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Will Facebook Ban Criticism of Israel?

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Fighting anti-Semitism absolutely 100% does not mean supporting the actions of the state of Israel. In fact, the most hardcore and committed anti-Zionist activists I’ve known are Jewish. But Netanyahu and his supporters in Israel have combined with the cynical Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who see Israel as key to their apocalyptic fantasies of Christ returned to create a media atmosphere where any criticism of Israel gets defined as anti-Semitic. This is deeply offensive. The question is whether Facebook will take the bait here. Rabbi Alissa Wise writes of these concerns.

In response to pressure from the Israeli government and its supporters, Facebook is currently reaching out to stakeholders to ask if criticizing Zionists falls within the rubric of hate speech per Facebook’s community standards. In particular, Facebook is weighing whether “Zionist” should be considered a proxy for “Jew” or “Israeli”.

Facebook’s hate speech policy prohibits attacks based on protected characteristics including race, nationality and sexual orientation. Political ideologies, like capitalism, socialism – or Zionism – are not protected. But if Facebook names “Zionist” a proxy for “Jew” or “Israeli”, Zionism would become a de facto protected category, which would have far-reaching and dangerous ramifications for Palestinians and Jews.

Under this policy, valid attempts to hold the state of Israel accountable through constitutionally protected political speech could be labeled as hate speech and removed from the platform. Palestinians would be prevented from using Facebook like everyone else – to talk about their daily experiences, histories and lives – because their realities are shaped by Zionist apartheid policy. This policy would censor Palestinian speech, discriminate against Palestinians as a class, and silence nuanced conversation about Zionism.

The discriminatory implications for Palestinians are more than reason enough to reject this policy. But there’s another important reason to denounce it. To conflate Zionism with all Jews – many of whom are anti-Zionists struggling alongside Palestinians for their freedom and equality – is itself a harmful assumption. It is premised on the antisemitic notion that Jews are uniform in our beliefs and political commitments. Even worse, it suggests that all Jews, in America and elsewhere around the world, are fundamentally loyal to a foreign government, and that the “real” home for all Jews is Israel – playing into the vile notion that we are unable to fully become part of the societies we inhabit, that we do not truly belong in our home countries and communities.

This troubling move by Facebook is part of a much larger trend. The tech giant’s definition of antisemitism takes cues from the working definition formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which conflates antisemitism with all forms of anti-Zionism, including boycott and divestment campaigns in support of Palestinian freedom and human rights.While Facebook claims that its current policy is narrower in scope than IHRA, its COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is on record with Adam Milstein – a leading proponent of IHRA and rightwing donor who is so extreme, even Aipac distanced itself from him – saying that IHRA has guided Facebook’s approach, and that their policy indeed goes “even further than the IHRA definition”.

This would be….very, very, very bad.

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