Meta installations intimidate Palestinian activists

Meta is accused of breaking its commitment to host diverse viewpoints.

Budrul Tchoukrout
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Tech giant Meta – owner of Facebook – is increasingly identified with censorship and repression of pro-Palestinian content.

The company has regularly target accounts advancing the Palestinian liberation struggle in various capacities, subjecting them to every form of obstruction, from shadow banning to outright suppression.

But so far, Meta’s political fanaticism has largely revolved around hiding, blocking, or deleting content that centers Palestine.

Now, it appears the platform is also tacitly supporting clear and open targeted abuse of pro-Palestinian content creators by anti-Palestinian accounts orchestrated by JewBelong, a recently formed nonprofit group.

JewBelong is a website that claims to promote and explain Judaism primarily to Jews, as well as act as a community space for Jews who feel distant or insecure about Jewish religion, heritage, and culture.

However, it openly targets Palestinian accounts – occasionally offering cash prizes – in blatant violation of Meta Community Standards stated to “include differing opinions and beliefs, especially from people and communities who might otherwise be overlooked or marginalized. “.

If these are the values ​​to which Meta stands, Palestine is apparently an exception to the norm.

Money to harass

Inciting online harassment of pro-Palestine accounts has long been a Zionist strategy. For years Israel has offered hasbara scholarships »which are basically scholarships given to students to engage in digital propaganda for Zionism and the Israeli colonial regime.

Hasbara is the term used by Israel for its various promotional activities.

The now gone Enforcement Act. IL, which was aligned with the Israeli government, offered its users various ‘prizes’ and scholarships to complete digital ‘missions’ – including spamming the inboxes of companies or universities hosting pro-Palestine material in order to push for cancellation.

And while they don’t seem to offer monetary compensation, blacklist sites such as Mission Canaries and the more recent weaponizes the trope of “fighting anti-Semitism” to encourage Zionists to expose Palestinians and their allies en masse.

JewBelong is a nonprofit group founded in 2017 by Archie Gottesman and Stacy Stuart which, according to its ProPublica page depends entirely on “contributions”, i.e. donations, for income.

Its original purpose was supposedly to “provide simple explanations, clear definitions, meaningful readings, and easy rituals so that anyone who wants to start or revive a Jewish practice can find a way that works for them.”

Now it looks like JewBelong has kissed digital advocacy for Israel and Zionism which includes harassment of pro-Palestine accounts.

An honest revelation

This may not be so much a rebrand as an honest reveal. Several members of the JewBelong team have direct ties to Zionist organizations and institutions.

Co-founder Archie Gottesman has served on the board of organizations such as Israel Campus Coalition, Democratic Majority for Israel and the Liberal-Zionist Party false feminist Zionity.

Advisory Board Member Yuval David is a “go-to host and storyteller for Jewish, Israeli, LGBTQ, arts, cultural, and humanitarian organizations and initiatives” that include the American branch of the colonial Jewish National Fund and far-right Israeli lobby group StandWithUs.

Advisory Board Member Noa Tishby is an Israeli actress and writer whose first book is titled Israel: A simple guide to the most misunderstood country on the planet. She is also the “first-ever special envoy of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to combat anti-Semitism and the delegitimization” of Israel.

And that’s not all: the organization has just launched Supporters Awards provided payouts of $360 to “brave social media influencers working day and night to expose anti-Semitism and protect Israel’s right to defend itself.”

JewBelong claims to have awarded 23 young people cash prizes for their pro-Israel digital advocacy. Attributed accounts include those of Zionist journalist Eve Barlow and Zionesse.

One of the recipients of the prize, who goes by the name @partisanprincess on Instagram (attributing the origin of this pseudonym to JewBelong’s creation of the Partisan Prize) repeatedly and systematically mass-reported pro-Palestine accounts in an attempt explicitly recognized to have them deleted.

Screenshots obtained by The Electronic Intifada reveal stories and posts from @partisanprincess encouraging followers to mass report accounts such as Palestine Pod, a podcast about Palestine co-hosted by Lara Elborno and Michael Schirtzer.

“@thepalestinepod was deleted once, we can do it again,” reads a story that calls an episode of Palestine Pod with a Palestinian guest speaker “vile propaganda.”

The Palestine Pod account was temporarily removed by Instagram, although it was restored following a sustained media and legal campaign.

Meta employees later said the account was mistakenly reported for data scraping, the act of automating access, or scraping information from Meta products. Usually these issues resolve before removal, but this was not the case for the Palestine Pod.

Vicious Backlash

This inciting mass reporting has a range of impacts. The Instagram page of @crackheadbarneyandfriends – a self-proclaimed New York folk hero and anti-fascist performance artist – was deleted after the show devoted an episode to Israel’s assassination of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (the page has eventually restored).

But even when JewBelong’s mass reporting campaign doesn’t result in account deletions, it still encourages targeted harassment which in turn can act as a deterrent.

Palestine Pod co-host Michael Schirtzer told The Electronic Intifada that “Zionists regularly threaten activists who support Palestinian rights with death. This includes Palestinian activists and Jewish anti-Zionist activists. »

The fact that anti-Zionist Jews have also been heavily targeted in this latest campaign of harassment shows that the problem is not anti-Semitism, as Zionists are wont to argue, but rather the threat embodied by a political coalition between Palestinians and Jews who outright reject Zionist colonization.

While researching the campaign against the Palestine Pod, Schirtzer discovered, he said, a “ hasbaraWhatsApp group which “encourages the group to report Palestinian accounts and anti-Zionist Jews, including Rabbi Brant Rosen.”

Rosen is the founder of Tzedek Chicago, a Chicago-based synagogue formed with the goal of creating Jewish communal space outside of Zionist principles. In March 2022, Tzedek Chicago moved from a “non-Zionist” to an “anti-Zionist” stance, perhaps making him the first anti-Zionist synagogue in the United States.

Rosen told The Electronic Intifada that the reaction to the announcement, especially online, was intense.

“We expected a backlash. But almost immediately Twitter and Instagram exploded,” Rosen said. “The responses have been vicious and growing. Most of them came from places I didn’t know. I was gaining followers on Twitter accounts with Israeli names, and no followers… there was clearly some kind of new online campaign that I had never seen before. I was particularly surprised by the duration. It just dragged on for weeks.

Rosen added that in his opinion, “Israel and the Zionist movement have one of the most sophisticated bot infrastructures in the Twitter sphere. It’s widespread and unpleasant, and it’s very well organized. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Gray areas

You would think that an atmosphere of mass harassment is something that Big Tech companies would strive to compensate for. But despite frequent, detailed, and sustained correspondence with Meta employees, Michael Schirtzer of the Palestine Pod was told that these harassment campaigns did not violate the company’s often touted “community standards.”

“Encouraging people to report does not violate our policies and therefore there is nothing we can do here,” read an email shared with The Electronic Intifada. The employee went on to say that the company would “step up” if the “victim received any comments or threats of harassment.”

Meta declined to comment for this article.

But aside from the fact that Schirtzer and other outspoken pro-Palestinian content creators have been harassed, Meta’s rigid and conservative response neglects the coordinated nature of the campaign itself – to financially incentivize attempts to harass and silence Palestinian content.

Also, whatever Meta says, it’s hard to see how harassment of any kind isn’t a violation of so-called “community standards.” In this case, the conventions of these digital platforms are weaponized against content creators for their identities and political beliefs to ensure de facto silence and erasure – a clear example of harassment.

Zionist harassment and intimidation campaigns often exploit the letter of the law and official policies to maximize the impact of their persecution while minimizing liability.

“Zionist institutions have gradually built up their practice of law, which plays with the anti-discrimination policies of companies like Meta,” Emmaia Gelman, an anti-Zionist activist and New York University scholar, told The Electronic Intifada.

“They’re not technically breaking the rules. But the effect is that Meta’s rules become a tool for racist institutions to further harass, punish, and silence people who are subjected to racist state violence.

By refusing to intervene directly in this latest wave of anti-Palestinian and anti-Semitic harassment, Meta is allowing its platform to be used for targeted and racialized intimidation and censorship.

It seems that there could very well be a Palestinian derogation to the so-called “community standards”.

Omar Zahzah is the Education and Advocacy Coordinator for Eyewitness Palestine, as well as a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement and the American Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

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