoke of »antisemitic content«. Even after the tweet in January of this year, the German branch of the climate movement felt compelled to clarify: »The account does not speak for FFF Germany« - a statement that might seem confusing at first. Because who does FFF International speak for if not the entire worldwide movement? After all, the name implies that it is the umbrella organization of FFF.

Research by the Jüdische Allgemeine, however, shows that the content of the FFF International Twitter account is largely determined by less than a dozen activists. None of them is nationally known or elected for this function. Among them, it is again only a handful of people with an almost fanatically anti-Israel attitude who determine the account’s positions on the Middle East conflict – and thus shape the public image of the entire FFF movement.

Legitimization When Greta Thunberg kicked off the global Fridays for Future movement with her first school strike in August of 2018, numerous local FFF groups and accounts were quickly set up on social media. In October of the same year, the FFF International Twitter account also went online, and today boasts almost 150,000 followers. However, it has never been officially legitimized to tweet on behalf of the entire climate movement.

The activists behind the account coordinate with each other in a Telegram group, independently of FFF International’s presence on Instagram and Facebook. The Jüdische Allgemeine has obtained a copy of the entire Telegram chat history. For the period from March 2021, this comprises about 1,500 A4 pages.

A picture of a chaotic, incoherent group emerges. Time and again, there are heated internal debates that sometimes escalate into mutual insults and accusations. There are frequent disagreements about the procedure for creating and publishing Tweets. In principle, however, everyone is allowed to make suggestions, which are then voted on. Often, only three or four yes votes decide whether a post is published. As a general rule, whoever writes frequently in the group and is unwilling to compromise usually gets their way.

Fluctuation Since access to the Telegram group is in principle open to all FFF activists, the fluctuation is high. The group currently has around 50 members, but only a few are regularly active. New people often join, others become less active over time. But increasingly, the central players in the group can agree on two things in particular: rejection of the Jewish state and contempt for FFF Germany. One activist from the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate in particular stands out regarding both topics: Hasan Ö.

Since joining the Telegram group in August 2021, he has regularly and vehemently been pushing to post about the Middle East conflict. At least ten tweets on the subject between May 2022 and May 2023 alone, some of which demonize Israel, play down Palestinian terror or spread content from the BDS movement, can be traced back to his initiative and were largely formulated by him. Those include the post from the beginning of this year that ends with »Yallah Intifada!«, a phrase that can be understood as a call for armed struggle against the Jewish state and its civilian population.

This tweet also caused outrage among some FFF groups in Germany. The German umbrella organization distanced itself from the post, and the Berlin branch wrote on Twitter: » ›Yallah Intifada‹ is pure eliminatory antisemitism.«

Smiley As this criticism of the tweet is also discussed in the Telegram group of FFF International, a Berlin activist posts a smiley sticking out its tongue. Hasan Ö. immediately pounces on this provocation: «U little piece of racist shit”, he writes. Some in the group quickly agree that such behaviour is unacceptable – and mean the smiley, not Hasan Ö.’s insult. One activist demands: »There should be consequences for FFF Berlin.” He risks a lot for his commitment, the activist claims: ›Y’all don’t know how brutal Zionism is, they could get me in a sec if they wanted to.‹ «*

When another German FFF activist criticizes Hasan Ö.’s tweet, Ö. also attacks him: »Just fuck off, you disgusting racist.« Hasan Ö. is not rebuked for this statement either – and it is no exception. He regularly calls FFF Germany as well as individual activists in the chat racist. And he drives the group as a whole to position itself more and more frequently against German activists on Twitter, as well as to interfere in debates that have little relevance outside Germany. At one point, a group member even reminds his colleagues: »Please remember that we are an international FFF group, not a German one.« This is an objection that will not change the course of the Twitter account.

The fact that Hasan Ö. skewers FFF Germany so much may also have to do with the fact that he is unwanted in the German climate movement. Several activists told this newspaper that Hasan Ö. was initially expelled from the social media team of FFF Germany in 2021, and from the entire organization at the beginning of this year. He has been accused of insulting behaviour and antisemitism, as well as trivializing terror against Jews. His expulsion was confirmed by FFF Germany upon request, but the group would not comment specifically on such cases.

Left-wing Mainstream Hasan Ö., on the other hand, told this newspaper that he had experienced »racist bullying« at FFF Germany. His expulsion was based on contrived accusations, he claims. He also denies being partly responsible for tweets that are antisemitic or glorify violence. He sees his position on Israel as being in line »with the left-wing mainstream worldwide«. He denies playing a central role in the Telegram group coordinating FFF International’s Twitter account and says his joining had »no ideological influence whatsoever«. »FFF International has a unified stance on solidarity with Palestine and is therefore very critical of FFF Germany«, claims Hasan Ö.

But opposition to the anti-Israel stance of the Twitter account is also voiced in the Telegram group itself. Besides, the harshest critic does not come from Germany, but from the Amazonia. Abel Rodrigues, a member of Fridays for Future Brazil, does not shy away from confrontation with Hasan Ö. «Right now, you don’t seem to care about human rights issues”, Rodrigues reproaches him in the Telegram group, »but just wants to provoke people«. Rodrigues makes a suggestion: »Why don’t you create a Intifada page to post all of your radical content instead of taking over a climate account?«

Approached by the Jüdische Allgemeine for comment, Rodrigues says: »We made millions take to the streets to talk about climate, not about Israel.” He feels the activists behind the FFF International Twitter account are misusing the name and reach of the movement for their anti-Israel views. «It’s a betrayal of the movement’s core message«, believes Rodrigues, who currently lives and studies in Portugal. In the Telegram group, he feels that activists who do not share the anti-Israel views of the most vocal members are unwelcome. »I have seen several members treated with hostility when they disagreed with this narrative«, he says.

Connectedness Unlike most of the people shaping the Twitter account, Rodrigues is also a very present FFF activist outside of social media. He also attributes the fact that he was able to voice such clear criticism in the group to his involvement and connectedness in the climate movement. However, Rodrigues tried in vain to influence the Twitter account’s posts on the Middle East conflict.

After seven people were shot dead by a Palestinian terrorist in Jerusalem in January of this year, Rodrigues suggests posting something about the attack. »I would be strongly against«, an Irish activist immediately objects, »that would be seen as a pro-Israel post, or anti-Palestinian.« When Rodrigues defends his view that terror against Israel must also be condemned, the mood in the group turns against him. »You are just trying to promote the terrorist occupation state’s propaganda again«, a Sudanese activist accuses him, speaking of »Zionist criminals who launched a campaign against us«. He elaborates: »If you think that the terrorist Zionist entity is a legitimate country this means you are neo-colonialist.« Elsewhere, he writes, »Palestine is the compass of the climate struggle.« Resignedly, Rodrigues notes in the chat: »Now I’m really starting to believe some people here are literally just antisemitic.«

Faced with this dynamic in the group, Elia K., who prefers to remain anonymous, feels powerless. She is Jewish and, since day one, she has been involved with FFF in Ukraine, which she had to leave at the beginning of the war. Today, she lives in Germany. She is a mostly passive member of FFF International’s chat, only commenting from time to time. Speaking with the Jüdische Allgemeine, she says she is shocked by the manners there. »Personal boundaries are often crossed.« Getting involved in the group quickly becomes »stressful and disturbing«.

Special Relationship She also finds the anti-Israel line of the Twitter account burdensome because, as a Jew, she has a special relationship with the country, she explains. »But if I tried to influence the group’s positions on Israel, I would be marginalized, just as anyone else, by the position of a few«, Elia K. says. She is disappointed by the way the other members deal with dissenting opinions: »I don’t have the impression that I’m being heard there.« Elia K. believes there should be a real dialogue in the group, about the different positions on the Middle East conflict, »but I can’t imagine that happening soon«.

The fierce dispute over the Twitter account’s position on Israel has worn down many in the chat. Some members feel overwhelmed by the debate in and outside the group. At the end of January of this year, a vote was taken on whether to tweet only »essential/urgent material« about the Middle East conflict and other controversial issues for the time being. Although there was fierce opposition from some anti-Israel activists, in the end three-quarters of the group voted for the self-imposed pause.

FFF International’s activity on Twitter has in fact been decreasing ever since. However, the majority decision in the group is apparently not being adhered to. The Middle East conflict is still tweeted about relatively often. For instance, the account’s last own post from May 2023 condemns the bans on some pro-Palestinian rallies in Berlin, after antisemitic slogans were used at similar events and members of the press were attacked. »Free Palestine from German guilt«, reads the end of the tweet. Written by Hasan Ö.

*Spelling, grammar and punctuation in quotes from Telegram chat lightly corrected for readability

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