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December 9, 2022 10:02 am

How Israel Is Silenced on Social Media

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avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


3D-printed images of the logos of Facebook and parent company Meta Platforms are seen on a laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Palestinian activists have long complained that they are being censored online.

During the May 2021 Hamas-initiated war against Israel, the claims that Israel was somehow working hand-in-glove with big tech companies to silence criticism of Israel reached a crescendo, with Palestinian activists suggesting that the Jewish state is acting as a dark and all-powerful force that is behind a global plot to moderate pro-Palestinian content online.

For example, Ramallah-based writer Mariam Barghouti, whose antisemitic criticism of Israel has descended into Nazi Germany comparisons, has previously accused Israeli authorities of “fabricating charges” against Palestinians, and turning their “voices, posts, and words into criminal acts of incitement.” She has claimed that “expressing their identity as Palestinians online [is] seen as a crime.”

Most recently, Barghouti alleged that Israel had sought to censor “Palestinian resistance groups” on the social media platform TikTok. The resistant group she was referencing was none other that the Nablus-based Lions’ Den militant group, which was formed in August by members of various terror cells and has been behind a string of terror attacks.

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Of course, the wild and baseless claims that Israel was and continues to clamp down on pro-Palestinian voices have echoes of antisemitism, specifically in the tacit suggestion that the Jewish state wields the strength and capacity to control even major corporations that are based in other countries.

Last November, Reuters and other major media outlets even reported the unsubstantiated accusations of Palestinian “digital rights organization” 7amleh, which accused Facebook and Instagram of removing and demoting political posts by Palestinians on the platforms. The group had claimed that Facebook was bowing to pressure from the Israeli government. 

What has long been ignored by the mainstream media, however, is the silencing of pro-Israel viewpoints online.

The frequent and discreet censorship of Zionist activists and posts — across all major social media platforms — is rarely acknowledged.

Investigative journalist David Collier, who works to expose the antisemitism that is pervasive within “anti-Zionist” activity, has seen his Twitter access both suspended and restricted on several occasions, including once for posting an exclusive story that exposed a pro-Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad-supporting extremist named Hadi Nasrallah.

Speaking to HonestReporting, Collier explained that after he uncovered images of Nasrallah posing with Syrian tanks and weaponry, Collier was suspended from Twitter for posting the publicly-available pictures in an exposé:

When I wrote a piece on him, Twitter suspended me for using the image on the tank. He was the person who took and shared the footage of [Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom] Tzipi Hotovely being harrassed outside a UK university. The footage went viral and so I wanted to expose who was behind it. Personally, I think it deeply in the public interest if a “human rights defender” proudly posts images of himself with Hezbollah or Assad’s troops. They suspended me for this tweet. I was furious. I reached out to friendly NGOs and one handed me the UK Twitter contact for this, so I contacted her. First contact was friendly. Then it took a few days of her ignoring me, so I emailed again, at which point she said Twitter stood by their decision.

In addition, Twitter’s repeated actions against Collier’s account have prevented him from obtaining official verification on the platform, despite his profile having more than 85,000 followers.

“Thing is, one of the conditions of having a blue tick is not having any penalties applied by Twitter. And one of the conditions of agreeing to delete your tweets is acceptance you have broken Twitter’s rules,” he said. “Every time an account gets suspended and is forced to delete the tweet, they destroy their chances of applying for verification — a process that would increase their standing on the platform.”

Similarly, Jackie Goodall, of the Ireland Israel Alliance, described being unable to access her Facebook account after organizing a rally outside the Israeli embassy in Dublin following the May 2021 Israel-Hamas war:

Shortly afterwards, I found myself “locked out” of my account. I couldn’t access either my personal or business page (Ireland Israel Alliance).

My seemingly endless attempts at regaining access were to no avail. I lost count of how many times I sent Facebook details of their requested photo ID, including passport and driver license. My correspondence was never answered. My two admins, who were still able to post at that stage, also lost access a couple of months later. I was never given a reason as to why we couldn’t regain access. We never had a strike or warning from Facebook. For many months our account was visible, but rudderless.

I had almost given up hope when, 16 months later, a tenacious and well-connected friend intervened on my behalf and managed to send me a link that reset our 2-factor identification. I will be forever grateful.

Hillel Neuer, the executive director of Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, which regularly exposes instances of the United Nations’ deep-seated anti-Israel bias, was forced to threaten legal action against Facebook after the firm threatened to delete his account after posting a joke about the Taliban.

Shortly after the Islamist terror group took over the Afghan capital Kabul earlier this year, Hillel referenced ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s controversial decision to boycott parts of Israel by commenting: “Prediction: Ben and Jerry’s will never announce a boycott of the Taliban.”

Bizarrely, Facebook moderators initially claimed the remark went against the platform’s “Community Standards on dangerous individuals and organizations.”

Meanwhile, US-based social media influencer Melissa Chapman has been among the pro-Israel voices to have her Instagram account shadow-banned— the stealthy practice of blocking a social media user’s account so that portions of the platform’s users cannot see the account in a way that is not obvious to the restricted person.

Earlier this year, several posts she wrote on the photo-sharing app about Eli Kay, a 26-year-old Israeli who was brutally murdered by a Hamas terrorist, were removed without warning on the grounds that they were violent or dangerous.

She was warned she may lose access to her account altogether.

Despite having more than 100,000 Instagram followers, Melissa was unable to monetize her profile after she was penalized for posting an image of Jews praying in the spot in Jerusalem’s Old City where Kay was killed.

Even HonestReporting has borne the brunt of the pervasive culture of anti-Israel censorship online. Our work as a media watchdog has resulted in our official Facebook page, which currently has close to 80,000 followers, being suspended without any explanation given on September 18 of this year.

Disturbingly, Facebook’s policies for appealing such decisions clearly stated that if the company did not address the appeal within 30 days, HonestReporting could have been permanently banned from the platform.

It was not until October 2 that the account was fully reinstated — and only after we circumvented their standard process by engaging outside help.

While the above are just a handful of examples of how those who voice support of Israel or condemn Palestinian Islamist terrorism are targeted online, they are a chilling reminder of how the war being waged against the Jewish state exists in the virtual as well as the physical sphere.

The late US President Ronald Reagan once described information as the “oxygen of the modern age,” and predicted that the “Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip.”

Reagan was, of course, correct. How sad that the David that is Israel is up against a new Goliath that comprises social media.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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