The surprise attack by Hamas, which claimed the lives of some 1,400 Israelis and ended with the abduction of about 240 soldiers and civilians to the Gaza Strip, also led to the birth of a new antisemitic symbol online: a paraglider.
The images of Hamas terrorists hovering over Israel on October 7 became a symbol of triumph for the terrorist organization and its supporters, and within days, pro-Palestinian groups began using the paraglider to express their support for the massacre.
More surprising is the fact that neo-Nazi groups also rushed to adopt the new symbol, as shown by a report by the Israeli start-up ActiveFence, which helps social media platforms defend themselves against malicious content.
The speed of the diffusion is shocking: as early as October 9 - just two days after the terrorist attack - neo-Nazis from Florida began selling a t-shirt with the inscription "Fuck Israel" on which are drawn two paragliders, AK-47 rifles and some hostile figure - possibly a Hamas terrorist. A day later, on October 10, the Black Lives Matter movement in Chicago, which claims to fight for black rights, uploaded a picture of a paraglider with the caption "I stand with Palestine" online.
On October 14, women participating in an anti-Israel rally in London attached a painting of a paraglider to their clothes, and a day later, neo-Nazis began to combine the paraglider with Pepe the Frog, one of the symbols most identified with them, to celebrate the massacre of Jews and incite violence against them around the world. In one of the memes they created, the green frog is seen on a paraglider in the colors of the Palestinian flag, armed with a rifle.
At the same time, neo-Nazi activists and white supremacist groups began to share on online forums and social media AI-generated images, showing stereotypical-looking Jewish characters—kippah, wigs, big noses—with paragliders in the background, sometimes with armed terrorists on them.
"We saw how it was adopted by extremist elements regardless of the ideology that drives them," says Dr. Ariel Koch, a research fellow at Reichman University and director of Violent Extremism Research at ActiveFence, "also elements from the radical left, all kinds of student associations that are identified with Marxist ideologies. Everyone made use of it from their own angle. We saw memes that describe the paraglider as something Christian-extremist, for example, a meme where you see Jesus with a paraglider driving out Jews."
According to Activefence, a neo-Nazi e-commerce website offered a T-shirt for sale emblazoned with a paraglider and the words Flyerin Yids from the sky (or loosely translated "Jews are shot from the sky") as well as the number 1488, a symbol associated with the extreme right. In another case, a coffee mug with the words Waffen Paraglider ("paraglider weapon") was offered for sale.
ActiveFence says that the merger between two extreme ideologies, Islamist on the one hand and neo-Nazi on the other, is a reason for concern. "The result is very dangerous, and if it is not addressed, it has the potential to lead to real-world violence, as well as to a decrease in the network users' safety," according to the report.
How uncommon is the connection between neo-Nazi and pro-Palestinians? Koch: "The connection between neo-Nazism and Islam, and by extension, also the support for the Palestinians - because 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' - exists since World War II. The mufti of Jerusalem, who met with Hitler, introduced Nazi anti-Jewish hatred to the Middle East and to the Islamic world. When a neo-Nazi seeks legitimacy, and after all, everyone ultimately seeks legitimacy for their ideas, he cannot say that he supports the Arabs, because the neo-Nazis do not like Arabs. However, they separate the Arabs from Islam and look at jihadism, radical Islam, as a source of inspiration."
Did the use of AI-generated memes help spread this symbol more quickly? "On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, they would do it anyway, even if it were of a poorer quality. They don't need AI to make coffee mugs or T-shirts. The AI is used by them for memes, but here we see something beyond that. When you are selling a coffee mug with a paraglider on one side and a swastika on the other, this is already beyond artificial intelligence."
On which social media platforms have you encountered this symbol? "Without going into specifics, it appears on several platforms. Because it is a new symbol, the awareness is accordingly. So the platforms may know that Hamas used paragliders, but if a student association that has an account on a very large social network uploads the symbol, I'm not sure that anyone will be able to tell it's a symbol of hate. So first of all, you have to recognize that it's a symbol of hate and understand who used it. It's a gradual process."
ActiveFence recommends that social media safety and trust teams update their automated tools so that they know how to recognize the new antisemitic symbol while instructing their content moderators on how to behave when encountering it in a dangerous context.
Have you yourself come across the symbol of a paraglider in an antisemitic or violent context? It is recommended to report this to the relevant platform.