After the Hamas attack on Israel, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing began posting on China’s social media platform Weibo. The online effort to gain popular support appears to be backfiring as comments revile the Jewish state, applaud Hamas and praise Adolf Hitler.
The embassy’s account, which has 24 million followers, shows almost 100 posts since the Oct. 7 attack. Some are disturbing, such as an image of a baby’s corpse burnt in the attack. Others suggest Israeli resilience, such as the story of one person who was wounded at the Nova Festival but rescued several other music fans after the attack.
The comment areas have been flooded with hate speech such as "Heroic Hamas, good job!" and "Hitler was wise" referring to the German leader who orchestrated the deaths of 6 million Jews before and during World War II. Many people changed their Weibo avatars to the Israeli flag with a Nazi swastika in the middle.
Occasionally, someone expresses support for Israel and accuses Hamas of being a terrorist group. This triggers strong reactions from other netizens, such as "Only dead Israelis are good Israelis" and "the United States supports Israel, and the friend of the enemy is the enemy."
Similar commentary has flooded sites elsewhere on China’s heavily censored internet.
VOA Mandarin could not determine how many of the Weibo accounts posting to the Israeli Embassy account belong to people who work for the Chinese government.
The Israeli Embassy in China did not respond to interview requests from VOA Mandarin.
Eric Liu, a former Weibo moderator who is now editor of China Digital Times, told VOA Mandarin the Israeli Embassy "has received more comments recently, which are very straightforwardly hateful, with antisemitic content. They probably have taken the initiative to contain it."
Liu believes that because the antisemitic remarks remain online, that shows the Chinese government is comfortable with them. China has long backed the Palestinian cause, but more recently it has also boosted ties with Israel as it seeks a larger role in trade, technology and diplomacy.
"It's more of a voice influenced by public opinion," he said. “Relatively speaking, it is an extreme voice. Moderate voices cannot be heard. Most of the participants are habitual offenders who hate others. But they are also spontaneous, or rather, they are spontaneous under the guidance” of the government censors.
Gu Guoping, a retired Shanghai teacher and human rights citizen-journalist, told VOA Mandarin, "I don't go to Weibo, WeChat, or QQ. These are all anti-human brainwashing platforms controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Due to the CCP's long-term brainwashing and indoctrination of ordinary people, as well as internet censorship, many Weibo users … [confuse] right and wrong."
"They don't know Israel at all. The Israeli nation is an amazing, great, humane and civilized nation," said Gu, who emphasized that Hamas killed innocent people in Israel first, and Israel's counterattack was legitimate self-defense.
Liu said that Weibo moderators usually must delete hateful comments toward foreign embassies in China. However, they may receive instructions from the Cyberspace Administration of China and the State Council Information Office for major incidents, and different standards may be applied.
"The government's opinion has been very, very clear, which is why the online public opinion has such an obvious tendency,” he said. “It must be the all-round propaganda machine that led the public opinion to be like this."
The spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said "China is closely following the current tensions between Palestine and Israel. We believe that the pressing priority is to promote de-escalation, enable cease-fire and cessation of violence, protect civilians and avert a humanitarian disaster. In dealing with international and regional hotspot issues, China has always been objective and just and exercised calm and restraint.”
While calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, Chinese officials have refused to condemn Hamas by name. Some observers say Beijing is exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to diminish U.S. influence.
On Saturday, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned Israel for going "beyond the scope of self-defense" and called for it to "cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza."
When the Iranian Embassy in China posted comments by the Iranian president accusing the United States and Israel of causing the deadly explosion at the Ahli Arab Hospital, Chinese netizens posted their support.
U.S. President Joe Biden said during his visit to Tel Aviv on October 18 that the "intel" provided by his team regarding the hospital attack exonerated Israel. Israel said the militant group Islamic Jihad caused the blast that killed at least 100 people. The militant group that often works with Hamas has denied responsibility. Palestinian officials and several Arab leaders accuse Israel of hitting the hospital amid its ongoing airstrikes in Gaza.
The Weibo accounts of other foreign embassies and diplomats that have posted support for Israel have also been targeted by Chinese netizens. When the Swiss ambassador to China, Jürg Burri, posted on Oct. 13, "I send my deepest condolences to the victims and their families in the terrorist attacks in Gaza," he was criticized for "pseudo-neutrality."
"I don't even want to wear a Swiss watch anymore! So angry," said one netizen.
Liu believes the netizens’ support for Gaza will change.
"It's not like that they stand with Palestine,” he said. “Maybe they will hate Palestine tomorrow because they believe in Islam. [The posters] are talking in general terms and do not care about the life and death of Palestine. Hatred of Israelis and Jews is the core."